Back to opinion page.
Playboy promotes harmful body imagePlayboy has returned to Indiana University to recruit IU students for its "women of the Big Ten" issue, the first time the popular men's magazine has been in Bloomington since 1997. The Herald-Times reported on Playboy's visit April 2, and the Indiana Daily Student published its own report twelve days later.
Both the H-T and the IDS made the right decision in choosing to cover the story, because whatever one thinks of Playboy, IU students will be featured in a national magazine. However, the conclusion to the H-T article left a lot to be desired. Steve Hinnefeld explained how IU women could apply to be in the magazine along with where to send the application. While this is a legitimate local news story, news articles in the H-T should not serve as unpaid advertising space for Playboy, especially since Playboy will use this to generate profit. Women who wish to pose can find the information on their own: they are university students after all.
IDS columnist Erin White has received quite a bit of criticism for her April 16 column dealing with Playboy's visit to the IU campus. White urged women at IU not to pose for Playboy on the grounds that it is demeaning to women. Her column generated a few letters to the editor. The IDS editorial board weighed in on Playboy's visit to campus in its April 18 edition.
In a response to White, one IU student who said she posed for Playboy wrote that she is proud to have the opportunity, as well as and the appearance that gave her the opportunity. She twice referred to herself in the letter as "beautiful" and claimed to have a "gorgeous body".
I am happy for women who are satisfied with or proud of their physical attractiveness, especially in a culture where so many women are not. But beauty is temporary. Eventually, time will take its toll on any beautiful person. If one's self-worth is wrapped up in his or her physical attractiveness, what is left when age takes that away?
Another student wrote, referring to White: "insecure females like yourself are not going to stop beautiful women from showing their almost flawless bodies." The ad hominem directed at White doesn't diminish her argument, but does raise an interesting question. What of women who actually are insecure about their appearance? Are we do dismiss them entirely?
It is true the content of Playboy is much more tame than that of "Campus Invasion", the hard-core pornographic movie partially filmed in an IU dormitory last fall. But Playboy still relies on the exploitation of the female body for profit. The questions raised in White's column are legitimate. Do women who pose for Playboy want to be a fantasy, valued only for their physical appearance?
Popular culture is immersed with women with "flawless bodies." Television and movies sport numerous actresses with "flawless" bodies, and the music industry features many artists on the basis of their appearance as much as their singing talent. The fashion industry has been criticized for years for the overly thin models on its runways.
Last summer, World Wrestling Entertainment ran a misogynistic storyline where the "Molly Holly" character, played by an average-sized female wrestler, was portrayed as being "fat". While it was amusing to watch obese WWE announcer Jim Ross poke fun at the "Molly Holly" character for being "fat", the message sent by WWE was not healthy. Basically, WWE was saying that if women don't have a "perfect" body (whatever that is) they are unattractive or "fat".
Not all women can reach the unrealistic standard of beauty put forth by so much of pop culture, though many seriously harm themselves trying. Every year, more than 1000 women in the US die from anorexia. Experts estimate that one in five college aged women in America suffer from bulimia. This is not good news, and shows an unhealthy attitude toward body image.
There is nothing wrong with acknowledging physical beauty, but there is much more to real beauty than aesthetics. Focusing on physical beauty to the exclusion of other worthy traits does not represent a healthy attitude toward women. Americans should examine our fixation on beauty, and begin to change our attitudes.