Cover Girl Culture

Astute review of CGC in ‘Sex Roles’ – A Journal of Research

Here is a new phenomenal review of Cover Girl Culture by Tracy Tylka at Ohio State University and Rachel Calogero at Virginia Wesleyan College.  Their review will be appearing in the BodyImage special issue this fall. It is, by far, the most astute and thorough review received to date. Thank you to Tracy & Rachel.

To download the journal review click here on the file here: (a pdf file)

Below is a sample taken from the journal:

“In the documentary, Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation, director Nicole Clark exposes the
lifestyle advocated in fashion magazines as illusory and reveals the many mental health and societal problems that
could result from girls’ exposure to these images. Clark, a former Elite international fashion model and
ongoing advocate for girls’ self-esteem, has a campaign to alert the audience to (a) the marketing motives, messages,
and strategies embedded in fashion magazines; (b) how girls are affected by these fashion magazines; and (c) ways
to champion a positive change for girls’ mental health.

Clark’s modus operandi includes interviews which alternate between girls who have internalized media messages; girls
who challenge these messages; fashion, modeling, and marketing executives who promote and rationalize these
messages; and body image therapists, coaches, and authors who highlight the destructiveness of these messages. A
motivational speaker, mayor, cosmetic/reconstructive surgeon, and several models are also interviewed. The
oscillation between interviews is skillfully arranged highlight broad themes and contradictory viewpoints.

Media images of models are interwoven within and between interviews to reinforce or even refute interview
content. Viewers do not see Clark, and her questions are either absent or barely audible in order to direct the spotlight on the words and expressions of the individuals being interviewed.

Clark’s inclusion of media images of models is similar to the analytic technique used by Jean Kilbourne in Killing Us Softly 4 (Kilbourne and Jhally 2010) and Mary Pipher in Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
(Pipher et al. 1998). Specifically, a large collection of media images are presented and examined with a critical eye,
raising viewers’ awareness that these images sell more than products: a circumscribed vision of beauty, values, success,
sexuality, and normalcy. All three films reveal that the mass media socialize young girls to believe that they must spend
an enormous amount of time, energy, and money to achieve the look contained in media images, and it is emphasized
that they feel ashamed and guilty when they fail. Kilbourne takes this discourse a step further, discussing how girls’
failure to achieve this image is inevitable—pictures of models are “photoshopped” and “airbrushed” to appear
flawless so even the models do not look like the images based on them. All three films discuss the media’s
sexualization of young girls and the deleterious consequences of this practice.

The main difference between Cover Girl Culture and the two earlier films, Killing Us Softly 4 and Reviving Ophelia,
is the presentation style. Kilbourne and Pipher serve as visible narrators who address their points in a very direct
manner, while Clark presents a collection of voices from varied individuals who address their points in a more
poignant, and at times, personal manner. Clark’s method allows her to position statements from executives who work
in the fashion and marketing industry against body image experts and media images that refute their claims, allowing
viewers to see that these executives may “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk.” In addition, Clark’s interviews
portray the perspectives of girls ranging in age from 6 to 18, showing viewers how entrenched these ideas of beauty
and image have become in the minds of very young girls.

For example, Kailey, 11 years of age with a full set of acrylic nails and a made up face, already identifies
herself as a compulsive shopper.”   – by Tracy Tylka at Ohio State University and Rachel Calogero at Virginia Wesleyan College

*to read the review in it’s entirety download the attached pdf.

Another excerpt (and there is a good deal more in the journal)

Audrey Brashich, an author of a media literacy guide, explains that it is useful for girls to
see photographs of celebrities without makeup or before digital modification; however, she notes that girls then
scrutinize the appearance of these celebrities and turn the scrutiny back on themselves. She reveals that this practice
reinforces girls to judge all females, including themselves,on their physical appearance.

No one assumes responsibility for the negative effects of girls’ internalization of the thin ideal, which is the second
theme in this documentary. Various individuals in the modeling and fashion industry are represented in Cover
Girl Culture, with each deflecting responsibility. A modeling agent states that he is not to blame for girls’ negative
body image. Rather, he chooses who his clients want to book, and if he does not provide thin girls for his clients,
then they will go to his competitor. A model suggests that models are not to blame, as they are conforming to the
standards set by the fashion and magazine editors. One fashion editor indicates that she blames Hollywood.

Although fashion executives for Teen Vogue acknowledge their power to set trends, they argue that they are not
responsible for girls’ negative body image, because they choose “real girls” who are “healthy” with “big smiles” and are
“not too skinny.” They assert that they care about their readers’ health, and mention their magazine’s various
articles on girls’ health and misuse of dieting as well as messages to “be the best you can be” and “love your body.”
Their voices remain audible as Clark exposes very thin expressionless models from Teen Vogue that blatantly
contradict the fashion executives’ statements. Body image authors, coaches, and a girls’ media literacy group state
emphatically that positive body image articles are nullified by the advertisements appearing in the magazine. An
adolescent-focused psychotherapist is shown asserting that for every one negative message sent, it requires seven
positive messages to counteract it. Clark demonstrates that in Teen Vogue, the number of advertisements represents
approximately two-thirds of the content and overwhelms the number of articles, suggesting a strong negative impact
for readers is very likely.
The fashion editors in Cover Girl Culture argue that their magazine images provide an “incredible fantastical element”
that is inspirational for girls and women. One remarks, “Women project themselves into the fantasy pages
of what they would like to see for themselves. The magic of that exercise is very joyful, fulfilling, and rewarding.” This
fashion editor then indicates that eating disorders are due to past sexual abuse, not media images. Connie Sobczak, a
body image expert in the film, passionately addresses the absurdity of this fashion editor’s statements by arguing,
“You’re projecting a dream for women to go after that you know they can never achieve, and you’re calling that joy?”
Other body image experts in the film also remark that the fashion editor’s reasoning is inaccurate, stating that reading
fashion magazines creates a body comparing dynamic—girls are left feeling badly when their bodies do not match models’
bodies. The body image experts’ statements are supported by anecdotal evidence offered by several girls in the film as well
as empirical research (Bessenoff 2006; Durkin and Paxton 2002; Groesz et al. 2002).”

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