Photo credit: Create & Cultivate
People 09 November 2017
The spotlight on gender inequality has been greatly expanded in recent years in industries like business, sports, and entertainment, but what about those who work behind the lens? Film and media represent some of the professions with the highest levels of inequity, yet they're often still being overlooked when it comes to female empowerment.
For a few sobering statistics on this front, consider that women made up just 28 percent of all speaking roles in theatre-released films in 2014, only 16 percent of directors, writers, editors, and producers who were employed in the top 100 grossing films of 2015 were women, and women were found to only makeup crew membership of 17 percent in music, 5 percent in camera and electrical, and just 9 percent of special effects in an analysis of 2000 of the highest-grossing films between 1994 and 2003.
These massive inequalities are what inspired entrepreneur, photographer, and host Amanda De Cadenet to create #Girlgaze, a digital media company that promotes the work of female photographers and directors, by creating visibility and jobs for girls behind the lens. Founded in 2016, De Cadenet created this collection as a way to respond to this lack of gender inclusivity and give the next generation of women who want to work in the photography and film industries.
Despite the quick success that #Girlgaze has enjoyed, getting the attention media outlets like WWD and Paper Magazine, a partnership with Glamour, and a design collaboration with Warby Parker, De Cadenet never set out to be an entrepreneur. It was after experiencing the frustration for women's stories so often being filtered through the lenses of men and male-owned media platforms that she decided to be the change she wished to see. “I've made it a point to bring as many women as possible with me, whether it's that I hire women to work on The Conversation to work in roles that are traditionally male," De Cadenet told SWAAY about her entrepreneurial philosophy. She looks at this company as a way to pay it forward, women supporting other women, as she wants to stop the good old boys club industry practices that often leave women competing against one another for such little real estate or completely out of the equation to begin with. “We need more examples of women who truly are supporting other women, not just paying lip service to it."
“At #Girlgaze, I hire women and girls that don't necessarily have the experience, but have the passion and enthusiasm." says De Cadenet.[thb_image full_width="true" alignment="center" image="9774" img_size="full"]
Her endeavor led to the creation of the #Girlgaze book, which features a curated collection of photographs that capture how young women perceive the world. Co-authored by English photographer and filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson features a collective of images submitted from female-identifying photographers around the world, that feature raw, candid shots of life as it's being lived: on the streets of the city, hiking in the mountains, laughing with friends, the realities of life in war-torn countries, and beautiful fields.
With this book and company, De Cadenet is addressing the problems female creators face on a daily basis, by using her power and success to put the spotlight on other talented women." If you look at all of the different industries...there's been men at the top of these organizations, 99.9 percent, there have been so few spaces for us," she explains. In fact, she believes this lack of seats at the table is what causes successful women to feel like they are in competition with one another and often tear one another down instead of build each other up. “It's been ingrained in us that “Oh my god, if I don't get that one space, then she is going to get it!" There's been so few opportunities and openings. It's not even our fault- but that's why we compare as opposed to saying “She is doing great!" #Girlgaze is changing this narrative by addressing this paradigm head on and instead of just talking the talk about empowerment and inclusion, is giving talented women opportunities every single day to have their work be showcased in a way that isn't objectifying, sexualizing, or speculative.
Not only is De Cadenet giving women a platform to tell their stories candidly, but has been candid about her own dark past. As a teenager, she found herself in juvie as a consequence of running away from home, was sexually assaulted, and also had an unintended pregnancy, which are experiences that would devastate many young people. Instead, she rose from this experience and went on to become a TV host at the age of 16, which found her success that she's never looked back from nor taken for granted. “You can't live through what I've lived through and not be humbled!" she says. “I've recovered through everything that I've been through over the years, since I've been willing to find things that work. There's a lot...there isn't just one path. What I do know is that it's crucial to remain teachable and to retain the outlook of 'Hey, I'm still learning.' and you know, I am." Her secret sauce of remaining teachable has clearly allowed her to be so resilient, which is a lesson we can all learn from, in the face of adversity.
Photo Courtesy of Red Magazine
Instead of trying to always make our lives look perfect and beautiful, this exposure of the messiness is a curtain she believes needs to be opened now more than ever, especially in a world that is filled with pressure coming at women from all angles to be flawless.
“This is the common experience for a lot of people and I'm just trying to shed light on it and say, Hey, shit happens. Life is messy; let's stop pretending that it's some curated Instagram version of the reality, so that we can all stop feeling that we're not enough," -Amanda De Cadenet
To put it simply, #Girlgaze (the book, that is) shows what it's like to be female in this world, from all angles, emotions, and capacities. You see women and girls running through fields, reflecting on tragedies, smiling, crying, embracing, engaging in the community, friendships, intimacy, and fun. This book runs the gamut on showcasing what humanity really looks like, without any of the fluff or frills. It's naked in a way that isn't sexual, but is completely raw in its delivery. There's no shame, no fear, just girls living and experiencing the world as themselves and showing it to all of us through their art.
Giving women and girls the power to be themselves, without any pressure or backlash, embodies true feminism and De Cadenet is on the forefront of this entirely new conversation about womanhood. Bringing women together instead of tearing them apart is a central part of her mission in the world, which she believes is the key to changing it. “ I don't want to quote my friend Hillary [Clinton] here but, “We are stronger together," she says. “The more that we can create opportunities and spaces for people to connect and identify with one another, the better it is. I've always felt like that and always known that, that I've made it a mission of mine." Look out, sexism- there's a new sheriff in town.
8 Min Read
Disclaimer: I am writing this piece as someone who has thin privilege. I do not experience weight-based discrimination like those who live in larger bodies. In naming my privilege, I hope to highlight the fact that my experience of this topic is limited to what I have learned from the courageous work of body positivity and fat activists, colleagues, and clients of mine who live in larger bodies.
A note on "fat": Many fat activists and people in larger bodies have made the decision to reclaim the word "fat" as a neutral descriptor. The decision to do so is highly personal for individuals living in larger bodies, as many have experienced the word "fat" being weaponized against them. For the purposes of this article, I stick to the wording of "people in larger bodies" or "people in higher-weight bodies" to respect the journeys of those trying to decide what descriptor best matches their lived experience.
Michelle was a three-sport athlete in high school. While there was a part of her that enjoyed the camaraderie with her teammates, the sense of accomplishment she felt when setting new records — there was another part of her that participated in the hopes of shrinking her body. Michelle, who is now studying to be a therapist, didn't know about eating disorders when she was younger. She reflects, "I had this idea that I wanted to become a professional swimmer so that I would be able to exercise even more. I would get many compliments on my body during swim season, even though that was when I hated my body the most."
The comments Michelle received on her weight and body when she was restricting and compensating fueled her eating disorder. "There was an underlying message" she adds, "that my body wasn't good enough before I lost the weight."
"There was an underlying message" she adds, "that my body wasn't good enough before I lost the weight."
As an eating disorders treatment professional, I, unfortunately, hear accounts like Michelle's on a daily basis — a person loses weight due to an increasingly problematic relationship food — that weight loss is complimented, and the person continues engaging in behaviors that are extremely harmful. I've also heard countless stories from friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers sharing that they have received weight-loss compliments when they were experiencing immense pain and suffering — dying from cancer, grieving the loss of a spouse, or suffering from another debilitating illness.
With at least 20 million women and 10 million women in America alone suffering from an eating disorder at some point in their lives and countless others suffering from any number of physical or mental illnesses that might contribute to weight fluctuations, one would think that it would be common sense not to comment on a person's weight. Why are weight loss compliments such a common social gesture, despite their glaringly inappropriate and problematic connotations?
Why are weight loss compliments such a common social gesture, despite their glaringly inappropriate and problematic connotations?
It's a complex issue — while some people equate weight loss to desirability, others associate it with health and longevity (and many believe the two go hand-in-hand). But why? Why are these beliefs so deeply ingrained? One answer is fatphobia.
What is fatphobia?
Fatphobia is the fear of being fat or becoming fat, which results in the stigmatization of individuals that live in fat bodies. Fatphobia, which has both racist and classist origins, is at the root of our cultural obsession with thinness and diet culture.
Author of Fearing the Black Body, Sabrina Strings explains in her interview with NPR that 19th-century magazines, such as Harper's Bazaar, warned their white, middle and upper-class women audience that they must start to "watch what they ate" as a mechanism for differentiating themselves from slaves, creating a new aspect of racial identity (if you're interested in learning more about the racial origins and history of fatphobia check out the resources I've outlined at the end of this piece).
Fast forward 100 or so years, and our culture's fear of fatness shows up regularly on an individual, institutional, and systemic level (much like racism).
From a young age, we receive messages that being smaller is better — from thin barbie dolls with tight skin, thigh gaps, and virtually zero body fat to Disney princesses that are all more or less the same (thin) size. We see fatphobia on TV shows and movies both in casting (most people who land major roles live in thin bodies) and in the actual scripts (fat jokes). Not to mention that airlines don't make seats suitable for people in larger bodies, or that the fashion industry is particularly exclusive in its sizing and clothing lines.
From a young age, we receive messages that being smaller is better — from thin barbie dolls with tight skin, thigh gaps, and virtually zero body fat to Disney princesses that are all more or less the same (thin) size.
Weight stigma also impacts a person's chances of getting hired and the quality of health care they receive. Research shows that individuals who fall into higher weight categories are less likely to be hired than their thin counterparts. Additionally, weight-stigma in the health care system runs so rampantly that many individuals in higher weight bodies avoid the doctor's office for fear of being shamed or embarrassed. It's not uncommon, for instance, for someone who is "overweight" or "obese" to go to the doctor's office for a sinus infection and leave with a recommendation for weight loss.
Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking aspects of fatphobia is that individuals in larger bodies often internalize these attitudes, which leads to greater body image concern, anti-fat attitudes, depressive symptoms, stress, and reduced self-esteem.
Our collective fear of fatness is directly linked to the fact that it's extremely burdensome for people in higher-weight bodies to exist in this world.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Our collective fear of fatness is directly linked to the fact that it's extremely burdensome for people in higher-weight bodies to exist in this world. Instead of identifying this as a social justice issue, the majority of us have bought into the narrative that fat is bad and weight is always a matter of personal responsibility (spoiler: it's not).
Do individual choices impact a person's weight and health? Of course.
However, it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge that there are a number of factors that impact a person's weight even more so, than certain individual elements. These influences include but are not limited to: family history and genetics, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sex, dieting history, exposure to trauma, chronic stress, racism, and/or discrimination, food insecurity, family habits and culture, sleeping habits, medical conditions, medications, and eating disorders.
Simply put, weight is far more complicated than most of us are willing to admit.
But what about health? What if a person has or desires to lose weight for "health reasons"?
Good question, to which I would say this:
- This question assumes that in order for a person to "be healthy" they have to pursue weight loss (they don't). In fact, putting weight loss on the back burner and focusing on healthy behaviors, rather than weight has been shown to improve clinically relevant in various health and physiological markers, including blood pressure, blood lipids, eating and activity habits, self-esteem, and body image.
- Assuming that everyone should be able to fit into our culture's irrational thin ideal and obtain a perfect picture of health while doing so is ill-informed.
- If diets actually did what they promised they would do, the $70 billion dollar diet industry would be null and void. What most people don't know is that the diet industry — fueled by fatphobia — actually sets its consumers up to fail (and keep coming back for more). There is a large body of research that actually shows that dieting usually results in initial weight loss followed by weight gain. While there's nothing wrong with weight gain, most people don't set out to diet thinking they will gain weight. The human body is incredibly adaptive, and often, weight gain after dieting is a result of a person's body trying to protect them from starvation.
- The people who lose weight and keep it off generally fall into a few camps:
1) They follow meticulous diet and exercise regimens in order to maintain the weight loss (one might call this disordered eating).
2) They are suffering from a serious mental or medical illness that results in suppressed weight.
3) Their survival genetics aren't quite as strong as the majority of the population, and for whatever reason, their body was okay with losing the weight and keeping it off (while there are some individuals who do fall into this camp, this certainly isn't the majority).
This brings me back to my main point: Weight loss compliments do more harm than good because we don't ever really know how the person lost the weight and there is a high likelihood that they will gain at least some of it back. Although they may be well-intended in the moment, weight loss compliments say nothing more than "Congrats, you're closer to matching our society's incredibly narrow beauty standards…"
View this post on InstagramA post shared by Emily Murray, RD, LDN (@murraynutrition) on Jul 6, 2020 at 5:38am PDT
So what do we do with this information? How do we move forward? Here are a few practical tips:
1. Continue to educate yourself about fatphobia, diet culture, and weight-inclusive principles. At the end of this article I, with the help of my colleagues, have provided a list of resources to help you get you started. Once you learn more, speak out about these issues, and seek out initiatives and policies that are more inclusive for all bodies.
2. Make an unapologetic commitment to refrain from weight loss compliments. Just. don't. do it. As I previously mentioned in an Instagram post above, it can feel pretty uncomfortable to not offer praise to someone who is subtly or not-so-subtly asking for it, especially if you love them. And yet, how powerful is it to say to someone "I love you for who you are, not what you look like."
3. Consider these alternatives to weight loss compliments:
4. Say nothing. Literally. Close your Mouth. Don't comment.
- "I'm so happy to see you"
- "I love you so much"
- "How are you doing?"
- "What's new?"
- "I so enjoy spending time with you!"
- "I'm glad you're feeling good" — only use this one when you know, for a fact, that the person is actually feeling good.
In summary, there just really isn't an appropriate reason to comment on another person's weight. Weight loss compliments do more harm than good by upholding oppressive systems, perpetuating excluding beauty ideals, and often inaccurately equating thinness to health. On an individual level, you never really know how or why a person loses weight or if they will gain any of it back. So, in the spirit of being kind, sensitive, and decent human beings, let's lay off the weight loss "compliments" for good.
- Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings
- When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies by Jane R. Hirschmann
- The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
- Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
- Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker
- Land Whale by Jes Baker
- Body Respect by Lindo Bacon, PhD
- The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
- Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
- You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar