Thursday, May 29, 2008

Extreme Makeover Shows ‘True’ Beauty

Imagine being stranded on a desert island, or having a bisexual find her true love in the midst of fifteen males and fifteen females. Imagine going on a blind date, engaging in fierce competitions in different countries, or going under the knife for the idea of bettering oneself. Reality television displays all these situations and more. Reality television covers numerous circumstances that everyday people encounter, how these people react in those circumstances, and what they learn from the experience. The popularity of reality TV has grown throughout the years, resulting in even more new reality TV shows being created for the future. These shows are able to teach society lessons, about style, life, and certain people and concepts. Numerous reality TV shows, such as Extreme Makeover, perpetuate concepts of “beauty” to their viewers and reaffirm established solutions to achieve society’s concept of the ideal look and lifestyle.

Many different spectrums of reality TV shows exist, ranging from concepts of finding romance, to concepts of how to dress, as well as concepts of mere survival in certain situations. There are numerous channels on basic television that present different reality television shows. For example, VH1, MTV, TLC, E! and BET have running times for reality shows ranging from A Shot at Love to Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Reality television shows come from a plethora of themes. Some include dramatic situations about family life such as The Osbournes and Hogan Knows Best. Others include humorous pranks such as those practical jokes seen in Hell Date, while some others are competitions such as those seen in Beauty and the Geek, Road Rules, and America’s Next Top Model. Using contemporary pop culture television shows such as those mentioned aids in creating meanings and messages about gender, race, class, and sexuality. Viewers are drawn to watch these shows, and the shows in turn, whether knowingly or unknowingly, exemplify messages and societal understandings about femininity, masculinity, and norms and ideals about race, class, and sexuality. “Viewers may be drawn to reality TV by a sort of cinematic schadenfreude, but they continue to tune in because these shows frame their narratives in ways that both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women, men, love, beauty, class, and race,” (Pozner, 97). Although many viewers may be tuning in on these shows solely for entertainment purposes, watching the shows may influence the viewers in such a way that affirms certain stereotypes and thoughts about certain concepts and ways of life.

All types of reality TV shows have an effect on their viewers, and makeover reality TV shows especially influence their viewers because of the messages entailed and the effective media involved. Many different forms of media exist today, such as radio, the internet, and telephone. With new innovations occurring day after day, enhanced forms of communication continue to proliferate and grow. When it comes to common contemporary media, television is extremely effective in communicating with its viewers. Television is a communication method that not only provides means of entertainment for the viewers, but also includes messages of improvement and education. Shows on television provide viewers with ideas on how to live and how not to live. Reality shows teach viewers how to survive and compete, and they also educate viewers on the lives of certain celebrities, such as those featured in Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, The Simple Life, and The Surreal Life. Many different reality television shows also teach viewers how to enhance their looks and conform to the ideal standard of beauty. In fact, “television’s embrace of the beauty/style makeover matters because TV is more in sync with the rhythms of everyday life than other media, and even its niche-oriented dimension is capable of normalizing the makeover as part of an everyday, ‘real-life’ common culture in ways that other media have not been able to accomplish,” (Ouellette & Hay, 102). Viewers are not only entertained by watching these shows, but they are exposed to many different situations that can influence their day to day decisions, such as picking out their clothes for work or school. These shows educate people on common contemporary US culture standards and norms, and influence viewers on how to live their lives.

Extreme Makeover, a popular makeover reality TV show, affirms the idea of altering and ‘correcting’ certain appearances in order to achieve ideal beauty. Extreme Makeover originated on ABC and premiered in 2002. This particular reality show features stories of individuals that are chosen and given the opportunity to change their appearance. The skills of top plastic surgeons compose the “Extreme Team,” which also include cosmetic dentists, hair and makeup artists, stylists, and even personal trainers to help individuals become fit. Participants in the show are all dissatisfied with their appearance and desperate to take this risky, life-altering opportunity to change and undergo various procedures in order to unveil and reveal their new, seemingly more confident selves to their families, friends, and Extreme Makeover viewers. The show features many tips on fashion, hair, and makeup, as well. “Popular reality TV shows, like Extreme Makeover and The Swan, perpetuate the belief that without beauty (attainable through plastic surgery), women are doomed to a life of heartache and failure. Dating-themed shows like Average Joe and The Bachelor go one step further, reinforcing the belief that sexual charm and physical attractiveness are lures that women can use to attract men,” (Newman, 92). Shows such as these send a specific type of message that describes ideal beauty and how to attain success and societal acceptance. As seen on many of these shows, there is a cultural value for thinness for women and muscles and broad shoulders for men. Viewers and participants are exhorted to emulate this ideal look and standard of beauty. As seen in much of television, many are influenced to believe that desirability and the ability to be loved and accepted are contingent upon achieving this physical perfection. Viewers tend to internalize these media messages and media-driven ideals of beauty, and feel guilty or ashamed if they fail to achieve those standards.

By allowing viewers to internalize the media messages it sends, Extreme Makeover is able to market cosmetic surgery as a remedy or enhancement for confidence and outward appearance. They influence viewers to ‘correct’ their appearance and make it more appropriate to fit the ideal standard.

“The beauty/style makeover, which aims to transform ‘ordinary’ people into improved versions of themselves using tactics from cosmetic surgery to stylish new clothes, is often criticized on two grounds: The first is that the programs reject any distinction between content and commerce, so that they effectively serve as ‘advertorial’ for the fashion and beauty industries. The second is that makeover programs perpetuate existing gender and social hierarchies by imposing restrictive notions of beauty and taste on women and the working/lower-middle classes,” (Ouellette & Hay, 101).

By seeing these media images and reality TV shows, viewers are influenced to believe that conventional physical beauty is a large attribute, an ideal that many are willing to attain no matter how risky. Some are willing to undergo great lengths to achieve this ideal standard. Some risk their health by undergoing surgery or even starving themselves to change and ‘enhance’ their appearances. Male participants in Extreme Makeover are determined to achieve the square-jawed, muscular ideal of beauty, while female participants desire the thin, large-breasted look. These participants are willing to undergo being surgically altered to attain this look. This can be seen in the YouTube video featuring before and after clips of a male participant and female participant from Extreme Makeover. As seen, these participants undergo numerous surgeries, pain, and months of recuperation in order to achieve their desired standard of beauty. When comparing their before and after appearances, the participants look completely different, as if they are totally different people. Their appearances are significantly altered and they are made to appear drastically different and ‘enhanced’ after the surgeries.

Doing what it takes to achieve the ideal look of beauty is considered success in itself and worthy of pride and a sense of fulfillment for many of the individuals on the show. No one forces people to appear on shows, but shows have a large impact on society ideals and standards. Makeover shows do not invent those certain presumptions, but they educate them by exposing viewers to the extreme solutions on how to achieve beauty. Makeover shows presume “that the right outward appearance, defined by dominant ideologies and filtered through professional doctors and style experts, can bolster an individual’s advantage in an unstable, youth-oriented labor market. For women and increasingly for men as well, looks are also understood as a form of currency in the postfeminist dating and marriage market,” (Ouellette & Hay, 106). Participants are willing to undergo the pain of going under the knife and completely change their appearance, thinking that they will receive the reward of love, security, confidence, success, and validation from society. Undergoing this change results in a prize of acceptance and ‘self-improvement,’ but is a change this drastic really required for success? Is following society’s ideal style and ‘correcting’ one’s image a positive thing or does it undermine the true worth as people?

Although participants claim to be more confident and happy after these lengthy procedures, undergoing these surgical procedures to alter one’s appearance seems to be shallow, vain, and materialistic. There are many advertisements that influence society’s picture of ideal beauty. Magazines, flyers, reality TV, and even websites such as feature beautiful models and suggestions on how to attain this standard. These standards do not focus on intelligence or other capabilities. Instead, they focus solely on beauty and outward appearance. Looks, no matter how artificial or unattainable, seem to overshadow everything and determine how much success one will gain. “Non-Western features are reprimanded, then ‘corrected’: A black woman’s lips were reduced on Extreme Makeover, The Swan ‘softened’ an Asian woman’s eyes, and American Idol judge Simon Cowell repeatedly asserted that African-American singer Kimberly Locke didn’t have the right ‘image’ to become a pop star – until Idol stylists relaxed her kinky hair,” (Pozner, 98). Not only are lips, eyes, and hair altered, but body parts that are usually covered when in public are deemed worthy of change to some people. For instance, some have gone so far as to perform anal bleaching in order to achieve this ideal beauty standard. Overall, following and taking these chances, some risky, some frivolous, to conform to the standard seems to be demeaning and superficial. How far is society really willing to go to achieve the look?

Above is a Dr. 90210 parody just for fun. Although Dr. 90210's premise differs from that of Extreme Makeover, the idea behind the parody can apply to Extreme Makeover.


"Extreme Makeover Plastic Surgeon Dr Jon Perlman." YouTube. 29 May 2008.

"Dr. 90210 Parody." YouTube. 28 May 2008 .

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-145.

Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden: Blackwell, 2008.

Pozner, Jennifer L. “The Unreal World.” Learning Gender. 2004. 96-99.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sex Sells: Femininity Depictions in Advertising

Sex sells. Advertisements can be seen everywhere – buildings, magazines, billboards, commercials. Many of these advertisements include a vivid image of sexuality and uses sex as a method of selling something. This concept can be seen in many images of the models pictured in the advertisements, especially the women. Numerous disembodied gendered objectifications appear in images of femininity and masculinity within these ads, and they depict society’s view on how women and men should be. Although both men and women are used as models in advertisements using sex appeal, sexual boundaries are made and the concept of what a woman should do and look like appears to be very submissive compared to the concept of how a man should carry himself. Also, by using these methods to sell products, an ideal illusion of beauty is created. Many women feel as if by making oneself look like the models, one can be attractive and beautiful. There is no doubt that women’s sexuality is used as a means to both promote products in the market, as seen in Calvin Klein Jeans advertisements, and reflect feminine “identity” in society.

As seen in the collage collection of Calvin Klein Jean advertisements, sex appeal is a main tactic used by marketers to sell products. Images of male and female models are used to convince the audience to purchase and promote the product. As Sut Jhally mentions in “Image-Based Culture,” advertisers

“use images and representations of men and women as central components of their strategy to both get attention and persuade… [A]ds draw heavily upon the domain of gender display – not the way that men and women actually behave but the ways in which we think men and women behave… Sexuality provides a resource that can be used to get attention and communicate instantly,” (Jhally, 253).

This can be seen in the collage collection of Calvin Klein Jean advertisements. Many of these advertisements picture men and women in explicit relationships. Sexuality is used to immediately attract the attention of consumers. Several advertisements feature naked women and men, engaging in sexual displays of affection. In an ad for jeans, for instance, a seemingly naked male model is depicted taking off a seemingly naked female model’s jeans. Although the jeans are the main product that the ad is attempting to sell, the jeans are not the main focus of the ad. The woman’s rear end is centered in the ad, along with the male’s muscular biceps. Because these are the center of attention in the ad, consumers look at the ad and focus on these ideal images of beauty. This is the butt all women wish to achieve; these are the muscles all men wish to achieve. Society’s view of the ideal body is depicted in the ads. Long female legs are featured in the CK Jean ad on the bottom right, and although a bit censored, a naked female model is featured in the CK Jean ad on the center left. These female models have long legs, perfect skin, seemingly large breasts, and thin waists. This ideal look in the advertisements that surround everyday life advise the audience on how to dress, how to get a man, and most of all, how to look.

Not only can sexuality be seen throughout numerous advertisements, but certain ramifications of the female identity are also portrayed via these advertisements. Females are portrayed as commodities in many advertisements, and objectified and used to sell the products by “becoming” the product. Females are also pictured as being submissive when compared to men in these ads. For instance, in the CK Jeans collage, the two top advertisements featuring two couples depict the male model with a look of toughness and ruggedness. His facial expressions show his leadership, strength, and masculinity. The female model, on the other hand, is pictured behind the male model in one ad. The male model is the “leader,” while the female model is in the background, tending to the male model, hugging and caressing him. This depicts females as being nurturing. “Females touch people and things delicately, we caress, whereas males grip, clench, and grasp,” (Kilbourne, 265). The ad in the top center features a male model holding the female model, as if he is protecting her. This again depicts males as being strong and fearless, while females must nurture and rely on males to ensure well-being. These messages behind the ads can be seen in other ads that do not feature male models, too. Advertisers influence ideas of feminism by depicting these models in certain positions that represent how a female should be according to society. “Advertisers are members of the culture too and have been as thoroughly conditioned as anyone else… On a deeper level, however, they reflect cultural concerns and conflicts about women’s power,” (Kilbourne, 262). In the collage, the advertisements featuring one female model portray the model in a submissive or restricted position. The ad on the top left portrays the woman inching away from the camera with her arm covering her face, the ad on the bottom left portrays the woman in a cowering position, her back toward the camera, and the ad on the bottom center features women covered and restricted by male police officers. Even the ad in the direct center of the collage represents the limitations on femininity by positioning a female model with her arms restricted and bound behind her. These restrictions and cowering positions are used to develop a feminine identity via advertisements. By using these females as models, not only are CK Jeans able to advertise for jeans and their product line, but the advertisers are also able to advise the audience on how a true attractive female should be – submissive, nurturing, and thin – by using these negative depictions of feminine identity. Overall, these ads use sex appeal to show society’s ideal concept of femininity by making women appear submissive and vulnerable in the photos.


"Calvin Klein Ad #748." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #68." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #70." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #339." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #392." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-265.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hannah Montana Product Line Plays Role in Early Gender Typing

What exactly constitutes gender and the roles particular genders play in society? There is the biology concept of gender in which sex is determined by certain organs in the body. Ethnicity and class have a part in familiarizing people with their particular roles, as well. Many different symbols ranging from language to art and sculpture used primarily for aesthetic purposes play a part in relation to gender and socialization. In fact, children are socialized into their gender role based on numerous sources that they are exposed to, such as their environment, adults, other children, media, and even toys. Basic toys, such as the Hannah Montana product line, play an important role in early gender typing for children and society’s expectations.

Society’s expectations of gender binary begin as early as childhood. Although gender is based on the biology of certain chromosomes, there are many human produced categories that form the foundation for gender roles in society. Society’s ideals and concepts as basic as tradition, morals, and conceptions of stereotype, proper protocol, and etiquette construct the ideas of what women should be and what men should be. There are many “underlying societal beliefs about the relative roles of men and women. To mother a child is to nurture, coddle, and protect that child; to father a child is simply to fertilize an egg, (Newman, 79). Children are exposed to these seemingly simple societal concepts in their environment every day. Because of this, even before they have a choice in the matter, children develop gender due to these influences of society.

Toys especially facilitate the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood. Toys as simple as dolls and water guns represent powerful methods of information dissemination. “A quick glance at Saturday morning television commercials or a toy manufacturer’s catalog or web site reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines,” (Newman, 112). They spread basic ideas on how to be a girl and how to be a boy. Girls are encouraged to be more emotional and nurturing with their baby dolls, while boys are encouraged to engage in aggressive play with their trucks and action figures. These ideas are embedded into society and promulgated through the market, “teaching” children how to fulfill their proper gender roles based on society’s expectations. As consumers of these toys, children are being “trained” and socialized into their prospective roles by playing with the toys and watching how other children play with the toys in their environment and on the media.

A task as simple as searching for a gender-neutral toy is no longer as easy as it used to be, because gender-neutral toys are no longer predominant in the market. Board games such as Scrabble and Connect Four are not played as often. Simple apparatuses such as Bop-it are no longer in style. The popularity of these gender-neutral toys has dissipated. Although basic toys such as balls still exist, they do not fail in their surreptitious effort to influence gender. Parents tend to buy the pink balls for their girls and male-oriented colored balls, such as blue, for their boys. The main toys that exist in the market send obvious messages in shaping certain aspects of gender roles in adulthood and society. Toys such as dolls, dresses, and kitchen sets are marketed toward girls, influencing them to become care-takers, domestic, and nurturing. Trucks, action figures, Lego blocks, video games, and Nerf guns, on the other hand, are marketed toward boys. These toys influence boys to explore and become aggressive, strategic, and logical. Now, toys that promote gender typing, such as those mentioned, play an important role, and flood the toy market with masculinity and femininity expectations for the consumer.

The Hannah Montana product line, in particular, sold in many toy stores such as Toys “R” Us, sends messages on gender typing and underlying societal expectations of female values of adulthood. The Hannah Montana product line includes many dolls resembling the actress Miley Cyrus from the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana. The protagonist of the series is a teenage girl who has a dual identity of being a famous pop star at night. Many of the dolls in this product line come with several different doll outfits so the children who play with the toy can delight in changing their dolls’ clothes. Some even include plastic mini hairdryers and mini brushes.

Here is a YouTube video showing some toys included in the Hannah Montana product line:

Although the plethora of accessories that these dolls come with promote creativity and design when deciding how to dress the doll and how to style the doll’s hair, these products also tend to promote ideas of limited feminine roles in society. According to the ideals of the product line, girls should focus on body and beauty. The Hannah Montana makeover set, taken from the Toys "R" Us website and featured in the picture, will help girls learn how to properly put eye shadow and lip gloss, while the dress-up set and closet will help girls figure out the latest fashion and look good according to society standards. There is no doubt that the toys in this product line are used for entertainment purposes and children have fun playing with them, but their underlying messages limit girls in learning about their female place in today’s culture. Is the non-stop dance party Hannah Montana CD solely for young girls to sing, dance, and enjoy themselves, or does it also enforce girls to exercise, sing, and stay fit? These toys encourage ideas of glamour, selling items that focus on enhancing the looks of hair, nails, and overall image. Having the dolls come with mirrors, several outfits, and numerous accessories promote creativity, as well as vanity and ideal attractiveness, which shape feminine gender typing for young girls.

Unlike girls’ toys, boys’ toys tend to encourage curiosity and exploration. Boys’ toys include action figures and video games. On the Toys “R” Us website, a category entitled “Learning and Science” even shows boy models exploring and using the toys; whereas, girls solely play with dolls and carriages. Many toys for boys encourage boys to be aggressive, build logic, and engage in outdoor games. In a study conducted by Michael A. Messner, it was discovered that many men believed that aggressive play and sports were just what boys did; it was merely a social norm.

“Many of the men… said that during childhood they played sports because ‘it’s just what everybody did,’ they of course meant that is was just what boys did. They were introduced to organized sports by older brothers and fathers, and once involved, found themselves playing within an exclusively male world. though the separate (and unequal) gendered worlds of boys and girls came to appear as ‘natural,’ they were in fact socially constructed,” (Messner, 127).

The ideas that boys play sports and engaged in outdoor activity are constructed by society and the way society views gender roles. According to this paradigm, boys play with water guns to promote aggressive play and strategy, while girls play with dolls to promote domestic nurturing. Boys and girls should follow their prospective roles because it is the norm; it is what society has promoted and still continues to promote through many different mediums, including toys and the consumer market.

In conclusion, gender and the particular roles that genders play in society are governed by many things, including the environment, media, parents, families, and children’s toys. Expectations of gender roles begin as early as childhood, as children are exposed to the media, advertisements promoting how girls should act and carry themselves and how boys should act and carry themselves, and even toys that their parents and other adults purchase for them. Play guns and strategic video games are made for boys to be consumers, while Hannah Montana dolls, make up sets, and dress up sets are made for girls. Girls are expected to act proper and not play with the aggressive toys made for boys. Girls are encouraged to continue their role as the nurturing, beautiful care-takers. The number of different mediums used as sources of laying a foundation for “proper” societal gender identity, whether beneficial or not, is endless, and they continue to have a strong influence on culture and society in the every day world.

Works Cited

"Hannah Montana - Toys "R" Us." ToysRUs. 19 May 2008 .

"Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus Dolls and More." YouTube. 20 May 2008 .

Messner, Michael A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (1990): 120-137.

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-145.

Monday, May 12, 2008