KINGSTON, R.I. – March 19, 2015 – A few years ago, filmmaker Darryl Roberts asked 200 women if they liked their bodies. Their answers shocked him: Only two said yes.
That revelation led him on a journey to explore this ugly truth, culminating in his three award-winning “America the Beautiful” documentaries, praised by critics for taking a brutally honest look at a national crisis.
The last in the series, “America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth,” will be shown, free of charge, at the University of Rhode Island April 7 at 6 p.m. in Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road, on the Kingston campus. Roberts is attending the screening and will answer questions afterward.
Shown throughout the country and world, the film explores the harmful effects of sexualization on young people, covering topics like child beauty pageants, teen pregnancy and rape, and the ways in which the culture of sexualization damages both boys and girls.
URI’s Marketing and Communications Office caught up with the Chicago filmmaker recently to talk about his work, the media’s role in the problem and the quest for physical perfection in this country.
Thank you for talking to us. In 2008, the American Psychological Association released a report claiming that sexualized images in the media and pop culture have created a mental health crisis among girls. How so?
The association said that they found a link between the amount of sexualized images young girls were digesting and an increase in body dissatisfaction, depression and eating disorders – all markers for mental health issues.
Has TV fueled the fire?
Absolutely. TV probably has the fastest, most impactful effect on a young person’s behavior and self-esteem. Remember the Fiji study from 1995. They went from not having television on the island to it being introduced in 1995, and in three short years 11 percent of girls had eating disorders when they had none before that. The residents of Fiji said that TV totally corrupted their culture. They blamed shows like “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
What about fashion magazines? Women, thin as reeds, are portrayed in sexually explicit poses, sometimes with girlish features like pigtails.
There is a statistic that says 3 minutes reading a fashion magazine will cause a woman to feel depressed, guilty and shameful. In all honesty, you can’t single out one culprit. It’s the culture. All of it together creates a culture that supports an unrealistic body ideal, and it’s hard to escape from it.
The problem seems overwhelming. How can we stop it? Advertisers obviously are making money selling sex, and we do live in a capitalist society.
Realistically companies are not going to stop advertising the way they do as long as they’re making money. What has to change is us. Being an individual is the biggest threat to an advertiser. Their system only works when our youth sees beauty in a monolithic way, as the same ideal to aspire to. What if our youth looked at themselves as individuals and saw different things and sizes as beautiful. How would advertisers market to all the different viewpoints? Advertising only works when they can brainwash the masses.
Any advice to parents of young girls bombarded by sexually explicit images?
I’ve been telling parents that the reason young people in America are falling into the sex trap is because they don’t have a sense of what a healthy sexuality is. Young people are not taught by their parents, and they aren’t taught in school. Teach young people – like in Europe – what it means to have a healthy sexuality and the paradigm will shift.
Your film won a rave review by the late critic Roger Ebert. What do you hope to accomplish with the movie?
My hope for “America the Beautiful 3” is for parents to realize that our youth/kids need us to stop trying to be their friends and start supporting them in an adult way. Parents are on Facebook with their kids and dress like them and listen to their music, etc., but what the kids need is support and guidance. Let’s stand up and be adults for our youth.
Women are taught to seek an impossible physical ideal, but men are taught to worship it. What can we do to nurture more enlightened boys?
That’s another problem in our society. Unfortunately, most males aren’t taught what it means to be a man, especially from an emotional perspective: “Be strong. Don’t cry. Suck it up!” Young boys are confused growing up. We have this wave of hyper-masculinity, and it’s causing major problems in our society. Men are also buying into the beauty myth with the Adonis complex. Plastic surgery is on the rise in men, and sometimes I have to wonder: Are we ever going to come back to a natural state so our society can heal?
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition just landed in millions of mailboxes across the country. Some say the cover borders on the obscene. What do you think?
I understand that a woman has the inalienable right to do whatever she wants with her body. That being said, I tend to view things from the lens of community, meaning how does this image affect the masses. And when you think about how images like that have been making young girls feel about themselves for decades and how young boys relate to girls by seeing images like that, I have to say, honestly, I had a problem with the image of the model on the cover.
For more information, call URI psychology professor Lisa Weyandt at 401-874-2087 or email her at email@example.com. Sponsors are the Department of Psychology, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.
Pictured above: Filmmaker Darryl Roberts, director of “America the Beautiful 3,” to be shown April 7 at the University of Rhode Island.