First National Love Your Body Day a Big Success

by Alyssa Wilmot, Publications Intern
Photo by Connie Hannah
Donna Hazley (right), NOW Action Center staff member, joined Mello Johnson (left), Diversity Coordinator of Virginia NOW, and activist from Tidewater and Richmond chapters for a demonstration outside Phillip Morris to protest the tobacco industry's tageting of women and girls in it's advertising.

Thousands of activists participated in Love Your Body Day on Sept. 25, 1998, the first national day to call attention to harmful images of women in the media and encourage women to celebrate their bodies. A part of the NOW Foundation's Women's Health Project, Love Your Body Day received a great response. Women and men flooded the NOW Foundation staff with requests for action kits and signed petitions pledging to say "no" to twisted beauty standards. Participants in the campaign spoke out against images of women that are offensive, disrespectful and dangerous.

"Seven million girls and women have eating disorders, over 2,000 women and girls begin smoking each day, and a $33 billion diet industry has developed which was non-existent 20 years ago; we must take action to stop advertisers from manip-ulating women's self-images to sell their products," said NOW Foundation Education Vice President Elizabeth Toledo.

Local Activists Speak Out

Love Your Body Day events included house parties, pickets, online chats, classroom discussions and speak-outs across the country.

The New York City Chapter of NOW held a "Feed the Models" action at Times Square which drew a large, enthusiastic crowd. The diverse group illustrated how ads affect women of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds. Surrounded by billboards featuring "waif" models,  the demonstrators chanted:  "What do we want?  To see Real Women!  When do we want it?  NOW!" along with, "Two, four, six, eight . . . beauty is what I create!"

NOW-NYC President Galen Sherwin opened the rally with her call to action: "We are sick of being pushed up, pulled in and put down by the media and fashion industry!"

Ireland announced to the crowd, "You are all beautiful!"  She then told how the three-year-old daughter of a NOW Foundation officer held up a Barbie doll and pronounced her "too skinny!"

Joining Ireland and Sherwin were New York State Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey Ross; Barbara Seaman, co-founder of the National Women's Health Network; Claire Mysko, administrative director of the American Anorexia-Bulimia Association; and Toby Stinick, a Ph.D. with 20 years experience working with women and eating disorders.

In Virginia, the Tidewater and Richmond chapters held a rally to speak out against dangerous advertising practices by the Philip Morris corporation. NOW Foundation Women's Health Project staffer Donna Hazley joined chapter activists to urge the tobacco industry to stop luring young women and girls into smoking. Hazley spoke to the activists about the effects of smoking and advertising on women and teenagers and our demand that Phillip Morris "Stop using our butts to sell yours! "The NOW action did not go unnoticed - employees driving into work stopped and asked demonstrators what the protest was about.

Chapters Educate the Public

Other NOW chapters and women's organizations around the country presented the Health Project's "Redefining Liberation" video. The video, a major tool in the campaign, educates people about the effects of advertising on women's body image, health and self-esteem. Those showing the video as a part of their campaign included: Bluegrass (Ky.) NOW, Lincoln (Neb.) NOW, Maryland NOW, Northern Prince George's County (Md.) NOW, Pennsylvania NOW, Planned Parenthood of Central Pennsylvania joining with York (Pa.) NOW, Sun City (Az.) NOW and the YWCA in Berkeley, Calif.

Boca Raton (Fla.) NOW followed the video with a panel discussion which included representatives from NOW, the health community and advertising agencies. Columbus (Ohio) NOW submitted "Redefining Liberation" to their local cable systems where it was broadcast throughout the month of November. Springfield NOW held a workshop on body image at the Illinois State Conference.  Tompkins County (N.Y.) NOW started a body image task force and ad watch campaign. Tulsa (Okla.) NOW encouraged a local high school class to take action by writing letters to various advertisers.  They also celebrated with house parties. The next day the town was decorated with "This Insults Women" stickers, applied to places such as offensive truck mud flaps and store windows. In Rock Hill, S.C., the Sexual Assault Resource Center displayed posters and held a "Teen Speak Out" against advertising, gender stereotypes, pregnancy and sexual assault. Winthrop (S.C.) NOW featured a speaker relating sexual violence and the media. And Worcester (Mass.) NOW connected Love Your Body Day with the upcoming elections.

Body Images a Concern to Many

In the last National NOW Times, the NOW Foundation printed a Body Image Survey. More than 200 people responded to the survey (see box). The results from this survey indicated overwhelmingly that women are fed up with the pressures to fit an "ideal,"emaciated image which is unhealthy and unnatural for most women.

 "Tobacco, alcohol, and fashion advertising is not only a health problem, but also a political problem for women, because these industries contribute to stereotyping of women and increase discrimination against us," said NOW Foundation President Patricia Ireland.

The success of the first national event and the loud call from women to focus attention on these issues guaranteed that Love Your Body Day will become an annual event. Activists from NOW and other organizations are gearing up for Love Your Body Day in September 1999. But the campaign's organizers point out that educating women on these issues is not a project for only one day of the year - it is a year-round process. In fact, NOW chapters in California are already planning events on Feb. 14, 1999, to highlight the Love Your Body Campaign.

Educational materials can be found at on the NOW Foundation web site. The Love Your Body Day Action Kit and the "Redefining Liberation"video can be ordered online or by calling 202-331-0066.

"This is such an excellent program BRAVA!  My college students suffer so much with these body and beauty issues, so I'm glad to see this program."
--Diana K. Ivy, Ph.D.,
Corpus Christi, Texas

"I raised [my daughter] to value her brains because she will need them to support herself and they last longer than great breasts!"
--Caralou Wicks,
Oceanside, CA

"Money is power and you can only become more powerful by telling them that you will not buy their products if they don't cater to more women like you."
--Cherly Maitlen,
Moorestown, NJ

"We can serve as good examples of healthy, happy and comfortable women."
--Renate E. Filkins,
St. Petersburg, FL

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