A Girl and Her [Impossible] Room

Photographer Rania Matar created a project called “A girl and her room” where she photographed girls and young women in their bedrooms.  It sounded like a really interesting project to me, so I clicked the link.

A couple of the rooms really struck me:

These girls have surrounded themselves with images that are impossible to achieve and, in some cases, highly sexualized.  Thanks to photoshop, The MODELS in these photographs don’t even look like the photos in real life.

Is it any surprise that girls would put so much emphasis on this when they live in such a thin-centric society?  When the First Lady of the United States is at school shaming their fat classmates as a constant reminder of what will happen if they don’t fit the very small “proper” height/weight ratio as defined by the sixty B…B…B… Billion dollar a year diet industry?  Even if they weren’t hung intentionally as inspiration, what does it do to a girl to be surrounded by unattainable images in the room that is her sanctuary?

When I was a kid I had Rudyard Kiplings “If” on my ceiling (yes, I was a weird little kid) and 16 years later I can still recite the whole poem and it jumps into my head in lots of situations.  Will these images sink in like that for these girls?

What can we do?

There have been some efforts to put warnings on photoshopped pictures and I think it might be a good idea.  Even if they are aware that they are photoshopped, does it really sink in for these girls or does the diet industry’s message  that if you just have enough discipline you can have any sized body win out?  What does it do to them subconsciously?  It seems that at least they would have to see the label every time they look at the picture – that would be a start.

It’s just a suggestion but it’s time to do something because we can do better for our girls.

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 7:28 am  Comments (27)  

27 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Whoa, that’s kinda weird — whatever happened to having pictures of Johnny Depp or the lads from Duran Duran on your walls?

    • Right! Did they stop publishing Tiger Beat?

      ~Ragen

  2. Wow, that’s sad. I knew a few girls like that in high school. They would pepper the usual posters of The Smashing Pumpkins, Live, Nirvana, and Weezer (90s kid!) with thinspiration or ‘beauty’ shots of faces. Le sigh.

    Here was my room (the lady in the photo was my best friend Sarah posing in my new yellow sunglasses). As you can see, mostly my art, some animal/nature stuff, collectibles, candle soot on the walls, and on the ceiling was my super awesome Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back poster (hey, the remastered versions were coming out that year!).

    • Kudos to your room and your friends awesome sunglasses!

      ~Ragen

  3. Duran Duran. :)

    It would be a strong statement by the photographer if those rooms were “staged,” but incredibly sad to think that a young woman would choose to decorate her room in this way.

    If these are teenage girls living at home, I’m surprised that the parents would allow this. Do they know, care, or simply buy into the message that the images send?

    I have a son and a daughter, and am scared for them. I want to protect them from all this – her from hating herself, and him from thinking that women are their looks/bodies and nothing more – but how? One thing I have quietly done is stop disparaging my own body in front of them. My daughter, who is 4, has called me “fat,” but the comment seems very neutral coming from her, like she’s just making an observation. She says it with a smile, and gently pats my tummy. I just snuggle her close and tell her that people come in all shapes and sizes.

    Thanks, Ragen, for another thought-provoking post.

    Mary-Ellin

    • Mary-Elin,

      I feel for you. I hear a lot from parents who are trying to deal with this and I think that setting a good example is a really good start. I think that you are an amazing parent for working on this from such a young age with them :)

      ~Ragen

  4. my first assumption when i looked at these photos last week is that these girls are queer. which, you know, still unattainable fantasy beauty on the walls, but may not be trauma-inducing, may be wank inducing. ;)

    who knows? best not to assume either way, i suppose.

    • [Edit: Grammarpocalypse, let’s try this again] Even if they are queer and have selected these pictures because they are attracted to the women, they are still surrounding themselves with pictures of unattainable beauty. Even if that somehow doesn’t affect their self-esteem I have to wonder how it will affect their perception of their future partners.

      ~Ragen

  5. Wow. As a teen I had posters of Hanson and JTT on my walls, not other women I aspired to look like.

  6. Being an aging geezer, I had the psychedelic Richard Avedon shot of John Lennon on my wall. I don’t recall have any fashion models at all.

    This is a terrible indictment of consumer society and the all-encompassing power of thinness.

    Photoshop warnings? Couldn’t hurt, but they probably won’t help much either. Soupir (sigh, in French).

  7. My daughter likes to tell me that I have a ‘big booty’. I always say, ‘ya, I do, and is that okay with you?’, while I am shaking it and smiling.
    She always tells me that it is okay with her. As she gets older, though, (she just turned 11), I can see her trying to fit this idea in with what the world around her tells her.
    Thanks to all who keep jiggling as we raise healthy children!

  8. When I was a teen I did have some pics of women on my walls. I was bisexual but not out, so some of the pics were women I was attracted to, and some were women I aspired to be like. My father told me I was fat and unlovable, so although some of my inspirational women were undoubtably there because I saw them as not-fat and very lovable.

    • That last sentence should read: My father told me I was fat and unlovable, so although some of my inspirational women were there because they were talented or inspiring in healthy ways some were undoubtably there because i saw them as not-fat and very lovable.

      I wanted to edit the post to correct it, but couldn’t figure out a way to.

  9. I had glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling among Star Wars posters, along with the plush toy of an alien in a UFO sitting on my computer desk. Plastering pictures of half-naked or naked thin women was the last thing on my mind, but then again, I was a teenager during a time when being fat was not the worst thing to be in the world. These girls are growing up in an era that fat people are enemy #1 and must be eliminated at all costs. It’s sad.

    • I had glow-in-the-dark stars too! My mom started letting me get them on planetarium visits at age 7 or 8, and I just kept adding to the collection. Seeing these photos (my mom has been known to try and “thinspire” both my sister and me), I am extra glad this decoration scheme became my big room thing.

  10. Is that an electric string bass? That is awesome!

    That’s the happy part. The sad part is that I actually recognize many of those photographs from my “thinspo” folder.

    Since we’re talking about our own childhood rooms, I never did really personalize mine, the idea being that I’d be moving on eventually anyway. It’s that same (kind of silly) mindset that keeps the walls of my apartment bare and my things in boxes instead of displayed on shelves…

  11. You said:

    “…(yes, I was a weird little kid)…”

    Thank goodness!

  12. Add me to the list of folks who read the pictures (at least the first one) as possible indicators of non-straightness. Even if that’s the case, I agree with Ragen about it not meaning that the pictures are a non-issue, but there’s definitesly a different context, especially if this is a way to sneak their sexuality into their everyday lives.

    Part of this is undoubtedly solipsistic, but as a bi woman, I would love to see some research into body image and the impact of media representations on bi girls. Occupying the role of the observed as a participant in heterosexual culture, while also being the observer *outside* of hetero culture creates some robust tensions, and when you combine those with being a teenager, there’s a lot going on there. Good stuff to ponder …

    • I’ve actually thought about that a lot and I think if more people discussed it, we’d be able to approach the topics of gender and sexuality more effectively. If these girls are only hanging up the pictures out of sexual desire, then they’re still buying into commercialized beauty and commodified femininity, but unlike their male counterparts, they can’t actually separate themselves from it. So either they end up aspiring to these ideals (because if they expect that level of perfection in a partner, that partner will logically expect it from them) or they end up mentally distinguishing themselves from other women (seeing women as objects without identifying themselves as objects, even though society will still categorize them as such).

      Personally, with the amount that the media sexualizes women’s bodies, I don’t see how any girl, regardless of sexuality, could hang up those pictures without associating them with sexual desire in some way.

  13. Actually I would love to see photoshopped images outlawed! A beautiful photograph, with an actual human being interestingly posed, would be great. *Sigh*. We can dream, right?

    • I once saw a side by side comparison of the non-photoshopped image of Britney Spears posing for a Candie’s shoes ad next to the photoshopped ad that was placed in magazines. She looked much more appealing in the non-photoshopped photo. In the photoshopped one they had slimmed her legs down ridiculously, pretty well making her look like a mannikin.

  14. Ragen, Thanks, I am loving your blog. I haven’t yet read all the comments above, so apologize if this is redundant – do you know whether people have started to contact Michelle Obama to enlighten her about her word choices and approach? I bet she would benefit by speaking with you, or at least hearing your POV.

    Also, wondering if maybe some of these girls are perhaps may be gay and these half naked women are not inspiration, but maybe turn-ons…in which case, they are still being turned on by the impossible ideal – but it is worth expanding our vision to remember that not all teenage girls are hetero.

    peace to you! keep us the good work!!

    • Hi Amy,

      Thanks for the kind words. There are some people trying to work with Michelle Obama and I definitely hope that she gets the message!

      ~Ragen

  15. oh, meant – keep up the good work, but US is a good typo, since you are doing so much for us all by posting :-)

  16. I recently stayed with my aunt and uncle out of town, and I was graciously given my cousin’s room (18 and about to go to college). I was baffled- completely baffled!- at all the magazine pictures she had hung up! It was like a horrifying cocoon of perfectly white/tan bump-free plastic mutant skin and plumpy lips and crazy eyelashes! I didn’t want to seem like the lame old 26 year-old feminist cousin so I didn’t say anything, but now I’m wishing I would have. If my teenage room had looked like my cousin’s (which resembled the ones you have posted) I probably would have shriveled up and died. What drives girls to hang up pictures like that??

  17. I used to hang pictures like that on my wall. I thought the models were pretty, I did use it for inspiration as well (my parents used to watch my weight for me). I wanted to look like them because hey they are perfect who doesn’t want to be that? Stupid but hey thats being an insecure teenager I guess.

  18. 0o0 W… T… F?! I don’t know anyone who would put those kinds of pictures up in their room! I have one picture that I consider self-destructive up in my room, and it’s of my friend Jenna, whom is naturally as skinny as those models, and doesn’t even have to try.


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