Pining For… Substance

Delightfully Maladjusted

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College reflection essay

Laura Knight

College Reflection Paper

COM 497

City University of Seattle

August, 2012

College Reflection Paper

Let me start this reflection essay with some background about myself and why I decided to go to college. As this is mostly likely the last college essay I will ever write, I feel a need to cathartically think about my educational experience as a whole and why it is important to me, not just about my time at City University of Seattle. Attending college has not been easy for me. Not because of the coursework, although that was challenging–as it should have been. The struggle to get to college, stay in college, and now to parlay all of that experience in to a satisfying career has been and is the most challenging aspect of my higher education. It bothers me to read and sometimes hear that a bachelor’s degree today is the equivalent of a high school diploma in previous generations. The assumption being that everyone is going to college now and it is hardly the respected accomplishment it used to be. Despite the fact that today’s job market is saturated with college graduates, earning a bachelor’s degree is an accomplishment for me. I want college administrators and lawmakers to understand that some people are leveraging their future against what they think a college degree will give them. Then to find out in the end that they were just a profit margin and are going to have a harder time than ever finding a job, let alone one they are satisfied with, well, it’s spirit crushing material. This is my education story, and I am not alone in my experiences.

As I write this, I will be the only person in my entire family to have graduated from college, and honestly among a handful that even finished high school. I grew up impoverished in central Florida, and I came from a broken home. Most of my youth was spent moving from one filthy, barely inhabitable house to another just ahead of an eviction notice. I am not sure if my father ever let on to his relatives or friends just how dire our situation was (and always seemed to be). I think he must have told them a few times because I recall living with his relatives or friends on occasion instead of being “technically homeless”. There were some genuinely caring people who offered to help when they could, although many of the people we knew were not much better off than we were.

I think back on all the times during school when I could not participate in field trips, activities or the like because my dad could not pay for it. I recall in sixth grade being sent to the principal for lying to a teacher when I explained that she could not call my dad because we did not have a telephone- I was telling the truth. I am just now at the age of thirty-two paying to have my teeth corrected because braces were as affordable as a yacht might have been for us.

I felt confused and thrown away like garbage because I saw my mother maybe five times in during junior high and my first two years of high school, even though she lived in the same neighborhood I shuffled around in from house to house with my father. And when I did see her she was bitter or drunk, sometimes both. I wondered who would ever love me if my own mother didn’t. Family was a distant concept in my world, and the ones who were not just as miserable as we were, were more likely to avoid you or shove a bible verse in your face rather than give you a place to stay or actually invest in your problems. And when my mother died when I was 15 I felt worse because I didn’t seem to care like I should, more so than because of her actual death.

I brought with me in to adulthood memories and survival skills of living without electricity on occasion, or hot water for months, nights with no dinner, and sleeping with cockroaches crawling on me. I also fought (and won thankfully) against sexual abuse on multiple occasions at the hands of many deviant members of the poor white trash community, or those who liked to visit those communities to prey on easily accessible and neglected children. I recall feeling scared often as I walked home after work two miles in the dark, alone and late at night at the age of 16 because my family didn’t have a car and the bus stopped running at 9pm. Or even worse I recall being angry and forgotten about because someone was at my house that did have a car but didn’t care enough to come pick me up. I wondered what it would have been like to have spent my afternoons as a teenager on extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, or just hanging out with friends.

I think back fondly on my friends and their families, how they opened their arms to me, but I also wonder if I was a charity case for them or if they truly liked me. I also wonder if I was a depressing burden to those who offered to help me more than once, and I hope I was not.

Why am I telling you, dear reader, any of this? What does it have to do with college? Well, despite the dark pit that was my childhood, I still went to school every single day. I earned good grades. I kept my eyes on the future, because there was nothing good about my present. And I assure you, I was not alone in my misery. There were kids like me who pushed through their desperate situations and kept going to school and there were kids who dropped out at 16. For those of us who kept pushing we thought (and were told by “authorities”) if only we can graduate and get in to college—that is what we must do, that is the only way to get out of this life. That is the only way to get a chance at the same opportunities as kids who only had to worry about “regular” teenager problems. As soon as I turned 18, I took control of my life. I moved out, worked two, sometimes three jobs to support myself and I decided to go to college. I wanted to create a better life for myself, and I thought that college was the first and most important step in order to do that.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that being dirt poor was actually an advantage in higher education because our government and big companies wanted to invest in me by paying for my education. What I didn’t know at the time was that I could have used that money to live on-campus somewhere and have a traditional college experience. I also could have graduated close to a decade ago. But I wasn’t really given a lot of guidance and at that time I thought the best use of my time and funds was to work multiple jobs and attend school part-time, while using some of my grant money to live in an apartment by myself in a neighborhood that made me think twice about checking my mail after dark.

I started my college career thinking I was going into theater or journalism. I was taking courses in both at my community college. Eventually the acting bug left me and I decided I wanted to write for a living. I loaded up on all the journalism and writing electives I could. I truly enjoyed the content of those classes, but I wasn’t able to devote myself to the student newspaper like I wanted to because while the news staff was meeting at two in the afternoon I was at work.

For me college was a chance to leave my past behind and start fresh, a chance to be normal. I found working two jobs and trying to stay on top of my coursework was tough. There were semesters when I just felt like giving up, and I did for a while. I would stop going to school for six months here and there because I just felt exhausted. There were also times when I would simply talk myself out of going to school altogether. I would rationalize my decision by telling myself to accept the job I had at the time as the best it was going to get for me. I would tell myself that I should be happy enough with where I was and get settled in the life I was living because, after all, it was still better than the situation I came from.

I changed majors a few times. I thought I was going to be a crime scene investigator, then a pastry chef, then an event planner. In 2004 my father died from cancer and I was devastated. Even though he had never been a good provider, he was still a loving person. When he died I felt completely alone in the world and the idea of continuing on with schooling or bettering my life in any way seemed pointless. I stopped going to school for a couple of years.

Finally, after a long debate with myself about what I was going to do with my life, I decided to go back and at least finish my two year degree. I had been working at it for years and I only had two math classes left in order to graduate. I had always struggled with math and I was validated a bit when I was clinically diagnosed with a mild learning disability. Those two math classes may have been the toughest of my life. I had a great sense of accomplishment, until I realized that a general A.A. degree gets you nowhere. I wasn’t qualified for jobs that I was interested in because they required a bachelor’s degree, but I didn’t quite fit with jobs that only required a high school diploma either. After continuing to work in jobs that I could not contribute to in a meaningful way or that micromanaged me to the point of logging in and out to use the bathroom, it was clear that I needed to move ahead with my education.

I chose City University of Seattle’s communications program because I wanted a program that I could do online while working full time and that focused on writing extensively. At the time I felt that the classes being offered were relevant to my career goals. When the program changed to emphasize writing and marketing for social media, I was pleased because I too had noticed an increase in requests for these skills in job ads. Up until now I have given you background on why college was such an important goal for me, but also how hard I had to work at keeping myself focused on education in my life.  I wanted to explain my point of view in depth so that someone can understand my line of thinking when I explain what I felt has worked for me and what has failed me as a college student at your school. I suppose it is time to get down to the specific questions this essay is supposed to address—my CityU program and how it has and will help me as a communications professional.

Ethics, diversity & lifelong Learning

Ethics, diversity and lifelong learning were the strongest and best taught topics in my experience with the CityU communications program. The final paper I did about ethics and social media in my spring term class with Professor Barnes has already proved to be a resource during my internship. Social media is being used heavily by all sectors of the communications industry, especially media outlets. The issues of plagiarism, privacy, fraudulent marketing tactics, and simply not giving credit to sources are all major issues with the credibility of communications professionals right now. What I learned at City University is that ethics come first, no matter what. No matter what industry I find myself in, be it news media, marketing or publishing making ethical choices about the content I produce is the most important thing for my career.

Also, I found the curriculum was devoted to expanding my awareness of diversity. In a global marketplace understanding some of the cultural behaviors of other countries has proven helpful yet again. During my internship, several of the clients I was working with were based in Asia. City University did a good job of giving me a basic foundation of global awareness and how we are connected through business and now socially more than ever.

In addition to these two areas, I felt that CityU did instill in me a desire and the awareness of the value to continue learning. The very fact that our program changed to reflect the needs of the marketplace is testament to that. I also felt confident that most of my instructors were up to date on the latest industry information and best practices, making their coursework relevant and interesting. I do not think I will ever go back to college in an official capacity, but I do know that I will continue to educate myself on a variety of topics inside and outside of my industry because being a well- informed person is perhaps the most valuable lesson college has taught me. College may not teach us everything we need to know, but it teaches us why it is important to learn and be objective (critical thinking), and in that regard City University has done a fine job by me.

Professional competency, identity and communication skills

Throughout my life in school from kindergarten to college, I was under the impression that I was an exceptional writer. I won awards in school for my writing. I placed in the top third of a Readers Digest writing competition a few years ago. Many of the papers I submitted to instructors at City University were returned with good grades and positive comments. Therefore, you can imagine my disappointment and confusion when I was told –and I am paraphrasing here–by an Ivy League educated editor turned PR pro that I was a nice, enthusiastic person but my writing skills are currently not competent enough to work as writing professional. Well, perhaps that is simply her opinion I reasoned, but her staff also agreed with her. I also suspect she is accurate because it took extensive searching to find an internship that would consider me. Also, to date I have applied to over 50 entry-level communications jobs and no one is calling me for an interview.

I have read numerous news articles about–and less formal rants from– recent college graduates who cannot land a job in this economy. Some of these recent grads did everything right—they did the best internships, got good grades and learned all the necessary software for their major. I also think many of these recent grads are from middle to upper middle class homes, so they have a place to wait it out until they do find a job. But what does that mean for recent graduates like me? It feels like I am still struggling after a tough childhood, years of trying to finish college, and close to 30 thousand dollars in student loans to pay off. I am still struggling to get to the same position in life that so many others take for granted. That position in life that gives me notions of things I can have such as liking my job, home ownership, family vacations and stability seems to try harder and harder to keep me out.

And the reality is that now that I am a college graduate employers do not care about my woes. They do not care why I don’t know how to use InDesign or write as competently as students who had better foundations- all they know is I am not a contender. I can imagine elitist editors snickering at my degree earned online and that it took 14 years for me to complete it. And I think what a figurative slap in the face because I would like to know if college graduates who were able to focus solely on their education for four years without working full time are better qualified than me.

I have an idea of how to deal with the practical weaknesses that are preventing me from getting a job in communications. Although I have found that not only do companies not bother these days to tell you they are not hiring you, the form letter rejection e-mails they send will not tell you why either. How are we supposed to know what to improve upon , or if it’s something we simply cannot change such as years of experience, if no one will actually talk to us? I can revisit proper writing and teach myself, I can try to find a way to teach myself the technology skills I lack through YouTube, trial versions of software, and community classes at the library. But I am angry that I need to do it and I am tired. I have been relying on the education system my whole life under the assumption that if I stuck with it and worked hard I would have opportunities. That belief has proven to be wrong. For 27 thousand dollars, I expected City University of Seattle to give me everything I needed to be competitive in the communications field, and at that this college has failed.

As I read job ads, it seems that employers do not care if you are a hard worker who is passionate and excited about a new career. And they certainly do not care if you are willing to learn new things because they are not willing to invest in you with on the job training- college was supposed to do that, I guess. New graduates are being bounced around like ping-pongs between employers saying they are not qualified for entry-level positions and colleges assuming practical training will be provided. Employers in this economy care about how many hats they can pay one person to wear. This means, a communications graduate today absolutely must know how to use relevant graphic design & editing software, must know about daily deadlines, must know how to use technology tools such as smartphones—and employers do not care about the digital divide. And communications graduates must be the type of writer that editors & managers will not have to babysit, and above all of that, today’s graduate must have proof that they know how to do all of these things.

My advice to City University—if in fact the school intends to continue to seek communications majors- is to create some type of student newspaper, website or newsletter that students can contribute to regularly via their coursework. My advice to City University is to make essential software such as the Adobe Creative Suite available on campus through the library for students who want to learn it, and to provide some type of formal or even informal student tutor type instruction for it. The class I took with Dr. Kaghan, IS 331, is the closest thing to useful in this category I came across in my curriculum. During my internship it was very clear how important metrics are and he did teach us about that and elements of web design in his class. But, because this program is new the kinks had not been worked out and some things that were more for an IS student were not as relevant to me. I would strongly suggest that City U add back in the editing & proofreading course I was able to take with Professor Pope to its communications program. Also, as you already know internships are crucial. I tracked down an internship on my own, with no help or guidance from this school, because my research was showing me that my chances of getting hired after college without an internship were pitiful. My experience in trying to get a communications job has been that the social media emphasis I received is helpful, but the foundation must include practical software skills and fundamental writing knowledge.

To say I am disappointed and anxious about this abysmal job market and my skill set is an understatement. To think about how I am going to pay all of my bills with an entry level job in communications that wants to pay me less annually than I owe on my student loans is frustrating. The most important lesson I have learned in my education journey is that school, from kindergarten to college, tells us to rely on a system that is fundamentally broken, and if I want to succeed in my life, on my terms, I had better take ownership of my education and teach myself. Nevertheless, I am going to push ahead. I just hope that I am able to reap the benefits of my hard work someday in my simple version of the good life before the journey itself manages to crush every ounce of hope and drive I have left.


Gettin’ my Garden On at Volunteer Park


We finally visited the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Capitol Hill. What a beautiful collection of greenhouses! Each greenhouse has different plants from a particular climate. I must say, I felt a tad nostalgic when I entered the last greenhouse and laid eyes upon a banana plant and tropical palms *sniff sniff*. I remember having banana trees in the backyards of various places I lived back home in Florida. Memories of myself making “mud pie” with bananas in my grandmother’s backyard flooded my senses. The earthy smelling dirt,  the grassy smell of unripened bananas mixed with the gooey sweet smell of the black ones that had fallen to the ground–and me squishing my hands in the lumpy batter. This park feels calm in the city and it is a great place to stop walking and start strolling. Here are some pictures to entice you into a visit.


PNW Native plants



This plant reminds me of the holidays…red, gold & green or a Culture Club song, both things I enjoy.


Desert greenhouse


Yes it looks like that, no you shouldn’t say anything.


An evil apple, no?


One of my favorite plants–just so different.


I am happy to report that we did not molest the Lithops.


Alien worm looking plant!


This was my favorite odd plant. The flowers looked and felt like velvet. I kept picturing it in a Las Vegas all night wedding chapel.


Flawless Deception: Examining the Portrayal of Females in Modern Advertising and Media

The New Cool

The modern world seems to have endless options for just about everything. Customizing the way we look is now easier than ever with the multitude of products that are being offered to give us the look we want. And it’s not just how we look, but how and where we live, what we eat, listen to and watch. With all of these options advertisers are churning out campaigns to make us feel that their product is the new best thing. In order to stand out in a sea of options images are becoming ethically questionable by creating an unobtainable ideal that we should strive for, not simply a product we need or may enjoy. The questionable part is that most of us are incapable of achieving these ideals when measured to the enhanced and staged portrayals we are bombarded with, whether it is the perfect body, job, car or home–or worse– all of it. Advertisers are essentially sending out invites to a party we cannot get in to, but they want us to pay for the chance that we might get in. Picture being turned away at the door of a popular nightclub because you don’t meet the criteria of the latest version of cool—and not just for one infraction, the message now is that the whole person from top to bottom and their accompanying life situation must, in fact, rank high on the acceptable measure of the new concept of cool, whatever that may be for the time being. Many of these standards that saturate our media are set and enjoyed by the young, beautiful and financially carefree. These standards are impossible to meet and the pressure created is encouraging a self hating, neurotic and insipid population.

The Illusion of Choice and the Perfect Life

Advertising has changed over the decades, but the message has remained the same for women: physical perfection– as determined by mainstream media — is the goal.  The messages sent tell girls and women that in order to have access to all these wonderful choices in life women must get as close to physical perfection as possible. Failure to be attractive to men will result in loneliness, reduced job opportunities, reduced chances for a family, and an utterly bland life. Sociology professor and researcher Erin Hatton found that, “In the 2000s there were 10 times more hyper sexualized images of women than men, and 11 times more non-sexualized images of men than of women”, (Hatton, 2011).

Part of the ethical issue here is the illusion of choice. Since the women’s movement advertising is no longer portraying women in obvious demure, subservient roles. The portrayal is now of the choice to be any kind of woman you want — as long it still appeals to men. Women have been freed to dress provocatively, work full time, manage the household and hang with the men while mucking around in misogynistic rhetoric that is commonplace in multiple forms of media. A content analysis of magazine advertising from 1950 to 2000 conducted by John Mager and James Heleson concluded that the effect of the feminist movement on advertising perspectives may have been less than helpful:

The arguments presented by the feminist movement may have been too compelling for the U.S.culture to ignore, resulting in objective differences in role portrayals from those of the prefeminist (traditional) era. However, the ads we reviewed indicate a co-optation of the feminist desire for sexual freedom by increasingly portraying women in a sexually exploited manner (Mager & Helgeson, 2010).

The perception being propagated is that this new strong woman doesn’t want chivalry or even good manners; courting is now a ‘hot’ contest judged by men and sadly other women. The hottest wins a man, personality and values are not as important.

The perfect woman is supposed to be demure but assertive and independent, but not so much so that she can financially support herself. This new strong, sexually assertive woman is still expected to earn less money in order to keep male egos in tact and society right side up, all while flashing a coy smile, pouty lips and bedroom eyes. Jacqueline Scott, Professor of Sociology at Cambridge University and an expert in women’s changing roles in society shares, “While successful men are often happy to marry a woman who will be less ambitious, successful women tend to marry men who are their economic equals”, (Rice, 2010). 

The National Organization of Women asserts, “…Pretty much every day of the year, the mainstream media promote women as eye candy, valued for little more than their desirability and eagerness to please. Until the media and the advertising industry develop a newfound respect for women, the struggle to be taken seriously and viewed as equals will continue”, (Bennett, 2003). The debate of the portrayals of women in advertising is a global one, in 2011 Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, expressed concern about an ad showing Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen using her feminine wiles to manipulate her husband after running up the credit card and crashing the car, (, 2011). 

This perfect woman portrayal is an impossible ideal to achieve, if not altogether illogical. Super mom is a relatively new concept, in that she is not just a mom. Super mom has morphed into super woman. Super woman works full time (in an exciting career), has a family that she takes care of, a home that is never awry (and tastefully decorated) and manages to balance all this with ease and just enough sex appeal to still make her husband happy. This is not an antiquated ideal; for instance, this recent Electrolux appliance commercial gets right to the super woman point and with a familiar Bewitched jingle in the background.


   Recent research conducted byUniversityofWashingtonsociology graduate student Katrina Leupp has found that women who subscribe to the supermom mentality are more likely to suffer from depression when their expectations are not met. Leupp warns, “If you think you can have it all, don’t”, (, 2011). Additionally, research was conducted and published in the Journal of Advertising Research showing that women would respond favorably to a shared portrayal of household duties in advertising, the researchers explain:

   A major finding of this study indicates that, when averaging over all segments of the  women’s market, an egalitarian positioning is favored over either a superwoman or a traditional positioning. Particularly noteworthy is the strong preference for the   egalitarian over the superwoman positioning. This finding indicates a clear message             to advertisers. A theme that expresses the sharing of household responsibility is one  of the superior positionings of the future for appealing to many cohorts of the female  market, (Jaffe & Berger, 1994).

According to the majority of observed advertising, this perfect woman is supposed to be thin, youthful, have Caucasian features, and most importantly, have access to disposable income to buy all the things needed to achieve perfection. The entire concept is preposterous, but girls, women and boys and men are buying into it, quite literally. Jean Kilbourne is a recognized pioneer in the research of several areas of advertising, including women’s portrayals. She has this to say about the supermom/woman image:

   There have been some changes in the images of women. Indeed, a “new women” has   emerged in commercials in recent years. She is generally presented as superwoman, who  manages to do all the work at home and on the job (with the help of a product, of course, not of her husband or children or friends), or as the liberated woman, who owes her   independence and self-esteem to the products she uses. These new images do not   represent any real progress but rather create a myth of progress, an illusion that reduces complex sociopolitical problems to mundane personal ones, (Kilbourne, 2011).

            The second part of the ethical concern with this is the age at which girls are being exposed to these perfect portrayals. In her eye opening documentary Killing Us Softly, Jeane Kilbourne informs us that, “Girls feel good about themselves up until around the age of 9, but once they hit puberty, they hit a wall.” What is happening after age nine?   


Over Sexualized Youth

            Young girls are getting the message through media that it is time to start growing up sooner and the pressure starts building to look perfect and be desirable. For example, look at these images of popular child actresses from the 1980s:

Image Image

Now compare the two images below to these. The two young girls in the photos below were both 12 years old at the time the photos were taken; these photos were taken within the last ten years.

Image Image

            The second photo is an advertisement for a Marc Jacobs dress. Not only does the designer and retailer not recognize an issue with such a plunging neckline on a tween dress, but sought to enhance it by having the 12 year old wearing it pose in a suggestive way.  Advertisers are still subscribing to the sex sells mentality, even if the products are for children. But how effective is this approach? Recent research has shown that:

            Attempts to include sex and violence in advertising and programming to make products    and brands more ‘‘attention grabbing’’ and memorable does not work Bushman and  Bonacci (2002). This work has been confirmed by Parker and Furnham (2007) who have  found that ‘‘sexual’’ advertisements were no better recalled than ‘‘non-sexual’’    advertisements for similar products (Furnham & Paltzer 2010).

            Clothes are not the only must haves for young girls. Beauty products are being geared towards young girls earlier than ever. Consider Geo Girls, a line of cosmetics and skin care specifically designed for the 8-12 year old market, available at Wal-Mart and other retailers. Geo Girl describes its products as:

            A brand committed to a life stage and not a specific   age. geoGiRL was created to be a      positive, healthy experience for “beauty beginners,”. When an individual girl decides—       with her parent’s permission—that it’s time to begin experimenting with makeup and  skincare products, we believe it is important for her to have a high-quality, natural,    mistake-proof, appropriate product to use along with the information she needs to   develop good habits and proper hygiene. geoGiRL is not about overpowering her  natural beauty with lots of heavy, inappropriate makeup. It just brings out and celebrates   her best (, 2012).

            The words in bold are sending a clear message: looking less than perfect is a mistake. Although Geo Girl states that the mistake-proof refers to the way the products are designed by alleviating the chance of applying too much. This is confusing because the products are supposed to go on sheer and appear very subtle so in theory even if a girl did go overboard it shouldn’t be a problem. Developing good habits and proper hygiene as an eight year old should imply brushing ones teeth and hair, bathing regularly and wearing clean clothes. The message being sent here suggests that appearing enhanced and smelling fragrant are essential and can be achieved with make-up and perfumed body spray. The makers of the Geo Girl products emphasize throughout the web site that their intention is to offer a subtle beauty enhancer to girls who are starting to become interested in these types of products. Another aspect that is troubling about this is the thought that if Geo Girls products, “…go on super-sheer and see-through to give young skin a healthy, natural glow…[and]…do not offer intense, full coverage formulas”, what is the standard beginning at age 13? It seems that at age 13 the thought of considering a product such as the Geo Girls line should be expected, but currently it would seem that a girl of 13 has already been initiated into the world of make-up and primping for up to five years already.

            Over sexualizing youth is certainly not a new issue, as these old ads below show.    

Image  Image

            The old ad for Love’s Baby Soft appears to be more of an illustration than an actual photo, but French Vogue had no reservations about publishing sexually suggestive photos of a 10 year old as shown below. Several ethical questions immediately came to mind: first, why is a ten year old modeling high-end fashion in an adult woman’s magazine, and even if this is the children’s version of Vogue (Vogue Enfants) who is buying stiletto heels for their young daughters? Additionally, why didn’t anyone consider the ethical boundaries created by these incongruous photos? These images are fairly straightforward in their intention; girls playing dress up do not have perfect hair and make-up and the clothes and shoes would normally appear baggy and unfitted. When we consider how many people are involved in producing a fashion magazine it is appalling to be witness to such a complete lack of ethics by so many. Some have defended the editorial spread as subject to cultural interpretation, but in our interconnected world is that a cop out, and in what culture is sexualizing a ten year old acceptable?  


            The French are certainly not alone in their ethically ambiguous treatment of ten year olds. In 1975 photographer Gary Gross took nude photos of ten year old Brook Shields, with permission from her mother. These photos show Brooke with make-up on and hair done, nude and oiled in a bathtub. A cropped version is seen here:


            Several of the poses are overtly sexualized as she stands; glistening in the bathtub with a vixen stare at the camera and in one she is holding a removable shower head suggestively. These photos of ten year old Brooke were commissioned by Playboy Publications for a book entitled, Sugar and Spice. In 2009 the book Sugar and Spice was available for purchase on, the editorial review read:

            “A book of nude photography by various photographers. This book includes some great    photos by Garry Gross of a young Brooke Shields.”(Reisman, 2009)

            In the years after Shields actually took this issue to the courts requesting to purchase the negatives of the photos in order to remove and/or prevent further distribution, but the court sided with the photographer. “The actress had sued Gross in 1981, tearfully testifying that the pics embarrassed her, but a court decision in 1983 gave Ross the okay to display the photos”, (Reisman, 2009). The photos remain in use today and have made it into art exhibitions at venues such as The Guggenheim Museum under the guise of pop art as recently as 2007. In 2009 Scotland Yard shut down an exhibit showcasing the photos atTateMuseuminLondonbecause they determined the photos violated obscenity laws.

            Not long after these photos were taken Shields starred in the 1978 film Pretty Baby in which she portrays a prostitute’s daughter who then becomes a prostitute herself while a photographer sets up an auction for her virginity, the then 12 year old Shields has full frontal nude scenes and is portrayed in sexual situations. The French director of the film, Louis Malle, had this to say in 1978, “My God, this strange impulse of a man’s being sexually aroused by children has been apart of every civilization. That’s a fact-I am sorry to say- a sociological fact…let me make clear that I am a filmmaker not a social worker. My cinema is not rhetorical and I do not send messages”, (Reisman, 2009).

             This film was nominated for an Academy Award. The Playboy Sugar and Spice photo shoot and the movie Pretty Baby were intertwined from the beginning; any misinterpretation of the intention of these photos by those involved is feigned. Dr. Judith Reisman, a leading researcher on pornography and law professor, had this to say about Pretty Baby:


            Playboy laughingly describes the paying child rapist as a “cherry piker” and

            cynically treats this 1978 effort at mainstreaming child pornography as an intellectual and  artistic breakthrough for plebian Americans”, (Reisman, 2009).

            Malle may have been correct in his summation of mankind, but even if his assertion is true in a civilized society it is our duty to provide an environment in which all humans, child and adult have some autonomous rights to their childhood and basic respect. Civilized humanity has, based on logical and commonly understood interpretation, fought to extend childhood. Consider the legal ages at which one can work, drive, drink, or vote. Humans are living longer than ever and back breaking agriculture work is no longer the norm for the majority of us in modernized communities. These advances and changes have given childhood a longer stage and the understanding that while biologically humans may be reproductively mature at ages well below 18, in a civilized society we understand that the mental maturity to decide to engage in such acts and the consequences of those acts are not strong in children or young teens. Such acts should not be condoned, or worse, advocated by adults who are in power positions trying to sell products or provide access to ethically devoid excitement for the unspoken desires and amusement of some men. Malle’s statement is a poignant example of the wide range of ethical behavior and how influential personal ethical choices can be regardless of the freedom or limitations of the society one lives in. And incidentally, many men may be confusing the boundaries between a natural instinct to peer at young fecund women on occasion during typical interactions versus media and advertising’s promoted pursuit of such activities openly or subliminally planted for daily consumption in television, movies, video games, magazines and ads for all types of products. We tell men in our society that engaging in sex or contemplating sex with underage teens is wrong, but then ads like this appear in the windows of stores in local malls or in mainstream magazines:

 Image13 year old Elle Fanning in Marie Claire Magazine

 Image15 year old model for Urban Outfitters (and Honda apparently) this image was sold on t-shirts at the store (This model’s parents have since sued Urban Outfitters)

            These polarized messages are further blurred when grown women dress as girls or children’s characters in a sexualized way. The photo below is a costume and it is exceptionally sad considering the mockery it is making of the Girls Scouts of America and the empowering agenda that organization stands by for girls and women. Boys are being taught from a young age onward that girls are a recreational activity, a possession or an object to win, judge or abuse; a mere tool for their entertainment and/or an outlet for misplaced rage.  “As girls and women are increasingly portrayed in popular culture according to limiting gendered stereotypes, it is easier for them to be viewed as simplified objects, not as complex individuals with an array of talents and interests”, (Curry & Choate, 2010).


            How far does the pendulum of ethics swing in terms of exposing boys and  men to these images? Consider the video game Rapelay, released in 2006 by Illusion Games. The object of this game is to rape a teenage girl, her mother and sister. The game was created and distributed inJapan, where it is legal. It has been banned in many countries, including theUS, but a quick search on Google shows several options to download the game for free and several clips available for viewing on YouTube.


            The global connectedness and access that the internet brings into our homes has whittled away any assumption that the youth in our culture are not exposed to such things — this is certainly no game. The over sexualizing of youth is damaging to all people. Boys and men are sent conflicting messages about misogyny and the objectification of girls and women, and girls and women are encouraged to accept and strive for this falsehood by focusing on being as sexy as they can as early as possible with the saturation of these images and messages all day, every day.


What Can be Done?

            This paper has presented the unethical choices of some, but there are advocates in our society fighting for media literacy. And some companies are trying to promote awareness as well. For example, Dove launched its Real Beauty campaign in 2004, promoting a more realistic view of women. Some of the ways Dove attempted to achieve this included ads with more diversity and body shapes, and the Evolution YouTube video which shows how Photoshop and expert hair and makeup contribute to the perfect looking women we see in advertising and media. Although Jean Kilbourne urges women to be cautionary because Dove’s campaign still implies that we need their products and the likelihood of continuing the campaign may very well depend upon how much soap is sold, (Kilbourne, 2010). Scenarios in which we could expect more from corporations and advertisers may be naïve. Dove is still active in their campaign and as of 2011 the brand has this to say:

            In 2011, Dove® released the findings of its largest global study to date on women’s relationship with beauty—The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited. The study revealed  that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and that anxiety  about looks begins at an early age. In a study of over 1,200 10-to-17-year-olds, a majority  of girls, 72%, said they felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful. The study also found that  only 11% of girls around the world feel comfortable using the word beautiful to describe their looks, showing that there is a universal increase in beauty pressure and a decrease in   girls’ confidence as they grow older. Though Dove® efforts have moved the needle in a  positive direction, there is more to be done, (, 2011).

            Another wonderful organization that is promoting media literacy for girls is Girl Scouts of America. Parents can purchase a media awareness journal called the MEdia Journey Book. “Cadettes put the “me” in MEdia as this journey encourages them to explore the great big multi-media world around them and then remake media to better match the reality they know”, (, 2012). In addition to the media awareness journal there are patches girls can earn for their efforts in media awareness.


            The Middle School Journal for educators offered this approach for the school setting:

School counselors can provide large-group guidance for students that assists in the development of media literacy, empathy, and leadership skills (Choate & Curry, 2009). According to the Media Education Foundation (2004), educators should teach media literacy in four steps:

  1. Students learn how to identify harmful cultural images.
  2. Students deconstruct underlying messages in the images.
  3. Students practice ways to actively resist the messages.
  4. Students work to change the messages in their schools and communities.


            Just some of the organizations that are championing for media literacy include The Center for Media Literacy, The National Organization of Women, Media Literacy Education Foundation, PBS, and Strong Women Strong Girls. There are strong advocates who are active in literacy campaigns such as Jean Killbourne ( and Dr. Judith Reisman ( . But these organizations and advocates cannot accomplish this immense task alone. The most important part of media literacy begins in the home. Parents are taking ethical stands against clothing like this:

ImageIt reads: I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother does it for me (JCP has since discontinued the shirt and issued an apology)

 Parents were outspoken about this padded push up bikini top target at 7-14 year old girls. The company has since renamed the top to just “The Ashley”.


            It is important that parents and educators let boys and girls know that their value is not derived from things or appearance. Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly it is critical that all people, especially children, begin to be aware of the deception in media– just as early as media begins to deceive us.


FURNHAM, A., & PALTZER, S. (2010). The portrayal of men and women in television advertisements:. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 51, 216-236.

Mager, J., & Helgeson, J. (2010, April 25). Fifty Years of Advertising Images: Some. Springer Science+Business Media, pp. 238-252. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from the EBSCO Host database.

Yoder, J., Christopher, J., & Holmes, J. (2008). ARE TELEVISION COMMERCIALS STILL ACHIEVEMENT. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 303-311.,8599,2096771,00.html


Analyzing Media Coverage of Hurricane Katrina

Analyzing Media Coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

The Out of Touch Collection…Haiti and High Fashion?

I go for a haircut about twice a year. When I do go, I usually spend quite a bit and go to one of the high-end salons in the cute section of my town that I don’t live in. I do this because I have curly hair and it is very easy for unskilled hands to hack it in to the shape of a helmet or some other undesirable and odd topiary. I already feel completely out of place in salons– every time I walk in I just see perfectly manicured nails,  put together outfits, effortless hair, makeup and sparkling white teeth coming at me and every imperfection I have seems to be yelling out to these people, look at me and my frizzy hair and gaped teeth…oh and look I spilled coffee on my shirt earlier in the day in anticipation of my anxious salon visit! Anyhow, the girl who cuts my hair is laid back enough that I don’t feel completely awkward. Fast forward, I am sitting under the dryer feeling like a poodle and I start flipping through a magazine with spring fashion, and every big name designer has ads throughout the magazine. I am completely out of touch with high fashion, mainly because I can’t afford a purse that costs more than my rent, but also perhaps because it’s just not my thing. That’s okay, other people dig it and I don’t judge. In fact, at times I get a little envious of some of the gorgeous clothes (think Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada). Anyhow the whole buy-clothes-a-season-ahead thing, I never understood this. I buy clothes when I feel I need to, but I am not generally thinking about lightweight florals and sandals for spring when it is freeze-my-?-cold here in the Seattle area. I suppose some people clothes plan the way I life plan, actually they probably wardrobe plan. I don’t think my clothes are in the vernacular neighborhood of wardrobe, that would imply that I didn’t step into Ross or Old Navy, and who needs to put on airs (or anything more than $20?). Anyhow, so I am flipping through this magazine thinking about how disconnected I feel from it and then I see an ad that highlights a photo shoot in Haiti. I suppose Haiti was the inspiration behind the collection…of very expensive clothing. I could feel my salon experience getting very dark in that moment. I was fairly irritated by this. And, to top it off the cost of the clothing was listed on the page, some items in the *thousands*. Okay so Haiti, which looks like this:


Inspired this:


I’m not feeling it, but maybe I would feel better if I had this outfit, say $4000 better?

On some level I understand that the poor and the rich are, have always been and will be, intertwined like a thorny rose bush, but this was too much for me. Donna Karan at least spent money on the local economy through goods and services, and the article below does mention that there is a charitable fund, but still, this was someone’s very bad idea–hardly reminiscent of the light, airy springtime flowers and Indiana Jones-ish adventure wear they are peddling.

Peeking into Pinterest: DIY and Dogma

Peeking into Pinterest: DIY and Dogma

Before looking into the surprisingly rich commentary found on, how the website functions and its purpose will need to be examined. as a service is difficult to define because the nature of the site and the experience depends on the user. Defining something subjective is, of course, too fluid among users, but Pinterest certainly has a solid idea of how it would like to be perceived by consumers. The website explains that it is a “virtual pin board that allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you love”, (, 2011).

How the Website Functions

Currently membership to the website is by invitation only; however users can request an invite directly from the website if they do not know anyone who is already a user. Once the invitation is extended (which takes approximately two days) the user is free to create an account and begin creating boards. Boards function as categories for things that interest the user (i.e., décor, recipes, photography) and are filled with pins from all over the web; each pin provides space to describe it as well as to credit the source of the pin content.  Users may view other’s boards and follow certain members or they can go to the “popular” section and see pins on all sorts of topics by various users. Additionally, there is an “everything” section that allows users to view specific categories of boards with pins from all users. All pins posted to the site have a comment feature that is accessible to all users, although the original user who pinned the image can remove comments or the pin altogether.

 Purpose and Profit

Considering that the founders of Pinterest were able to raise $27 million in venture capital (Belz, 2011), investors believe Pinterest has potential to make money. Pinterest, like many free services on the web, is offering interaction in exchange for information; that information is worth millions to advertisers and software developers. As tech writer Steve Cheney explains:

 And perhaps most notably, though it will surely take a while, Pinterest is already   threatening to monetize, as thoseMidwesthousewives are literally using it for shopping   discovery, which Pinterest can profit off of by taking attribution for purchases that     originate off its platform. I know several friends who’ve purchased stuff spontaneously     via random discovery on the site. I expect Pinterest to be thriving a year from now (my  guess is 30 million users next Thanksgiving) and also spawn hundreds of copycat startups   in other verticals (“Pinterest for that”), (Cheney, 2011).


Interpretation of Content

 Pinterest is primarily visual and the website is visually striking as soon as the webpage appears. The draw of the website is browsing pins that are images, essentially a picture book of ideas and gathering inspiration from others. The layout of the pins puts discussion as secondary to the visual experience.  Etiquette rules for Pinterest are few and simple, among them are no nudity or hateful content, credit sources and avoid self promotion. Based on how the layout would appear to want users to interact—quick and short-winded– it was surprising to see such heated and lengthy debates blossom on the site. Also, coming upon a controversial pin among scores of pretty hair-dos and brownie recipes is a mix of refreshing and confusing, and those sentiments were confirmed in the comments found about those pins. Many users seemed to share the idea that controversy or edgy content is not what Pinterest is for. The site management doesn’t seem to be entirely sure about the definition of appropriate. We can see this contrast among user’s opinions in the comments regarding a pin about school reform, shown below.

 One curse word led to over thirty comments ranging from disgust to accolade, user Rachel Bland commented, I get on here to see ideas not bad language and arguing!!!!! This is supposed to be ideas and neat things not this garbage!” From a completely different angle user Savannah Guernsey states, “This is why I love the internet. It’s not censored–so refreshing.” And regarding the reform issue, not the curse word Jen Van Brasch writes, “Y’all are missing the point. It’s a message that says “CARE ALREADY!!” when it comes to our schools. Be a grownup and ignore the language for the message. Goodness!”

Beyond the battles about language, appropriateness and what Pinterest is and is not for users eventually realize that the original pin was posted by someone from inside Pinterest, and on its “best of” board. But Pinterest rules say no curse words; this one pin is an example of the larger kinks and ambiguous intent to be navigated when the questions are raised: what is Pinterest for and who decides what is appropriate?  


    If one were to envision the founders of Pinterest based on the demographics of the users a group of Christian, conservative, white, thin, mainstream women would be expected. Actually, the founders of Pinterest are mostly men, and fairly diverse. According to information from the website, Pinterest has nine investors, only one of which is a woman. The team that runs the website is a group of 14, five women and 9 men. Looking at pictures of the staff, diversity is apparent. The group has African-American, Asian,Latinaand Caucasian employees. Yet, in the blogosphere the lack of diversity is not unnoticed as blogger Justina Blakeney points out:

 The more I tune into it, the more I notice segregation. If I see a black face on a design blog, most of the time the blog’s author is a person of color.  Frida Kahlo is just about the      onlyLatinaI ever see represented on design blogs. Looking at my Pinterest feed, I notice  picture after picture of Christina Hendrix, of Audrey Hepburn, Kate Moss or skinny blond  women twisting their hair into fancy updos, of bride after bride after bride, all with the same pale skin and wispy hair, (Blakeney, 2011).

Another blogger, Deirdre James shares similar sentiment when she writes:

 But it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. Pinterest does have its issues. Sometimes it can be   a little too Mommy & Me. I enjoy the fashion, cutting edge design, and provocative  photography, not babies in baskets. Also, I don’t see a lot of diversity on Pinterest. You see more Jennifer Anistons than Jennifer Hudsons and Jennifer Lopezs if you catch my  drift, (James, 2011).

The lack of diversity is not limited to ethnicity either. On any given visit debates about religion, body image, feminism, and sexuality are seen. Some of the more controversial pins and the wide range of reactions are shown below: 



Cindy Conrad TOTALLY offensive. I am a Christian and believe what the Bible says. I have friends that are homosexuals, but they don’t throw it in my face – or better yet – they don’t put it on the internet for children to see 😦 but if it is in the Bible (and it is), then the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it. I have 4 children – and they were taught at a very early age, that homosexuality was wrong – an abomination. Now – I have five very lovely grandchildren. And homosexuality is a choice – just like infidelity.

Alexandra Machado Hurts my feelings 😦 Cindy will never know what it’s like to be shamed for loving somebody…. Cindy, I grew up 10 years in catholic school, and its people like you who kill me and after day…. When I had my first girlfriend I was told by religious bigots like you that I was an ABOMINATION. How does that feel to people like Jesse and I? I have attempted suicide 3 times! My life is a struggle, every day because of people like you… I am a psych student working with special ed children and you call ME an abomination? I was born this way. I save people and I love everyone, not because I am a Christian… I am not. Because of people who call themselves good Christians like you. I am a good person, and I love everyone because it is RIGHT and YOU are a terrible person, I hope one day somebody can help your blind eyes see. I am not an abomination for having loved another woman!


 This picture shows young children in a grown up romatic pose, some say cute others say disturbing…

                Amber Lancaster Aww..I love this

Abbey Charlow Ummm I am very disturbed by this picture.



This was posted in humor, only one comment was posted, which read “LOL”.



Nancy Corley oxymoron

Why does there appear to be such a lack of diversity among the contributors? Part of the answer may be that many reach the site by invitation and people generally have friends with similar interests and world views. Another aspect is the way the site functions, the re-pin button allows users to browse the site without ever contributing their own content, but simply re-pinning someone else’s pin. Those who take the time to search and pin outside of Pinterest with new pins are shaping the content more so than the re-pinners.  Slate magazine writer Farhad Manjoo offers a piece of the lack of diversity puzzle, “the site is based in Palo Alto, Calif., its founder, Ben Silberman, is from Des Moines, Iowa, and he has said that the site first caught on among women in the Midwest, (Manjoo, 2011). Considering the demographic of the website’s original users, finding more conservative, religious, mainstream, female driven content is not surprising.

The great thing about Pinterest is that its identity is fluid and customizable. A user can stick to only the boards that interest them, or follow only those they know, you could visit Pinterest without ever visiting the popular board, which has pins from all users. While advocating an insular experience in the community is not ideal, the point is this website has the potential to be diverse or remain repetitive– if that is where the users take it. Although one group may be a dominant presence today, another group may begin to shape the content tomorrow. For instance, there are not many male members at this time, but the more men who join could change the landscape.

Lynette Walczak, a Pinterest user, blogger and contributor to the actually wrote an article encouraging more men to join Pinterest, even listing several men’s pages to encourage new users. She wrote:

   The trick is to think outside the box to make Pinterest work for you! So, what do you        think?… Does Pinterest work for guys? What would a site like Pinterest for guys look   like? (Hint: If you build it, they will come.)The fact of the matter is Pinterest can be  whatever you want it to be. If you start sharing things there that interest you, you can bet  that others with those same interests will find you and start sharing similar  things!,(Walczak, 2011).

The one thing all Pinterest users have in common is they love the idea of sharing ideas. The users at this stage cannot agree on what content is appropriate for Pinterest, but they can agree that they all want access to shared ideas in this visually rich format. Because this site is new it is almost viewed as an unclaimed piece of digital land, and there are strong opinions in the community about what should be put on this land. Clearly the comments that seek to convey the dominance of one group or another show that the users have a vested interest. This interest stems from the fact that Pinterest is unique, not so much in its idea of bookmarking, but in its easy-to-use format with a place to visit where you can look at everything that makes you happy. You do not have to be tech savvy to play on Pinterest, and this is what consumers are demanding and responding to now that access to the internet has become commonplace.

The Business of a Pin

This paper has looked at how Pinterest functions as a website, the content found there, the way the users interact and some of the issues that need to be addressed. The interest in Pinterest is not purely organic; companies are taking notice, although no paid advertising has made it to the website yet. Whole Foods and West Elm now have user pages on Pinterest (MacMillan, 2011). On the user side of the experience the value of the site may seem fairly simple; we just love to pin cool things. On the business side of it, Pinterest is rather new. As explained by the founder, Ben Silberman “People are planning their vacation, they are redecorating their home, they are planning their wardrobe,” he says. “They are going to Pinterest to get inspiration for the most important life projects, which correlate to the most important purchasing events in their life.”

Pinterest has done some things differently, for starters according to industry experts the website bypassed the typical male dominated, tech bubble that budding social networking sites seem to pass through.

   About 70 percent of users are female, another rarity for young Web services, which   usually grow by relying on word-of-mouth amongSilicon Valley’s (mostly male)      insiders. “It is hard to call it a business—it’s more a phenomenon,” says Eventbrite Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hartz, an early investor, (MacMillan, 2011).

Part of the charm of pinterest is the imperfectness of it. Yes, there are pins that grow tired, and themes that get boring throughout, but it is a haven compared to the information seeking ploys that saturate Facebook. When a user visits Pinterest currently there are no advertising gimmicks, it is fairly pure. How the website will maintain this charm remains to be seen, as advertisers are getting excited about Pinterest. Women have long been known to be the spenders in the household, and Pinterest is used mostly by younger women with disposable income (, 2011)—a very enticing group for retailers. A study was done in 2009 by Lee et al. comparing consumer created vs. marketer created online communities. The study hypothesized that users of consumer generated websites would be more likely to engage in genuine discussion, feedback and trust of a product if the community was consumer created. The researchers surmised:

   Specifically, consumers’ attribution of intrinsic motives of altruism to the marketer-   created online brand community was discounted, but such attribution was strongly  generated when consumers browsed the consumer created online brand community. Such  attribution patterns, in turn, significantly influenced consumers’ online brand community         engagement behaviors directly, as well as indirectly through their social identification    motivations…One possible approach is to develop a platform of online brand  communities encouraging consumers to voluntarily share and exchange their ideas rather  than imposing the corporation’s own ideas such as sales coupons or sweepstakes. (Lee et        al., 2009)

Pinterest appears to be doing just this, by offering a pure approach for people to share ideas online, and about tangible things we like. But the start-up needs to make money. Here in this merge of genuine curator users and incredible brand potential is where Pinterest is the new kid on the block, and the tech and advertising worlds are watching. Pinterest has the weight of ‘keeping it real’ on their shoulders now that everyone knows who they are. Not only through the experience of the user, by not becoming prizes at an advertising county fair, but through the content as well by offering more diversity and a more defined look at Pinterest quality appropriateness. Pinterest may end up being the start of what we remember as the new web evolving into something of a blend between user content and advertising from mass used sites. Currently advertising is dominating our experiences and shaping what we see and share, even though many of us are not aware of it while we play ‘adver-games’ and do our Google searches. Now that the world is discovering Pinterest, will the content change to reflect something other than mainstream ideals, but keep its organic feel? In order for the website to grow and appeal to more people it will have to, the diversity is what will keep it fresh.







References  stats

Doohwang, L., Hyuk Soo, K., & Jung Kyu, K. (2011). The Impact of Online Brand Community Type on Consumer’s Community Engagement Behaviors: Consumer-Created vs. Marketer-Created Online Brand Community in Online Social-Networking Web Sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 14(1/2), 59-63. doi:10.1089/cyber.2009.0397

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