Since I occasionally get bored while waiting in line to pay for groceries, I periodically experience the utter joy of seeing a seemingly body-positive teen mag, leafing through it, and having my hopes crushed.
At this point in my life, I pick up the magazines not out of legitimate hope that a Seventeen article entitled “How to love your bod” will actually help readers love their bods, but out of a desperate need for a fun media literacy workout that exercises my irony muscles.
As such, I will now share my tried-and-true, fast-paced workout that is guaranteed to tone your critical thinking and sculpt your analytical lens, all while standing in line at the grocery store:
1. Scan a magazine rack for a teen magazine aimed at girls. For best results, do not choose anything that suggests girls are capable of more than being looked at.
(People often ask me my secret for getting my media smarts. It’s simple! Anyone can get them if they pick a magazine like Seventeen or Girls’ Life!)
2. Assess how much body-positivity the ‘zine cover sets you up for. This one’s a real doozy of a lens-lifter if you read not only the bold article headlines, but also those pesky smaller words!
After all, do you really believe that body image activists are going to think your analytical skills are hot if you read the phrase “Bikini Body Confidence,” but ignore its qualifier, “Moves to Do and Treats to Eat So You Can Strut it Like a Boss on the Beach”?
3. Open the magazine to “body-positive” articles located in Step 2. Work those irony muscles by considering whether or not the article encourages confidence only if readers meet a certain beauty standard (I recommend “Dress for your shape” articles that encourage all readers to change their shapes to “hourglasses”!).
If the article is about eating disorders, engage your irony muscles in an even stronger hold by checking for signs of perpetuating stereotypes that people with eating disorders are only image-obsessed white girls with anorexia! You’ve been working those irony muscles hard; for a deep irony muscle stretch, scan nearby pages for contradictory messages.
4. Cool down by using your acceptance muscles to take a look around you. Do you see people like your fellow grocery-shoppers being represented in the magazine? How could the models better represent those grocery-shoppers you’ve come to know and love as you’ve waited in line with them and flaunted your media-literacy bod around them?
Breathe deeply as you note the airbrushing, lack of weight diversity, and lack of racial diversity of models pictured. Now you’ve ensured that last bit of media-illiteracy flab will be gone in no time!
5. If the line is particularly long and you’re still waiting to pay for your groceries, repeat Steps 1-4 with another magazine. Otherwise, pay for your groceries and repeat Steps 1-4 next time.
Look forward to your next shopping trip, knowing that every passing moment is an opportunity to perfect that media-literacy body!
Elizabeth Frankel is a Minnesotan who loves psychology, theatre, and anything related to horses. She seeks to understand why the world is the way it is through critical thinking, and when that fails, she just employs sarcasm.