Five undergraduate students from the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences presented at the seventh annual Diversity Summit at NSU on Nov. 2, hosted by The South Florida Diversity Alliance.
The students—biology majors Sumayyah Abiff, Katrina Fins, and Stacey Illikal, psychology major Schmidly Ductan, and sociology major Elizabeth Fridman—spoke on “Movies, Models, and Mean Girls” to an audience of mostly local high school students. The collaborative presentation provided analysis on how the female body and gender are perceived in a variety of media.
Illikal began by examining the reality-television show America’s Next Top Model and the strict age, height, and weight requirements for featured contestants. She explained the dangers of this message, citing studies that show many models develop eating effort to maintain the expected body type. Through her presentation, Illikal hoped the students would learn to love the bodies they have and realize “everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way.”
Fins then looked at stereotypical themes featured in the popular 2004 film Mean Girls, which stars Lindsay Lohan as a troubled teenager fighting to fit in with the clique of popular, “beautiful” girls at her high school. Fins encouraged the students to focus on discovering their own identity instead of trying to conform to society’s stereotypes.
Abiff provided an analysis of the music video for the song “F—– Perfect” by pop artist P!nk. The video depicts the tribulations of a young girl struggling to live up to expectations from family, friends, and society. After reaching her lowest point, the girl discovers that art can combat her depression. Abiff screened the video and then led a discussion promoting positive ways girls can overcome similar obstacles in their lives.
Ductan spoke about the 2006 movie She’s the Man and its commentary on gender roles. In the film, a girl (Amanda Bynes) dresses up like a boy to earn a prized spot on her school’s all-male soccer team. Though her true identity is eventually discovered, she’s allowed to remain on the team. Ductan used the film to illustrate how gender stereotypes can be transcended with enough resilience.
Fridman concluded the talk by discussing the influential messages that powerful media outlets send about what constitutes beauty. Fridman encouraged her audience to look past stereotypes and join in the efforts promoting natural beauty through health and happiness. She cited the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which features everyday women and actresses such as Demi Lovato and Jennifer Lawrence condemning the use of airbrushing and scantily-clad models in advertising.
Abiff, Ductan, Fins, and Illikal are currently enrolled in the college’s first-year seminar course UNIV 1011U Life, Death, and the Female Body, led by Kelly Concannon Mannise, Ph.D., assistant professor at the college, who also served as faculty adviser for the project. The course examines how women’s bodies are represented in popular culture by analyzing various artifacts within the context of life and death, the 2012–2013 academic theme.