So wow.  First off, I want to say that it's INCREDIBLE how honest 4 strangers can be in front of a mediator and note-taker/recordist.  The UAB Girl's Focus Group was AWESOME!   I can't wait to go back over the notes and tape!  I got a lot of good info from tonight!  Before I review the notes, I want to go ahead with my field notes so I can write about what was most memorable to me.  First off, it seems that not everyone is so open to this idea of compliments being powerful.  There are more conditions behind compliments than I realized.  Maybe I'm just a bit naive, but I generally accept compliments from anyone because I personally crave spoken affirmation.  This is mostly just a personal thing because of my past.  Others have a difficult time receiving compliments from strangers, because of a fear that it might be a "Regina from Mean Girls compliment" aka, a lie or negative gesture.  Of course, there's also the issue of girls not being able to figure out if a guy really means they look nice or if he's trying to come on to a girl.  Then there's also a danger in being over-complimented so that the compliments don't really seem to have worth.  It was good for me to see other people's take on this.  My brain doesn't quite work the same when it comes to compliments. 
One of my favorite comments of the night was in reference to fashion.  The quote was that fashion should, "set the trend, not the norm."  There was a good bit of discussion on how the media and fashion present us these models that we know don't exist in everyday life.  We know that we're not supposed to believe that normal people are that size, but there's usually so many problems with shopping and trying to find proper clothing for each shape and size that we think the real problem is that we don't look like those models.  This presents questions that have been popping up in my head now and then- why are most stylish clothes in such incredulous sizes?  Is society trying to impress upon us that if you're bigger, you must not care about what you look like?  Or it being the perfect(impossible) size with the right kind of curves and waste an elitist thing?  There's not only a problem with clothes that are too small, there is also a problem with clothes that are too big.  Even smaller wastes girls can have larger butts or smaller chests than clothing stores suggest we should have.  Why aren't women's clothes more women-friendly?
Another topic we discussed was how women look at food an exercise.  There is a thought that I dare say crosses a multitude of women's minds and not just a few of my focus group girls.  This thought is that, "If I were only x lbs lighter...." and this thought can end with many things like, "...the right kind of guy would like me," or, "I would look right in clothes."  There's so much focus on being skinny that we start to label foods as "good" and "bad."  We often desire to lose weight, so we try to go for the good foods, but when we're feeling down we often turn to the "bad" foods to make us feel better.  I shared my thoughts with my group on this topic because some of the girls mentioned these things and I brought up something that happened in my own life to change the way I view food.  After a wake up call on my doctor on how seriously high my cholesterol is (I'm only 22!!!), I realized that obsessing over losing weight and eating more "good" vs "bad" food is not the way to change my eating habits.  Instead, I've become more conscious of what foods actually contain, e.g. cholesterol, carbs, and sugar.  I've realized that there are plenty of things I enjoy eating that are low in carbs with no cholesterol.  I did have to give up french fries and I can hardly ever eat cheeseburgers, but I've realized that these foods aren't just bad-- they're hazardous to my health!  I can tell our society is becoming a little more conscious of our health, but we have a long way to go.  How can you convince people to go to the doctor and get their blood tested to see how healthy they are on a chemical level?  Most people judge health by how much body fat is visible.  What you eat really matters so much more than that!  The other side to labeling food as "good" or "bad" is the eating disorder side of things.  After watching Laura Greenfield's Thin, it's like there's a list of "bad" food that continually grows to eventually encompass all food.  I really don't think any food deserves to be labeled outright "bad."  There are foods that are more fattening than others or more sugary than others, but if only eating once in awhile, they're not bad!  Moderation for the purpose of health is something that needs to be taught a little more often.  I wish every high school and/ or college student was required to take a basic nutrition course.
Speaking of required classes, I think college males should all be required to take a Women's Studies class as core curriculum.  The first thing we looked at and one of the things we ended on was a magazine cover of Cosmo with Scarlette Johansson on it.  I think we all agreed that SJ is a beautiful woman with a nice body.  What we did not agree on is that how she was presented on the cover of the magazine represented who she was.  Everyone in the group agreed that the magazine cover said, "Sex," loud and bold.  Not only was it written on the cover a few times, but it was obvious because of how SJ was dressed.  The focus group recognized that women are often sold as sexual images when it comes to the media.  There are not only negative self-image issues that spring from this because some women feel inadequate, but there is also a hesitance to dress up!  A lot of women enjoy dressing up and looking pretty- it's a form of self-expression.  However, some of the girls in the group expressed a "safety net" of not adding lip stick, or not wearing certain clothing or accessories because they're afraid of attracting negative attention from males.  By negative, they clarified they meant sexual advances from complete strangers.  Presenting women as sexual objects seems to empower men to think that any woman can be treated as a sexual objects.  This keeps women from being able to express their personality through their appearance!  Also, there was some discussion about how there seems to be a norm that men expect from makeup and that to go outside the norm and do something a little crazy should be judged and not accepted.  Who are men to tell us what we can look like?  It was annoying to the girls in the group that they couldn't just be who they wanted to be.  The girls did express a sense of hope through Dove's Movement for Self-Image and Seventeen magazine's diversity in showing girls of all shapes and sizes.  We're headed in the right direction, but this isn't over yet.  I think after this group I've gained insight on two main things:  It is important that we change the way everyone thinks about women and that no one- male or female- holds women to an unrealistic expectation.  Second, one of the biggest ways we can spread confidence and encouragement is to be honest and open with our friends.  Compliments usually mean the most when they come from our friends, but sometimes our friends are the hardest people to be honest with.  We have a real need to be transparent with people that care for us because we'll all be stronger if we don't face our battles alone.
I really hope every girls left the focus group a little more confident and encouraged by their honesty with each other, and I hope they took comfort that they're not the only one that struggles from time to time. 

2/15/2012 04:57:41 pm

Just thought I might stop by and say hi, thanks for the great article :)


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