The art of persuasion

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Posted by HSG on April 28, 2005 at 18:45:17:

A few days ago, we received an interesting message from one Sheniqua Gomez (who likes to go by her nickname, "Nikki," although we find the name "Sheniqua" wonderfully exotic).

Nikki writes,

I am currently a communications major at a college here in New York. One of my assignments for my public speaking class was to research and write a persuasive speech about a topic I am passionate about. I chose to write about how the media negatively affect women's body image. Although I think my outline and research was strong. I did have trouble really saying everything I needed to say. The problem is I am too passionate about this issue. There is so much evidence that the media is flat out assaulting the self esteem of beautiful natural women and I could not fit it all into a 6-8 minute speech. I wish I could have said so much more to prove my point and show my fellow college student what is really going on.

We happen to think that Ms. Gomez did an effective job in showing her fellow college students what is "really going on." And so, with her kind permission, we are pleased to share her speech with the general public.

We have kept the editing to a minimum, and have deliberately preserved all of the descriptive tags in Ms. Gomez's text, which describe the function of every passage within her speech (e.g., "topic," "credibility statement," "transition statement," etc.). These tags demonstrate how Ms. Gomez organized her disparate information into a coherent whole--and will give everyone who reads the text a crash-course in Public Speaking 101.

Perhaps reading this speech will give more plus-size beauty aficionados some ideas about how they can help spread the message of size celebration, whenever they are given a platform to do so.

Nikki Gomez
Public Speaking
April 19, 2005

Persuasive Speech Outline

Topic: The Mass Media has a Negative affect on Women's body image.

Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience to believe the mass media affect women's body image in a negative way.

Central Idea: The mass media bombards the public with images of unattainable, unrealistic standards of beauty thus causing young women to feel badly about their own body image.


Attention Material: Visual Aid of the beauties in art history compared to the modern ideal of beauty.

Webster Dictionary's definition of Venus is as follows: "the Roman goddess of love and beauty--compare APHRODITE."

These images before you show several artists' interpretations of what the goddess Venus would look like. If you look carefully at the women in these paintings you will notice not only that they are beautiful but, they are also naturally curvy and feminine. An even closer look would reveal the confidence these women had in their bodies. There are no looks of shame or disgust in their eyes. They exude sexiness and poise without fear of being called or perceived as "F__". These women were the inspiration to such great artists as Peter Paul Rubens (Venus in the Fur Coat, The Judgment of Paris, and Venus before the Mirror), Jacob Jordaens (King Candaules of Lydia Showing his Wife to Gyges), Gustave Coubet (The Bathers), and Alexandre Cabanel (The Birth of Venus).

Throughout time the natural feminine form has been that of admiration and adulation. However, I would like to pose this question to you; how many modern celebrities can you think of that possess the same natural curvy beauty as these Venuses of the past? And if you can think of a few, are they praised and adored in the same way?

Topic: Tonight I am here to talk to you about how the media negatively influences women's perception of their own bodies.

Credibility Statement: I have been actively involved in the modeling business for almost two years now as a plus-size model. During this time I have become aware of how the media shapes women's perceptions of themselves. The more aware I became the more research I have done. I feel I am prepared to talk to you on the subject.

Preview: Tonight I am going to talk to you about the beauty icons of the past, how their body shapes have changed and what the diet industry has to do with that, the alarming effects these new images have on young American women and lastly what you can do to make a change.

(Transition Statement: Now that I've shown you what was considered beautiful to the famous artists of the Baroque Era, the Academic Classicism era and the Realism era let's look at the beauty icons of the 1950s.)

During the 1940s and 50s screen sirens such as Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield were the standard of beauty. They possessed the natural feminine curves men adored and women aspired to attain. As time progressed the images of beauty began to change. Eventually the fashion industry and media began to embrace the "twiggy" like body type of the 1960's.

(Transition Statement 2: Now that I have shown you what the beauty icons of the 1950's looked like I will talk to you about the modern standard of beauty and where it originated.)

Unlike the 1950s, the 1960s into the 70s was a time for feminism and change. Women no longer wanted to be seen as housewives and mothers. They wanted equal rights, equal pay and equal respect. Like the roaring 20s time of the flappers the thinner more androgynous body type became the most desirable. In the 1980s the supermodels of the time were approximately 5'10 size 6 or even 8. They were in high demand by high end fashion clients as well as adored by the public and media alike. However, as time progressed the models got thinner.

As the models got thinner the diet industry grew.

1. The diet industry is now a 40-billion-dollar-a-year business.

2. According to Myrna Blyth (Author of: Spin Sisters)
"Every day of the week in this country, 52 Million people are on a diet. Nearly half of ALL women (45%) are trying to lose weight".

3. The power the media has over women is evident in a study she did.
During a three-year period she found 425 articles about weight loss and body problems. Most of them in diet stories, fitness advice, and fashion tricks to camouflage your flaws. Articles promoting self acceptance regardless of size or perceived imperfections were only mentioned 12 times in that 3 year period.

4. Television has also played a big role in promoting the diet industry. Over the past decade stories about dieting and losing weight have increased dramatically. It's even more obvious during sweeps month. There is almost always going to be a diet challenge on the morning news programs.
The advertising dollar is strong.

5. Since the diet industry is so fiscally successful it is no coincidence that the media promotes all kinds of diets with the promise to help you lose weight and attain what society deems perfection.

(Transition Statement 3: Now that you know why it's so important to the media that women want to change the way they look, let's take a look at the negative effect it has on the self esteem of women.)

According to the National Eating Disorders Association a recent study conducted by Wiseman, Drs. Suzanne R. Sunday and Diane W. Mickley and Trinity undergraduates Ali R. Cohen and Karen Huebner show a strong relationship between body dissatisfaction and media images.

"The year-long study randomly assigned undergraduate college women to one of three groups. One group viewed images of "plus-size" professional models, one viewed "super-thin" professional models and the control group viewed images of non-human objects.

"All subjects were tested to assess risk factors for eating disorders-including drive to diet and body dissatisfaction-both one week prior to viewing the slides and immediately after viewing. While the "plus-size" viewing group felt a 16.5 percent drop in body dissatisfaction, and a 12.8 percent reduction in drive to diet, and a rise in body esteem, the group that viewed the "super-thin" models had a significantly stronger 23.8 percent jump in desire to diet and experienced lowered body esteem.

"This study shows that viewing thin images has a negative effect while viewing plus-size images has a demonstrably positive effect on young women," Wiseman said. "Based on this research and given the scarcity of plus-size models in magazines and television shows targeting the adolescent audience, we can conclude that the media may inadvertently increase the risk of pathological dieting and eating disorders among adolescent females."

If the media truly had the public's best interest in mind this study would be the catalyst to push them to include fuller-figured models in the magazines as well as on television. Again the advertising dollar is strong.

According to Myrna Blyth, "A researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that the more frequently girls read magazines, the more likely they were to diet even though over 70% of them were NOT overweight."

1. With results like that it's not surprising that adolescent girls and teenage girls feel extreme pressure to be thin even if it risks their health.

2. According to The National Women's Health Information Center's website; there is no single known cause for eating disorders however, several things contribute to the development of these disorders. The very first contributing factor is Culture. The United States has a social and cultural ideal of extreme thinness. Women partially define themselves by how physically attractive they are.

One can only imagine how many eating disorders would be prevented if the ideal female form were more like those of the baroque era or even the 1950's. The reality is the majority of American women are size 14. Only 2% of the American population has the same body type as main stream models. Women are literally killing themselves to achieve an impossible goal.

(Transition Statement: Now that we have discussed the negative effects the media has on women's body image let's talk about what you can do to change this.)

I think the key to promoting change is knowledge. Tonight I have given you alarming statistics to prove to you that there is an epidemic going on here right in front on you. Millions of women in this country are choosing to starve and malnourish their bodies with the hope of being thin. The media fails to inform all women that they can be beautiful and desirable regardless of their dress size.

I suggest that if the media continues to misinform and mislead the American public then the American public must take action. It is time we became completely aware of the messages that are being sent out to the consumer. We must question ads that promote thinness with images of emaciated women. We must notice when news stories do size positive stories on full figured women but, then immediately follow with a contradictory story about dieting. This does not happen by accident. I am sure most of you are communications majors and you are completely aware there is a message and plan behind every carefully programmed new segment. You should question why fuller-figured models aren't being displayed in your beauty magazines and take the next step in writing the editors of your favorite magazine requesting that fuller-figured women be represented. Just as the study by the National Eating Disorders Association above mentioned the more women see images of fuller figured women the better they feel about themselves. If you don't take action and become aware of the constant brainwashing that is going on, more damage is going to be done.

Another study cited on The National Women's Health Information Website states that another contributor to eating disorders is the family, "The attitude of parents about appearance and diet affects their kid's attitudes. Also, if your mother or sister has an eating disorder, you are more likely to have one." And even if you don't suffer form an eating disorder chances are you can cause your child to have one. This is something that can affect all of us and we have the power to change it.


Summary Statement: I have told you about beauty icons of the past, how their body shapes have changed and what the diet industry has to do with that, as well as the alarming effects these new images have on young American women, and lastly what you can do to make a change. It is now in your hands to do so.

Power Ending: There has been a recent controversy over the right to life/right to death issue. At the center of this controversy was a very ill woman by the name Terri Schiavo. Perhaps one of the best examples I can give of the media keeping the facts from us is that while there was a lot of press coverage about her illness, her mental state, her husband, her parents and her religion there was little coverage about what caused her heart attack and brain damage. The truth is Terri suffered from bulimia. She forced herself to vomit and drank 15 glasses of iced tea per day. This in turn made her thin. More then 200 articles commented on Terri's beauty almost none of these mentioned her eating disorder. After dinner one night Terri forced herself to vomit then collapsed and had a heart attack. The chemical imbalance from her eating disorder caused her heart to stop. I myself was under the impression that she had a terrible car accident. In this one instance the media had the power to inform and warn American women of the dangers of eating disorders and trying to attain thinness at all costs. Yet it failed terribly. Apparently the $40 billion dollar diet industry is just a little more important than the health and future of the people of this country.


Blyth, Myrna. Spin Sisters. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press 2004

Campos, Paul. "The Real Tradegy of Terri Schiavo." Capitol Hill Blue Mar. 2005: 105-107

Internet Sources:
"Do Media Images Trigger Eating Disorders?" (2003)

"Eating Disorders" (2004)

What makes Ms. Gomez's speech particularly effective is that it is not just another simplistic and resentment-fuelled attack on the idea of beauty itself (as so many discussions of body image and the media have tended to be). Rather, Nikki admirably demonstrates that the ideal of feminine beauty historically favoured the curvaceous figure, and explains how this natural ideal was progressively disfigured into the unhealthy modern standard.

This invocation of beauty as the ally of size celebration, not its enemy, is a significant step forward in body-image thinking. Hopefully, this approach will soon become the preferred mode of addressing this all-important issue.

Emile Vernon (1890-1920), Girl by Moonlight:

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