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Local News

April 11, 2013

Body image talk elicits gasps

NEWBURYPORT — Nationally known feminist author, filmmaker and speaker Jean Kilbourne drew gasps, laughs and thunderous applause from a rapt audience inside the packed Newburyport Elks Club yesterday afternoon, during her roughly 30-minute presentation at the YWCA Greater Newburyport’s fourth annual fundraising luncheon.

Kilbourne, whose books and television appearances have made her one of the most in-demand public speakers in the nation, didn’t hold back in pilloring this country’s marketing industry that she believes objectifies women, sexes up children and desensitizes men.

YWCA Greater Newburyport officials called Kilbourne a perfect speaker to represent the theme of this year’s luncheon, “body image.”

“This really dovetails nicely with our mission and the work that we do,” said YWCA Greater Newburyport executive director John Feehan.

Kilbourne’s slideshow-based presentation showed plenty of bodies, most of them framed in ways the author called exploitive and sowed the seeds of domestic violence. Slide after slide showed advertisements featuring women whose appearances had been digitally altered or airbrushed to enhance their sexuality or placed in degrading poses, extracting loud gasps from the crowd. Quite often, Kilbourne turned those gasps into giggles by contemplating how the advertisements would come across if they featured men in those poses instead of women.

Kilbourne said the typical person is exposed to 3,000 advertisements a day and will spend two years of their lives watching nothing but television commercials. With that kind of power, advertisers are able to sell values, sexuality and images to people even subconsciously. In all she called today’s advertising world a “toxic cultural environment.”

More than 100 people, mostly women, paid $50 each to listen to Kilbourne’s riveting presentation. The roughly 2-hour event also featured an appearance by Fox 25 News anchor and Groveland native Maria Stephanos and a video sideshow deftly encapsulating YWCA Greater Newburyport’s 130-year history.

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