straight curve documentary how to kill the cycle of negative body image. image courtesy of ANASTASIA GARCIA


Straight Curve 

Straight/Curve is the documentary everybody needs see — like yesterday. The film tackles the issues of lack of diversity in the fashion industry and media, the ill effects of photoshopped and fabricated images, and offers solutions on how to break the cycle of projecting and subscribing to an exclusive brand beauty that makes those who don’t fit the image (tall, thin, white) feel less or unseen.

Below, its co-producer and director, Jenny McQuaile, gives us strategies for how to end the cycle perpetuated by these industries — all through easy-to-execute activism and every acts of inclusivity — and come out with more self love than ever. Who can’t use a little more of that?

Check out McQuaile’s infinite wisdom, below, and get ready to feel the love and make your Instagram feed that much more awesome. But first, watch this much-needed doc online at Epix when it premieres on the network tonight at 8pm Eastern.

The film notes that 90% of women and young girls say they do not feel represented by the fashion industry or media. What actions can we as individuals take to help move the needle on this statistic to help change the face of what we see in media? Straight Curve 

In this age of social media, we all have a voice and a platform that we did not have before. We can stand up and tell brands, publications, and advertisers what we want to see more of. Write to magazine editors and post on brand websites. We can voice our opinions on the imagery we see. And don’t just comment on the negative, tell people what you love to see and give support and encouragement when they get it right!

We can also vote with our wallets and refuse to buy products that do not employ advertising or models who make us feel visible or represented. We can repeatedly ask brands and media to be more diverse and inclusive.

If we all rise up in unison, they have to listen. And we are already seeing that. There has been such a positive shift in imagery since I started making this documentary two years ago, and it’s because people like you are speaking out. Never think that your single voice will get swallowed up and that we cannot achieve change. Your single voice is joining a chorus of other like-minded people, begging to be seen and heard in the world of media, advertising, and fashion. And that chorus is being heard.

straight/curve image courtesy of Jenny McQuaile

The film also says this underrepresentation is “leading to the biggest public health crisis of recent years in the United States.” Can you talk about the tentacles of this health crisis and if its magnitude seems to be minimized in the culture, why you think that is?

The public health crisis we bring up in the film is complex and multi pronged. We look at eating disorders, the societal effects of photo shopped and falsified images, and the lack of diversity and representation as leading causes of negative body image amongst men and women today. This negative body image is leading to a public health crisis.

Eating disorders are the leading cause of death of any psychiatric diagnosis, which is a startling fact. As Claire Mysko from the National Eating Disorders Association tells us in the film, “this is not a silly passing fad, this is not a vanity issue, this is a serious public health issue.” We have to start taking body image issues more seriously and recognize how eating disorders can start. If we continue to perpetuate and celebrate only one standard of beauty in society, and tell people that in order to be happy, beautiful and successful, you must be thin and white, then of course we have a problem. People will make themselves sick to attain this standard. Even if you don’t care about fashion and think it’s frivolous, we have to wake up to the fact the fashion industry sets the beauty standards and is putting images out into the world everyday that shape the way we think about ourselves, and how our children see themselves.

We have to start taking responsibility for the imagery we are putting out there. Seth Matlins, a brand marketer, tells us in the film that photo shopped and falsified imagery is deepening the public health crisis even further. I think the magnitude of this issue is being minimized in the culture because there is a very real misconception that the fashion industry is frivolous, elitist, and doesn’t impact individuals or their children. This notion couldn’t be further from the truth. The fashion industry is so entrenched in our culture today and it should not be exempt from responsibility.

How does social media (particularly the way we use Instagram) amplify or feed into this crisis (and how are girls and women self-contributing to unhealthy images via social media)?

What Straight/Curve does is actually present social media in a positive light, and I think that is super important. There is so much negativity surrounding social media that sometimes we forget that it is a platform that can, and is, creating real social change. As with any open forum there will be negative voices, but we should be focusing on how we can use social media to amplify the positive ones. Some of the characters in our film have millions of people who follow them everyday. Iskra Lawrence has 3.5million people she touches with her body-positivity messaging. For the first time ever, young people are growing up with role models that are actually accessible to them.

You can message, tweet or comment on your role models’ posts now, and sometimes they post back and reach directly out to their followers. This can change lives and I have witnessed it first hand with Iskra and some of her followers. I never had anything like that growing up.

You can also take charge and diversify your Instagram account; add people who are positive role models, add brands and magazines who are putting more diverse and inclusive imagery out there. This will all seep in and become normalized for the next generation, which is the ultimate goal. The role models we portray in our film also take their responsibility on social media very seriously. They do everything they can not to feed into the body image crisis and attempt to post real and natural imagery that is not fake or misleading. There are a lot of accounts out there that do not have the same sense of responsibility – but we should focus on the ones who do.

straight/curve image courtesy of Jenny McQuaile

What’s the biggest thing you took away from doing this film?
The real heart of the film for me are the teenage girls talking about their body image issues. These are the people who are being deeply affected by the imagery we are putting out there, and the people we simply MUST change the conversation for. Hearing from them was a really emotional experience for me. These girls were so confident, yet so vulnerable and very deeply affected by body image. They were so self aware in a way that I was not at their age, and it was eye opening. It gave me real motivation to get this film finished and out into the world so it can do some good and show girls, and boys, like this that they are not alone.

I also learned while making this film that designs schools around the US, and the world, do not teach design students how to make clothes for women over a size 6. That is outrageous in this day and age. Over two thirds of American women are a size 14 and over, and designers have absolutely no clue how to make clothes for them. Of course we have a problem, if the basic education is lacking. This to me is a deep-rooted cause of the lack of diversity, and also one that is easily surmountable.

straight/curve documentary image courtesy of Jenny McQuaile
Do you have an anecdote you can share from the filmmaking experience or project that gave you the biggest indication of hope that change is underway? Straight Curve 

There were so many moments of real encouragement that I saw over the course of the two years making this film. The conversation in the industry shifted from promoting plus size models to a conversation about diversity of ALL sizes, ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures, abilities etc. This is exactly where the conversation has to go. I also feel like for the first time, the change feels holistic — every section of the industry and media has to make a conscious effort to move towards more diversity and then real change can happen.

I had a very personal moment in the last week or so that was a real tear-swelling, lump-in-my-throat moment. I was scrolling through my Instagram and I came across the cover of the Hollywood Reporter with Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Lizzie Moss, Chrissy Metz, Jessica Lange and Nicole Kidman. It actually took my breath away and made me so proud. It was a really satisfying moment for me as a woman in the film industry to see these women of all sizes, ages, and ethnicities presented as icons. I never had imagery like that when I was growing up, dreaming of the film business and even that one little step will inspire people to go on and achieve their dreams. Isn’t that what we should be trying to promote?

straight/curve documentary image courtesy of Jenny McQuaile
Anything else you’d like to add about what doing this film taught you or on girl culture and body image?Straight Curve 

I have become something of a feminist while making this film, which is actually quite hilarious to me, as I never imagined that would happen. My producing team is all women – working with Jess Lewis and Yael Melamede everyday was a real privilege.

I have learned that women are bad asses, who, when given the opportunity, will and can achieve anything they damn well please. We made this film with an all-female crew and it was a very special experience that I am not sure I will ever have again. On the issue of body image, I still struggle daily with my own body image –- it is so deeply engrained in my psyche at this point. But every single day that I question my own body image, I know that this is exactly why I need to fight for young people and to change the imagery they are seeing so they can grow up and not feel this way. Straight Curve 

For more Straight/Curve goodness, check out the film’s Instagram page.

  1. While I admire the film, I must point out that it left out a large group of women: those of us over 60. Why did this occur? Beautiful young women, beautiful middle-aged women etc., etc., etc. all of us who do not fit that “slender/slim perfect underweight image” during those years, will eventually become (shudder) elderly/aged/wise/whatever. I became disabled due to starving myself during my teens in the late 60s, early 70s, & continuing throughout the 80s; simply because it was not acceptable for an attractive female to be larger than Twiggy &/or any other model during the 70’s, 80’s, et.c. I even did this “healthily”; i.e. eating correctly, exercising, etc. Unfortunately, I did not realize that my body simply required more calories than the healthy diets I was following, & so forth. Be that as it may, your film is still biased, as it is showing only young women, …, not older women who are still beautiful while we are larger than may be the “acceptable image”. Plus, it would do a very strong service for younger females to understand what can occur if they begin, continue, etc., etc., etc. to restrict their food intake; increase their exercises, & so forth; simply to conform to what one (or more) nincompoop believes is the “perfect female form”.

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