restricted access Women, wellness, and the media (review)
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Women, wellness, and the media. Edited by Margaret Wiley. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.

Feminist bioethicists have explicitly recognized that women may bear the undue burden of iatrogenic disease, or disease deliberately created by health care. Further, the feminist critique of science, or the "science wars," as it is sometimes called, has affected the ways we approach scientific and medical knowledge when it comes to women. The idea that science is situated and constructed, rather than naturally revealed to us, has exposed androcentric tendencies in research as well as health-care practices. Indeed the highly successful public relations campaign of the Breast Cancer Action "pink" campaign reminds us that not only do we now know more about women's health, but we also know that women's health issues have been long neglected in media discourse. The Action's insistence that their message "cannot be bought" also points to a level of awareness about the influence of corporations on health-care initiatives. In short, we know more about women's health, the ways these issues have been historically understudied and underdiscussed, and the ways in which consumer economies can compromise these knowledges.

Most of us, however, view the deliberate creation of dis-ease by medicine [End Page 158] as (at best) unintentional, or (at worst) negligent; we are often not conditioned to recognize the prospects for conscious manipulation of women's health through wellness media agendas. Wiley's collection, Women, Wellness, and the Media, is both timely and pertinent for addressing the increasing manipulation of women's health by popular media. The articles in the collection do justice to the claim that the construction of wellness corresponds to a deliberate skewing of concepts of health, often to the detriment of women's agency.

The goals of feminist bioethics are thus aligned with the kinds of questions that Wiley sets out to ask in this collection: how are cultural values associated with health and wellness constructed, and who benefits from the imposition of these values? How do the mass media contribute to our constructions of health and gender, and how are these concepts mutually constructed and dependent on each other? What are the institutional biases in our health-care system? How should we, and how can we, change?

Chapters include a variety of studies spanning disciplines, methodologies, and themes. The authors come from nursing, English, communication studies, women's studies, and psychology, and themes range from breast cancer advertising, to the history of medical discourse surrounding anorexia, to cigarette advertising lauding women's success in sports, to case study analyses of media surrounding the "mommy murder" cases of Susan Smith and Andrea Yates. For this review, we focus largely on two chapters addressing gender, body image, and popular media. As a whole, though, Wiley's collection legitimizes the claim that media images of women and health have very real consequences on the creation of our bodies (both male and female)—what we do with them, how we use them, how we perceive them, how we age, and how we care for them when sick.

In chapter four, "Pain or Perfection? Themes in Plastic-Surgery Reality Television," Joan L. Conners sets out to explore relationships between plastic and cosmetic surgery on so-called reality television and the reality of these surgeries in the United States. Noting that rates in cosmetic procedures have risen dramatically since 2000 alongside the introduction and rising popularity of cosmetic surgery–themed reality television programs, Conners asks: does this television programming reflect changing acceptance and interest in these surgeries, or is the programming instead "normalizing" these surgeries, and thereby convincing viewers to sign on for plastic surgery (74)? Conners approaches this relationship between television image and medical practice by performing a content analysis, analyzing full seasons of selected television shows such as Extreme Makeover and Dr. 90210. [End Page 159]

Conners's question reflects a perennial problem in media scholarship—that is, do media reflect or create social values? Most media scholars agree that the answer is somewhere in between, and Conners is no exception. She is concerned not with a simple kind of causal relationship between television...