Skewed: How Bias Distorts Our View of Other People and How to Make It Stop

This “audio only” book is well worth a listen!

Professor Keon West and Caryn Franklin MBE, co-authors of audiobook Skewed

Our inner worlds – what makes them? Are we unwitting reflections of bias? From pop music to porn, to Disney films and the adverts that sell them–which news outlets promote what, we are a jumble of other people(s) constructions, impacted by the unceasing flurry of messages hidden in the mundane. Are they what determine how/who we are? Have our brains been hijacked? Brains love pattern making so we humans are, it turns out, utterly susceptible to “skewed messages”, from the time we’re born.

Caryn Franklin has admitted that even she’s been skewed in Skewed: How Bias Distorts Our View of Other People and How to Make It Stop. As a former fashion editor, commentator, and presenter in the fashion industry she grew accustomed to beauty in the Western world. Beauty was narrowly defined by men in marketing, glamorized in ads and praised those who fit within it. Posing questions and looking for answers, Franklin inquires what fashion says to us all. Skewed investigates the effects of bias in fashion thus unveiling the ways in which skewed media enforces prejudices and continue to shape us mentally and socially.

For a well rounded perspective, Franklin employs professor Keon West, a social psychologist, in the conversation. His unique background and perspectives, including his personal anecdotes, observations, and scientific studies, further demonstrate the prevalence of bias in the human brain. Media is everywhere. It’s implicit and skewed, but with the help of Franklin and West, it is possible to unpack it all. Here are a few things we learned.

For years Victoria’s Secret was the ultimate in setting unachievable (without photoshop) and narrow definitions of beauty

Fashion and a False Reality

Franklin’s words hold truth. “Fashion holds the power to condition our thoughts around beauty, modernity, and cultural relevance.” We witness magazines, runway shows, and Instagram influencers every second of every day. From the moment a photo is taken to its post-production airbrushing we easily digest these images fed to us and internalize them without a second thought. Models aligning with youthful, thin, white, and submissive traits concoct a false reality. We are biased to believe these attributes are the standard, and anyone failing to fit the mold is lesser than. It’s a mindset that’s hard to shake. It’s biased in motion.

Our bias doesn’t end in the fashion world, it permeates our daily lives. Skewed takes a widespread approach to understanding false realities centered around race, gender, sexuality, and appearance in every facet of media. From commercials and crime reports to action movies and your favorite television show, our inner worlds are shaped by biased information. Information that encourages us to stereotype and place judgments on those around us.

Bias Starts Early

Biased media doesn’t only affect our brains as adults, but from the moment we bear to witness it as children. In speaking with Dr. Carolyn Mair, Franklin learns first hand about the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the center for decision making. As children we’re less able to make discerning judgments about media messaging and are unable to question it. We’re much more susceptible because our brainds don’t reach full maturity until around the age of 25.

With young boys of his own Keon West had difficulty digesting the children’s content in front of him. Upon examining Disney’s Mulan soundtrack he identified traditional masculine stereotypes praising violence, muscular physiques, and dominance over women. These concepts that would then be ingested by his four year old son. Recounting his childhood, West also recognized his favorite 1990s media Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mortal Combat, and the original Star Trek series replicated restrictive and negative male role norms. While he was able to unpack the imagery before him as an adult, West now questioned how this shaped his own identity and relationship to masculinity. And how would today’s media continue the generational trend? Would his children too be molded during their upbringing, influenced by a rigid image of harmful, hyper masculinity?

At an early age, the wheels are set in motion with cartoons and Disney movies, altering us during our development’s impressionable, malleable stages. Until early adulthood, we are exposed to an array of media shaping our biases. Toys introducing us to the gender binary, video games and their passive female characters, and fairy tales portraying hetero-normative love stories.

An ad that caused protests in the UK as ultimate body shaming and sexist objectification.

Interal Bias Negatively Affects Us All

Working with i-D magazine, The Clothes Show, and countless industry innovators allowed Franklin to see the fixed fashion media as it was being produced. The content would then trickle down to national newspapers and glossy magazines and land at my feet.

In the early to mid 2000s, no feeling was quite as euphoric for me as flipping through a copy of Seventeen, Cosmo Girl, and Teen Vogue. While the existence of teen magazines is dwindling, they were a brief source of happiness until they weren’t. Young eyes became exposed to covers detailing how to be bikini ready. Quizzes asked, “Could You Be Addicted to Fat?”. Provocatively dressed models posed for advertisements and sold needless products. Each page, a carbon copy of the one before, skewed its impressionable demographic to idealize unattainable beauty standards, skin colors, and body types – including myself. Franklin and West are upfront and honest in confronting their own biases, we all have them. Even you are not immune to your daily intake of skewed media.

Challenge Yourself to Find An alternative

As Franklin points out, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Our brains may enjoy the easy way out, continuing to ingest and even enjoy the false realities embedded in media, allowing it to shape thoughts and behaviors for the worst. Or be challenged.

Following Skewed, question the media and your own set of biases through a Personal Media-Code. As West states, this code is “A set of guidelines to help us be sure that we are implicitly teaching ourselves to think in ways we can also explicitly endorse.” By examining our personal beliefs and the media consumed, we can eliminate bias and make way for a landscape void of racist, sexist, and heteronormative ideals. Make way for your own Personal Media Code, or take a page from our book with the code below.

Personal Media Code

Now that you’re aware of the biases in media look for them! Reexamine the current media (movies, television shows, news, etc.) you consume daily, with a new lens watching for stereotypes and harmful imagery.

Replace the skewed media consumed with intellectual, moral, and practical resources created by a diverse makeup of thinkers. Read stimulating books, watch documentaries, and listen to podcasts bringing in new perspectives that work to rewire your conscious brain.

Activism looks different for us all. It’s a way to disrupt the status quo, taking matters into our own hands to make a positive change. This may reflect in voting, and working to change legislation to enact less biased information. It could be joining a protest, a social media campaign, or simply speaking with a friend on hot topic issues.

And bottomline is: for as media savvy as we all like to think we are, listening to this book will bring new revelations –and in a highly entertaining manner! In many ways it feels like an extended podcast which is in part because they bring in several experts. These include campaigner and life coach Michelle Elman, author, academic and drag artist Cheddar Gorgeous, creative director and campaigner Trevor Robinson, forensic psychologist Dr Dominic Willmott and many more.

–Kennedy Smith

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