Buzz report: Who’s creating our beauty standards? Students and staff attend screening of ‘The Illusionists’

By Gina Minoia

Dozens of students, staff and community members showed up to Decker Hall last Tuesday to meet Italian filmmaker Elena Rossini and watch her critically acclaimed documentary “The Illusionists,” which explores how the beauty industry impacts body-image across the globe. Rossini is a one-woman show: she spent eight years directing, producing and writing the film, travelling the globe to capture the stories of men and women affected by unattainable beauty standards.

Her journey wasn’t without obstacles, however, as she faced doubt and sexism from producers and TV stations. “Can we help you find a [different] director?” some would ask. Nonetheless, Rossini said these experiences gave her “extra motivation to get the film in front of [us].”

Gasps, whispers of disbelief, and occasional incredulous laughter could be heard as audience members took in the startling visuals and facts in “The Illusionists:”  The film delves into the history of cellulite as a “flaw” invented by the beauty industry in the sixties, a computer-generated Japanese cover girl presented as a real woman, and colossal corporation “Unilever” acquiring Slimfast weight loss shakes and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream on the same day, to name a few.

A standout topic in the film, however, was the advertising and use of products that change skin tone. Rossini explored the popularity of “fairness creams” in places such as Lebanon and India, where women are bombarded with advertisements showing “blonde women with blue eyes in countries where women don’t look like that at all.” The narrator leaves viewers with this to consider: “[skincare companies] don’t care what color your skin is, as long as you’re insecure about it.”

Following the screening was a panel discussion including Rossini, SUNY Broome Women’s Institute founding member Margherita Rossi, and anime enthusiast David Michalak. The three engaged in a Q and A about body image and the media, including insight from Michalak about anime, a large influence in Japanese culture. Rossini then accepted questions from the audience about everything from women in the directing industry to beautifying filters on popular app “Snapchat.” Hands flew up continuously; attendees were eager to share their own experiences and learn more about Rossini’s work.

Rossini sees the media as a “skewed image for what beauty is” and challenges young men and women to be critical of it. She urges us to ask ourselves, “Are you doing something out of empowerment or insecurity?”

Thank you to the SUNY Broome Women’s Institute for hosting Elena Rossini for a night of learning, questioning, and inspiring. Dedicated faculty and staff on our campus community have worked over the past year to organize the Women’s Institute, whose mission is to “educate and engage audiences around modern-day issues for women and girls.” The Institute has hosted several successful recent events including a screening of “Bottoms Up,” a documentary about women going under the knife for a bigger butt. Stay tuned for more events from the Women’s Institute, including a handmade craft market to benefit “Health for Haiti” on July 15.

Contact Margherita Rossi at rossima@sunybroome.edu for more information about the Women’s Institute or to join the Steering Committee.

Visit http://elenarossini.com/  to learn more about Elena Rossini’s mission, partnerships, and upcoming projects.

Gina Minoia is a freshman in the Education program.