"Be All That You Can Be"-unless you are beautiful, that is. A high level strategist working to shape the Army's PR message about women in combat roles has recommended that the publicity photos and pamphlets feature "ugly" or "average looking women."
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In leaked email obtained by Politico, Col. Lynette Arnhart, who has served since 1989, wrote, "In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead," She added that the Army typically selects publicity shots with attractive looking women and attached an article with an example. "Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty)." Instead, she suggested, a photo of a woman with a mud streaked face, for example,"sends a much different message-one of women willing to do the dirty work necessary in order to get the job done."
The email was originally sent to two recipients including Col. Christian Kubik, chief of public affairs for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) who forwarded it to all public affairs officers working for TRADOC along with the note: "A valuable reminder from the TRADOC experts who are studying gender integration-when [public affairs officers] choose photos that glamorize women (such as in the attached article), we undermine our own efforts. Please use 'real' photos that are typical, not exceptional."
Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California jumped on Twitter to denounce the email.
An unnamed army spokesperson told Politco that, "It scares me to think that these are people involved in gender integration."
Meanwhile, the Army distanced itself from Arnhart on Twitter.
While parsing the value of images "ugly" or "pretty" women and Arnhart's comments about breaking a nail may seem offensive, her assessment is as much describing the reality of a cultural phenomenon as it is defining a strategy. "There is a growing body of empirical research that indicates that focusing on women's physical appearance has a negative impact in how women are perceived," Nathan Heflick, PhD, a Research Associate at the University of Kent's School of Psychology tells Yahoo Shine. "This includes the reduced belief that [pretty] women are intelligent, kind, moral and, on a more basic level, have thoughts, feelings and intentions." He adds that when a woman is perceived as being sexually attractive she is more likely to be blamed for being raped or sexually harassed.
Heflick wonders why the Army was only using attractive women for PR materials in the first place and asks "Why aren't they concerned that 'ugly" men are used? The reason probably has to do with physical appearance, on a broad cultural level, being more important in people's mind(s) than men's physical appearance."
It's important to point out that Arnhart wasn't commenting on women's capability to actually serve as Speier claimed, but the use of their image. The attractive woman in the article flagged by Arnhart, is Corporal Kristine Tejada who did two tours of duty to Iraq. Interestingly over the last couple of years, Tejada's picture has been featured dozens of times as a "representative female soldier" by news outlets from USA Today to Mother Jones to Public Radio International. While Arnhart maybe be pushing, however clumsily, for grittier images of "average looking" women, its doubtful that the mainstream media-where the objectification of female beauty pays the bills-will follow suit any time soon.
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