Why I Want My Students To Watch The South Park Season Finale

I have always felt that my appearance is pretty average. I don’t write that meaning that I’m unhappy with average, it’s just kinda a fact. Thankfully, I escaped my teenage years/early adulthood without feeling that my appearance was a problem. Not everyone is so fortunate, and I understand that. My looks haven’t been something that I felt I needed drastic measures to “fix.” For me, I used to have a hard time reconciling my personality, what I like, with what I believed a woman should be. No one ever told me, “Staci, you like sports too much. Guys don’t like girls who like sports,” but that was the impression I got as the boys I really liked went for cheerleaders. Meanwhile, I was invited to hang out with the other guys, you know, since I was one of them.
It took a while, and a couple attempts at changing….no, hiding….my personality, before it finally dawned on me that you can’t hide who you are forever. I’m a heterosexual female who loves UK Athletics, sci-fi, Art, music, supports equal rights for all, wants to work for a successful Appalachia, and I am so much more than my interests and causes.
I am just happier being me. Good, bad, I’m the one with my unique perspective and, thankfully, the people in my life – friends and family – seem to dig that.
Trust me, this opening will make sense eventually.

On to this past Wednesday…

After our weekly trivia night, we went to my brother s house to eat our Cinnabon Delights and watch South Park. South Park has long been a favorite show of ours, but the last few weeks had been epic. Console wars, Black Friday, and Game of Thrones – don’t forget Princess Kenny! – the show, as always, was spot on in turning the spotlight on the ridiculous behavior of society through the eyes of four little boys from Colorado. The season finale would be no different and we could not wait.
One if the best things about South Park, is the quick turn around of the production. It is just so relevant and deals with issues as they arise in the world. This season’s finale dealt with the idea of body image, how what is sold as reality is, in fact, usually not, and how silly the idea of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian being a prominent couple, throwing the self imposed importance of their relationship into the ether CONSTANTLY, really is. (On a side note, they make me think of a couple that is so busy making sure everyone knows how great they are doing, because they really aren’t and can’t admit that it’s gone wrong. As one who kinda did that herself, I feel able to call them out.)
In brief, Wendy is trying to give one of her fellow cheerleaders a boost of self confidence by encouraging her to ask her crush, Butters, out. When Lisa does approach Butters, he, as politely as he can, tells her no because she is too fat for him. When Wendy hears about Butters’ rudeness, she calls him out. That’s when we see that Butters’ ideal girlfriend is Kim Kardashian. His locker is covered with magazine images of her. Wendy tries to tell Butters that those images aren’t real, that Kim Kardashian doesn’t really look like that, and that she is, in fact, a hobbit. A fact that Kanye West tries to dispute throughout the who show without much success.
Well, Butters gets upset and Wendy gets in trouble. When she tries to demonstrate to Butters how Photoshop works by “fixing” Lisa’s picture, her lesson is lost on him when he believes that the fake image of Lisa is, in fact, how Lisa really appears. As the photo is passed around, Lisa believes the image is her, other girls want Wendy to fix their pictures too, and, finally, Wendy has to decide whether or not to “fix” her own image after her boyfriend asks her to.
Along with the hobbit jokes and the mocking of West/Kardashian, it really is a poignant episode about how society’s unreal expectations for a woman’s physical appearance is truly harmful for easily influenced young girls/women. That ideal is perpetuated in media where image/video manipulation is common practice but not admitted to except behind the scenes. It’s an open secret that most young people don’t know about or understand. Really, a lot of women don’t acknowledge the falsehood of many/most magazine photos. It is hard not to. As a woman, I feel overwhelmed by the images lining the checkout racks/magazine stands. It’s easy to fall in and say to yourself, well, I am not that fit, not that small, not that pretty….it is super easy. Yet, I’m able to remind myself that a huge setup full of lights, makeup, wardrobe, computers, etc went in to that one image. That an already beautiful woman (or man for that matter) was made more ideal because that idea of beauty sales.
Now, my students and I talk about the tricks used in photography to reinforce our society’s idea of beauty. Just like artists painted/drew/printed/sculpted the ideal from their own time, it changes and is very rarely a true representation of an actual person. My goal is for all of my students to realize that what they see is not always what is real. While I do believe that the girls in my class need that reminder more than the boys, the boys need to know that the fantasy on the magazine cover does not reflect reality. I mean, when you live in a world where Jennifer Lawrence is considered overweight, something is wrong. Thankfully, she’s amazing and is a vocal celebrity in calling B.S. when it is needed – which, sadly, is often.
I digress….
I am so thankful that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, go out of their way to make a hilarious, thoughtful, relevant show. They use satire to make points that hit on multiple levels so adults and teenagers can (hopefully) “get” it. Now, not everyone likes South Park. The language used, some of the more gross topics, can throw people off. Still, at the end of the day, the topics covered are important reflections on how crazy our culture has become. That’s why I love the show; nothing is off topic! I don’t have to always agree with their point of view, and they really don’t care if I – or the audience – do agree. They are presenting a point of view and all they ask is I watch, enjoy, laugh, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll think about what they are showing me.
I don’t want to tell you what Wendy decided to do with her picture. I do want to give two men, and their fantastic staff, credit for tackling a difficult subject – ideal body image and the pressure associated with that – with humor and thoughtfulness. I want to encourage you to give South Park a chance if you only consider it a foul little cartoon.
I also want you, me, and everyone to find what in yourself makes you tick and to make your life the healthiest and happiest it can be.
Don’t be society’s ideal, be your ideal.
That may sound cheesy….still, it works.

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