Shaping Youth Is Backing The Illusionists Film About Media’s Body Blitz

Update Nov. 2, 2014 Talk about a greenlight!

Excited to attend Elena’s “PopUp Party” today screening her important 2015 documentary film (preview here). She’ll be speaking at the 3PercentConference in S.F. tomorrow on “repicturing women” with Pam Grossman. Congrats on all, Elena!

Eager to connect the dots on selling insecurity for profit and pushback on this global dynamic impacting public health! The conversation continues…

July 26, 2011 SUCCESS! (See sidebar on our homepage for exact numbers)

Thank you all for helping Elena’s breakthrough film, and as I just wrote to her…“even though I’m passing the baton, remember, I’m running alongside you with water and nourishment too!” Hope you’ll all continue to stay tuned for more media maven change agents like Elena who are using the power of media for positive change…New features forthcoming…So exciting!

July 19, 2011-original post: Why would I become a backer on Kickstarter of indie film The Illusionists when my own nonprofit remains self-funded?

Same reason I used my own personal dollars to sponsor the ShopGirls eco-marathon racecar team of teens and She’s Geeky…passion for these particular projects to take hold with unbridled enthusiasm for a massive media mindshift and a sea change for us all. Besides, “this time it’s personal.”

As a writer/producer who recently tabled my own film, Body Blitz, Media Shaping Youth (filmed on K-5 playgrounds showing the impact of today’s media and marketing on wee ones, from food choices to fashion and behavioral impact of sexualization) in order to have full focus on Shaping, I’m vehement about seeing The fully funded on Kickstarter by August 5 at 5:55pm EDT come hell or high water.

As much as I disdain “race against time” funding mechanisms, this Kickstarter project is 66% there with 16 days to go, and like a dog with a bone who won’t let go, I’m not gonna drop it.

For me, young filmmaker Elena Rossini represents the passing of a generational baton, as she comes as close to my editorial convictions filming  Body Blitz untethered to industry ties as any other director out there, bar none.

Like Shaping Youth,  The Illusionists takes a firm “I will not be bought” stance, finessing the fit with any corporate, organizational sponsor to avoid inevitable conflict of interest leakage that permeates so many of the vested interests in our media machine these days.

Elena represents part of a growing MOVEMENT of young people determined to right some wrongs, do some culture-jamming, and reframe the conversation beyond the appearance-based drek splashing on kids at ever earlier ages where even tiny tots have begun questioning their chubby cherub cheeks…and I’m proud to support their rebel yells and evidence-supported research in any way that I can.

My media mantra? When profiteering trumps public health, and corporate coffers go ‘ka-ching’ and childrens’ psyches go ‘ka-boom’…we’ve got a huge ‘connect the dots’ problem with society’s mental, physical and socioemotional health.

It’s heartening to see The Illusionists Aug. 5 Kickstarter deadline dovetail with the July 28 launch of a like-minded “Take Back Beauty” project making headway in the US, using ambient advertising itself to flip the beauty message via billboards. 

The two young PhD candidates Lexie and Lindsay of Take Back Beauty are proud to unveil their own media raspberry with mass signage in Utah going live on July 28 with great coverage by their local TV news media itself. (see video at the end, full feature on SY to come)

Both of these uplifting body image/beauty myth projects are literally “Using the power of media for positive change” to flip the conversation, call for a massive mindshift and leverage media itself as their distribution channel.

I’ll be watching closely to see which brands and media companies hop onto this movement beyond bandwagoning, as it’s absolutely imperative to dissect with full tilt critical thinking skills how deep the ties go…

Whether it’s editorial coverage, what’s being said or unsaid, unearthing the ownership layers in parent companies, sponsorships, journalism, and even social media influencers, I have no doubt ALL of these ladies will segue from “it’s complicated” to being streamlined for success with backers I can live with.

In the evolution of a new “trust” economy, these are two projects that pique my passion, and I hope they will yours, too.

It’s no illusion, by AUGUST 5th  Elena Rossini needs backers in her hip pocket.

I’m proud to be one of them. I hope you’ll be next.



Amy Jussel Chats With The Illusionists Filmmaker Elena Rossini

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: In the trailer (above) you’ve described how your film differs vastly from being just an “update” of Media Education documentaries like Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” series, could you tell us more about your cinematic approach and the tonality that makes The Illusionists an entirely fresh new body of work?

Elena Rossini, The Illusionists: Style-wise, “The Illusionists” will have high production values and a “cinematic” look. My background is in narrative cinema and my number one passion is photography.

I often work as a cinematographer and in the past three years I’ve fallen in love with new equipment that basically turns my DSLR camera (a Canon EOS 5D Mark II) into a movie camera that produces stunning images that look like a million dollars.

I’m not a fan of sloppy, hand-held camerawork and I feel that elegant cinematography could make this film even more persuasive and could appeal to people who are on the other side of the trenches.

On a related note, what has surprised me the most so far has been the warm reception of individuals that work within the system. The real “Illusionists” so to speak. The project has caught the attention of fashion and women’s magazines, as well as advertising agencies, who have nothing but praise for it.

The best piece of advice I was given, regarding “The Illusionists” was by the author of one of my favorite books on the subject of beauty. She suggested to stay open to all opportunities, citing this reason: “More people read a blurb about my book in Vogue, than the book itself.”

I welcome the interest of insiders because it allows me to reach women who would otherwise not be exposed to these topics…

Shaping Youth: When I wrote this interview with Jean Kilbourne (when she co-authored So Sexy So Soon) it seems much had already accelerated/devolved culturally between each of her Killing Us Softly media education updates..

Could you add some “then/now” context to understand the WHYS of the need for positive body image film ed, and again, how The Illusionists will differ in tonality?

The Illusionists: As you said, given a great body of work already available, from Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” and “So Sexy So Soon,” to Naomi Wolf’s “The Beauty Myth,” and Susie Orbach’s “Bodies” (I’ll be interviewing Jean Kilbourne and Susie Orbach) I’m often asked about my motivations…

It’s important to note I’m coming at this from a different filmmaking angle:

I am intrigued by how economic and cultural institutions depend on – and reinforce – a simple belief:  That our body is the key for personal and economic success and that we must do all we can to improve it.

For centuries, people of various creeds were constantly incited to disregard their bodies and to focus instead on the betterment of their souls.

According to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard all this changed at the end of the 19th century: the body was “liberated” and became the finest consumer object, in order to meet capitalist objectives.

My film addresses how the pursuit of a perfect body has become the new religion for women – and increasingly, men and children. “The Illusionists” focuses in particular on the “How” and “Why” of this phenomenon.

This may seem like a silly comparison, but I think for instance about the film “The Wizard of Oz” – what intrigues me about these topics is pulling the curtain to reveal who is the mastermind of these beautiful illusions and how the system works behind the scenes.

Again, my cinematic references are films like “Inside Job,” PBS’ “The Merchants of Cool,” “The Corporation,” and “Manufacturing Consent” – which take a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of various industries, and that are ultimately enlightening and thought-provoking.

Along those lines, one of the most influential books I’ve read is “The Hidden Persuaders” (1957) by Vance Packard. It reveals how advertisers have been employing psychologists since the early 1900s, to come up with more persuasive marketing campaigns that would generate sales.

They soon discovered that the most effective method of selling products was to “sell to our subconscious” and manipulate “our guilt feelings, fears, and anxieties.” Something they are still banking on! My goal with The Illusionists is to leave people astonished by new knowledge and – as a result – hopefully feeling better vis-à-vis their bodies…

Amy’s note: We use a similar “unveil the agenda” media literacy message with our “M-power”  games to reach and teach kids and their families in a fun, fresh manner…So you can see how the fit is a colossal WIN for those of us who feel critical thinking can turn the tide towards healthier mindsets and over-ride the toxicity which has reached a tipping point in our global culture with causal public health links to quantifiable damage and harm!

Shaping Youth: For many of us in the trenches the last few years we’ve seen age compression go from ‘bad to worse’ in marketing appearance-based cues and sexualization and objectification damaging very young kids…

Do you feel that girls AND boys are getting mixed messages on sex and  sexuality? Being desensitized with some social norming cues and behavioral expectations?

If so, does your film address this topic head on about both genders or focus on female impact primarily?

The Illusionists: Two years ago, while I was researching “The Illusionists” I met with Susan Linn, the founder and director of the CCFC (Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood) and a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School. Ms. Linn had written a book – “Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood” – that was extremely helpful for my research.

We had an hour-long conversation about the commercialization of childhood and the influence of mass media, video games, and toys on children’s behavior and self-esteem. One of her comments stunned me. Ms. Linn said that as a child therapist, she had seen how the sexualization and objectification of children had been accelerating at a breakneck speed in the past decade. She said, “Now I regularly encounter 6 year olds who tell me, ‘I feel ugly’.”

  • Thinking that poor body image has become the new normal for six year olds was simply shocking to me. Fast-forward to two years later.

I now witness this phenomenon first hand on a regular basis.

(Amy’s Note: See Dr. Robyn’s Fat Talking Tots: Body Image and Fat Hatred in Preschoolers as well as her GGDGF published book extensively covering this topic)

Because of the subject of “The Illusionists,” people open up to me to tell me stories of struggle with their own (and their kids’) body image…

—The cherubic-looking, gorgeous 5-year-old daughter of a friend constantly complains to her mother that she feels “ugly.”—The teenage son of an acquaintance wants to undergo plastic surgery because he feels his chest is “too bony” and he never takes his T-shirt off – even at the pool.

I see an epidemic of body dissatisfaction all around me. What’s most disturbing, is that it is often casually passed off as something completely normal.

In “The Illusionists” I will discuss how the pursuit of the “perfect” body – an unattainable ideal – affects both girls and boys. Poor body image in boys is a subject often neglected in our culture.

Reading “The Adonis Complex” by Harvard professor Harrison Pope was simply eye-opening. The chapter “G.I. Joe Goes on Steroids” is illustrated with photos that show the evolution in the appearance (read: muscularity) of toy characters, from the 1960s to our days.

It’s a stunning sight. The phenomenon applies not only to G.I. Joe, but also to all toy characters examined by Mr. Pope. He concludes,

“These action toys suggest that the ideal male body has evolved in only about thirty years from a normal and reasonably attainable figure, such as that of the Vietnam-era G.I. Joes, to a hugely muscular figure that we believe no man could attain without massive doses of steroids.”

What’s most disturbing is that boys are exposed to these super muscular characters (through toys, TV series, video games) while they are still very young and thus they internalize the images as something “normal” and “the ultimate ideal.”

Japan is one of the main locations of “The Illusionists” – I look forward to interviewing video game makers and asking designers about their creative process and how/why they come up with such unattainable body proportions.

Shaping Youth: You’re 66% there for your funding mark on KickStarter…

Explain more about why you wanted to be untethered from sponsorship/underwriting by foundations etc?

If Google or Apple or some bigwig corp had a blank check to make the film tomorrow would you accept it? Why or why not?

The Illusionists: I actually welcome the idea of sponsorships by companies/organizations whose mission is in line with “The Illusionists,” or  so far away from the food, cosmetics, fashion, media industries that a partnership would not constitute a conflict of interest.

There are a couple of professional women’s associations who have offered their support and generous sponsorship – I’ll make an official announcement next week. It’s a fantastic sensation to have these allies, since I have the utmost admiration for their mission.

What I would NOT accept is a big check by a cosmetics company. It would be completely hypocritical of me.

Other filmmakers don’t have those reservations: French director Jacques Perrin made the nature documentary Oceans – about the need to protect our waters – with sponsorship from Total (a French petroleum company with a negative environmental track record).

The reason why I’m fundraising on a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter is that I have faced a lot of resistance and censorship from traditional media channels. Whenever I pitch the project, I am consistently asked to dumb it down. No wonder media critics sigh over the lowest common denominator aspect of modern TV!

Decision makers – from public, general interest channels to private, arthouse ones, want the same thing: something light, superficial and easy to make, the fast food equivalent of a film. I want to make something intelligent, thought-provoking, and more refined.

I was taken aback during a meeting six months ago at a highbrow, super respected TV channel. The head of documentary acquisition literally said to me, “I’m not interested in your experts. Take away your Umberto Eco’s and Jean Kilbourne’s and put yourself in the film instead, having beauty treatments and whatnot. Then we can talk.”

Similarly, just recently while talking to another TV executive I was told to remove references to Noam Chomsky from my treatment and consider speaking to Lady Gaga’s clothes designer instead.

Amy’s Note:  Elena’s experience echoes my own, both with Body Blitz AND with pitching projects like a PRODUCTIVE version of a RealityTV show for STEM  pursuits like Project Raceway…

“Amy, you realize Hollywood will own you. You have no control of the sponsors, or tone or casting or any of that. You okay with that?” —“Um…no. Actually, no…I’m not.”

Shaping Youth: Of your total run time, how much of the film is devoted to kids?  How do you keep from getting angry/bitter working w/this topic?  And…

How have we come to such a double-standard in media/marketing gender cues? (e.g. Ambrose Bierce: “To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries or what he wears? But a woman’s body is the woman.”)

The Illusionists:  The runtime will be approximately 100 minutes. The section about children and tweens only lasts about 15 minutes but was by far the toughest part to research and write. I often found myself in tears, completely dispirited, at the end of each working day.

Examining the rampant commercialization of childhood that has occurred in the past twenty-five years was a soul-destroying exercise.

On the one hand, I considered myself lucky to belong to the last generation (kids growing up in the 1980s) that was still truly considered a child – not a potential consumer that needed to be hooked to brands “from cradle to grave.” On the other hand, I feel sad thinking about the bombardment of toxic messages aimed at my young nieces and my friends’ kids.

It’s a true, infectious epidemic – I’ve seen countless friends trying to protect their children, banning TVs, and purchasing “wholesome” educational toys. No matter the efforts, they are crushed the second their child starts playing with a friend who isn’t as sheltered.

In my own, private life, I limit my exposure to screens as much as I can and find joy in activities that are far removed from advertising and commercial culture. On weekends, I visit the library, go on long bike rides, and relish in taking photos at dusk around Paris. What I love the most about the city – besides its breathtaking beauty – is the importance that’s put on the arts and culture: authentic experiences that enrich one’s life (as opposed to emptying one’s wallet).

Shaping Youth: Can you give us a ‘that was then this is now’ soundbite or your version of ‘what’s changed’ in even the last 5 years since I’ve been doing this work?

The Illusionists: The music, films, and TV series I was exposed to as a teen (in the mid 1990s) would be considered quaint and old fashioned by today’s standards.

As a feminist film director and screenwriter, my jaw dropped when I watched the pilot episode of “Gossip Girl” – I felt that the show put teenage characters in complex sexual situations that were beyond their years – yet at the same time trivializing and normalizing these behaviors.

The sexual maturity paraded by these fictional characters and their love for luxury goods are concepts that would have seemed alien to me during my teenage years. Very few of my classmates wore makeup or saw shopping for clothes as their main pastime. Those who had boyfriends were in serious, long-term relationships; most were single. “One night stands” and promiscuous behavior were virtually unheard of.

As I type this, I’m aware my recollection might smack of “Little House on the Prairie.” It was just… a very different time. I would listen to Alanis Morrisette, Nirvana and Hole, buy music magazines and daydream about the future.

When I was 15, my biggest desire was to travel (preferably to the U.S., so that I could improve my English). It was NOT to buy a $2,000 Louis Vuitton handbag. If you’d asked me who Louis Vuitton was, I’d probably have thought “he was an historical figure from the French revolution.”

I have noticed a significant shift in culture during my college years. I see three phenomena intersecting and causing an acceleration in the change of mores:

  • …the advent of broadband internet connections
  • …the incursion of pornography into mainstream culture (aided by the former)
  • …and the increase in buying power of teenagers and young adults.

Combined, they make a potent, explosive mix. And a terribly profitable one.

Shaping Youth:Thanks, Elena, ‘explosive’ is an apt word.

The way I see it, increasingly younger kids are being caught in the blast zone of this media drop, maiming with internal and external consequences like a scatter bomb.

Loved your “30 reasons why I’m making The Illusionists”article…hopefully, with this interview, we’re now at 31.

Want to help fund The Illusionists? Be a backer? Here’s how.

From grassroots pocket change ($10 cost of a movie ticket) to an “Associate Producer” screen credit ($5000+) the film needs all the backing it can get BEFORE AUG. 5, 2011 on Kickstarter!

It’s not everyday you’re able to be a tangible part of a solution…Tweet, share, blog, give, do whatever it takes to see The Illusionists’ media that matters come to fruition.

I challenge you to join in the fun along with these like-minded souls talking about The Illusionists

Related Resources/Shaping Youth

SY Adviser Dr Robyn Silverman: Tips on Raising Healthy Kids

Girl Caught: New Moon Girls Slams Sexualization of Kids

Download New Anti-Sexualization Sticker For Culture Jamming!

Solutions? Positive Picks in Media & Marketing:

Vamp Tramp Toys: A Monster Problem (Mattel/Monster High)

Vogue Cadeaux: Children ARE Gifts. NOT to Be Wrapped & Sold

Healthy Youth Media Act: Can Change Be Legislated?

Girls Are Not Candies, Tweens Are Not Teens

Bottom Feeders Like American Apparel Need Whacked in The Assets

Raising Girls Amidst Meat Marketing: Carl’s Jr, Burger King Raunch

Taking Aim at Target: Think That V is a Coinkydink?

When It’s Not Hip to Be Square, Sexist Spongebob & Burger Shots

Sexed Up M&Ms Sell Fashionably Decadent Premium Sleaze

Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag…Er…Face. Nose. Belly.

Body Blitz: APA Shows Harm of Early Sexualization

Body Image: Tips for Teens (Both Genders!) To Survive the Media Morass

What Sells: Infants As Fashion Statements & Joke Props?

So Sexy So Soon, Shaping Youth Talks to Jean Kilbourne

Beyonce’s Dereon Divas: PopTarts and Sesame Streetwalkers?

Sexist Undies: Slimy Santa Innuendo Gets the Heave Ho-Ho-Ho!

Bratz Movie Seeps Bratitude Into Kid Culture

Pussycat Dolls Vamp for Lame TV-the ‘F’ Word is Feminist? Hardly.

Celeb Pop Culture and Media’s Tipping Point of Toxicity

Hollywood Walk of Lame—Victoria’s Secret Models ‘Earn’ Star? For WHAT?

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?

  Shaping Youth Is In the L.A. Times Today, Yawn

Kids Are A Captive Audience With Ambient Advertising

Commodification of Kids: The Backlash Has Begun

Shaping Youth Through Ambient Advertising

Manga Makeovers And Other Body Image Cartoon Capers

Facelifts for Kiddie Characters?

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

Preteen Tips/How to Say it To Girls

America the Beautiful: See it. Support it.

Childhood Matters Radio Show: Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today

Shaping Youth’s Snapshot: What About the Boys?

Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink Leaves A Foul Taste (Again!)

Buffed Boy, Body Image and Tween Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor

Hey, Kids, Your “Energy Drinks” Now Come With Alcohol!

What About the Boys? Body Image/Halloween

Packaging Boyhood Authors/Interview: What ABOUT the Boys?

Upcoming Feature With Beauty Founders Lexie & Lindsay On Shaping Youth About Their Outdoor Ads:

A Dozen Billboards Premiere July 28 to “Take Back Beauty” in Utah



  1. Love what you’re doing here! Check out my recently published book on body image and self worth, titled “Glad to be ME!”

  2. This looks like a great project. At New Moon Girls, we are constantly trying to get across the “I will not be bought” message as well. You can check some of our “real beauty” initiatives out at Good work!

  3. A very belated (somehow caught in the web filter) “I will!” reply… 😉

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