I’ve decided to inaugurate a new occasional feature, “Let’s Talk Images,” in which I post an image seen somewhere in the world, make a few observations about why it struck me as a good candidate for analysis, and then open the floor to y’all as an opportunity to use your media literacy toolbox.
A few weeks ago, I started seeing this advertisement for health insurance on the public transit system here in Boston:
Image Caption [provided by Sara in comments:
The image depicts a Black woman wearing business-like attire against a city backdrop. Text above her head reads “When I have my health, I can do anything.” The text at the bottom reveals that it is an ad for Boston Medical Center’s HealthNet Plan, which is apparently part of Massachusetts’ affordable health insurance system.
On a superficial level, there’s obviously nothing wrong with an insurance company advertising their products, or the message that access to medical care is a positive thing for people. HealthNet is one of the health insurance programs here in Boston designed to cater to people who are eligible for state-subsidized healthcare or not insured through their workplace.
What caught my eye, however, was the equation in the text of health with the ability to “do anything.” Obviously illness and disability can be limiting in a lot of ways, but the flip-side of the poster’s argument is that without one’s “health” (defined how?), you can’t “do anything.” Which sidelines the many people who are living with chronic illness and disability yet engaged in an incredible amount of personally rewarding and socially productive activities.
The second message in this poster that bothered me is the argument being made when the text and image are read together: that a professional African-American woman who “has her health” faces no other impediments to personal success. This erasure of gender and race discrimination situates success in the private, rather than socio-political, sphere. If you have your health, the poster suggests, there are no excuses not to succeed. This poster depicts an individual whose ability to live the good life is constrained only by what happens inside her body, not the way embodied self is interpreted by others, interacted with on a daily basis, constrained by social institutions and political structures, or situation within an environment which may affect her physical and emotional well-being.
The floor’s all yours, Harpies: What strikes you about this image?