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The Media and Body Image

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Many factors can contribute to a negative impact on body image. But the media seems to play a huge role in the image most of us have or want to have. So much emphasis is put on being perfect and looking a certain way that it makes it hard to not have a negative outlook. We see other people’s flaws and imperfections pointed out daily that causes us to feel negative about ourselves. It is hard to escape from what the media portrays as the perfect body. Body image is a person’s perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. It involves how a person sees themselves, compared to the standards that have been set by society. Human society and the media have at all times placed great value on the beauty of the human body. There is no consensus definition of body image, but it may be expressed as to how people view themselves in the mirror or their minds. A person’s body image incorporates the memories, experiences, assumptions, and comparisons of their own appearance, and overall attitudes towards one’s height, shape, and weight. An individual’s impression of their body is also assumed to be a product of ideals cultivated by various social and cultural ideals that they may see in the media and advertisements.

While many factors can affect the view of a person of his or her own appearance, since the mid-twentieth century, American media has played an increasingly powerful role in creating idealized images of beauty. Throughout history, it has been extremely difficult for people to live up to the standards of society and what they believe the ideal body is because of the images and standards that are set by the media. Since the early twentieth century, the media’s role in shaping the conception of ideal body image by the public has been significant, although the ideals themselves have evolved. The ultimate purpose of many advertisements is thus to appeal to the insecurities of individuals, in hopes of selling them the solution. For that reason, advertisements regularly advocate the ability to achieve a particular look through retouched images, the sexual objectification of women, and products accompanied by explicit messages. Many advertisements today display an image of the ‘perfect woman with an idealistic body and flawless facial features. This ideal woman creates an unrealistic image for women and puts pressure on them to live up to that certain standard that is unattainable and hard to reach for the normal person.

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From popular Smartphone applications such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr to advertisements and movies, the media has managed to distort the images of beauty. The highly sexualized world we live in today promotes the image of the perfect body of a man or woman by mass-producing Barbie dolls and Disney princess dolls causing girls to begin to glorify the unrealistic body image at a young age. Peer influence and family pressure also take a toll on girls and their overall approval of their own body image. Some may believe that girls do not have any pressure to obtain the perfect body, but in the highly sexualized, media-influenced, vastly connected world we live in today.

One reason that there is too much pressure on girls to have the perfect body is the fact that media promotes unrealistic beauty standards to the world. “The media promises that if you are young, thin and beautiful, you will be happy.” (Chai) The model-thin photographically altered images of beauty that are being presented in fashion and makeup advertisements causes girls to believe that there is something wrong with themselves and their body because they do not look like the celebrities and models in those magazines. Chai also says that if you are fat, old, and ugly the media makes you feel like you are less attractive and not worthy. Popular smartphone applications like Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr are also promoting body shame. On the application of Instagram, you can view other people’s posts and post your own pictures. “When people become more concerned with the image they project online and less concerned with holistic markers of health in real life, their body image may suffer and they may even turn, or return, to harmful fad diets or dangerous weight-control behaviors.” (Clemmer) Women are now comparing themselves to other women through this application causing feelings of shame and anxiety to arise. “Frequently logging on to social media sites and spending many hours online is linked to an increased risk developing eating disorders and concerns about body image” (Kossman)

Secondly, the highly sexualized world we live in today promotes a sexy nature, rather than a feminine nature, causing girls of all ages to feel dissatisfied with their bodies. One thing all young girls play with is dolls. Barbie dolls and Disney princess dolls are not only highly sexualized but promote the perfect body image since birth. All Disney princesses have size 0 waists, thin arms and legs, and small, dainty features, like hands and feet. Disney promotes the stereotypical beauty standard of thinness by making all princess characters in their movies extremely thin. These characters also wear tight, revealing dresses to show off their beauty. You may have noticed that the villains in Disney movies have been unattractive. Ursula, for example, is a woman with a full body, gray hair, and a mole on her face. The villains in Disney movies have all the traits that are considered unattractive in today’s society. Young children are Disney’s main audience, so extremely young girls are growing up with the idea that they have to look like a Disney princess with a size 0 waist and wear tight, revealing clothes that show off their figure to be beautiful. Barbie dolls also promote the same ideology as Disney princess dolls. The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness states that, ’70 million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia,’ and that, ’90 percent of those with eating disorders are young women between the ages of 12 and 15′ (‘Barbie and Body Image). Barbie dolls cannot be directly linked to causing the start of these disorders, but by telling children at a young age what they should look like and how much they should weigh, the pressure to look like these dolls and fit the ideal standard of beauty causes some girls to turn to drastic measures such as starving themselves or binge-eating and purging.

Finally, the third reason girls feel pressured into having the perfect body is due to the peer and parental influence in their lives. The more emphasis that is being placed on one to be thin, the higher the levels of body dissatisfaction. The more criticism parents throw at their children increases the children’s chances of body dissatisfaction. Peer influence also plays a big part in the pressure to have the perfect body. ‘No-one seemed to notice at primary school, but then in Year 7 everyone started pointing at me, noticing things, making me think I was ugly and not special.'(Roxby) If any of your friends are going on a new diet, you are going to want to join too. Dieting is an example of the bandwagon effect. You don’t want to be left behind once all your friends go on it. Roxby said she changed her hair color and stopped eating to try to fit in before she realized that “it was for other people to stop hating on me’. Peer and parental influence put a lot of pressure to have the perfect body because you don’t want to disappoint your parents or not be doing the same things like your friends. I know from experience how peer pressure and parental influence can affect how you look at yourself. My whole life I have always been overweight and it greatly affected my confidence and the way I saw myself. I was never happy with my body. I felt like people looked at me differently just because of my weight and body image. I struggled daily with feeling like I was more than just my weight. Recently, I have lost a significant amount of weight and I feel like people perceive me differently just because of that I am now skinner. I feel like I get paid more attention than I did before when I was just overlooked.

In the highly sexualized, media-influenced, vastly connected world we live in today, the pressure on girls to obtain the perfect body is unbearable. There is constant stress caused by worrying about what you look like online and in the real world compared to other girls. There is pressure from peers and parental influence about having the perfect body. The media has experienced an enormous amount of change in the past decade or so. There has been more of an emphasis placed on weight, body shape, and appearance. Through their portrayal of women, the media has set an unattainable thin ideal. When women cannot achieve these impractical ideals, they experience dissatisfaction with their body, guilt for not looking the way women in media do, and negative body image. Normal-sized women have low self–esteem simply because the media has made them feel like they are not good enough. 

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