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Media And Society Essay, Research Paper

How the Media effects Women’s body image

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the eyes of society, women like Pamela Anderson, Tyra Banks and Carmen Electra are the epitome of perfection. What girl would not want to look like them? Unfortunately, a number of girls want to be just like them. Every year, millions of people are hurting themselves trying to be carbon copies of these sex symbols. The media presents society with unrealistic body types promoting people, especially women, to look like them. Through TV shows, commercials, magazines or any form of advertising, the media enforces a certain body type which women emulate. The so-called perfect body type causes many negative effects on women in the US. Women who focus on unrealistic body images tend to have lower self-esteem and are more likely to fall prey to eating disorders. The media has a dangerous influence on women’s health in the United States. The media is a primary factor in the development and maintenance of women’s body image problems. Women start to feel insecure about their bodies by looking at media images. This would not be such a problem if these images were not reinforced daily. This provokes women to diet more because they feel more pressure to be slim. “But advertisers are not particularly wicked people who set out to delude and mislead us. They simply provide images that we find seductive. Advertisers are the voice of society projected on a billboard or a TV screen” (Buckroyd 52). The magazine racks in any local store are saturated with magazines highlighting beautiful women adorning the covers. Commercials on TV feature tall, thin women promoting a certain product. The media presents and unrealistic body type for girls to look up to. They do not reflect on images from everyday life. When walking around in any place, very few people look like the women in commercials, most of them thin, but not overly so. Because flawless images appear so often in daily life, its hard to remember their not real and often many girls don’t. They hold themselves up to these images and feel the only was they can live life to its fullest is to look like these people. Even if someone as at their perfect weight, it’s easy to feel like a failure when comparing to a movie star or to Seventeen’s cover girl. The line between fantasy and reality is skewed by mass media. The media places much stress on obtaining the so-called body image. Society pays a significant amount of attention to body image, physical attractiveness, youthfulness, sexuality and appearance. “The minimum requirement for the sort of model who appears on advertising hoarding is a height of 5 ft 9 in and a size 8 to 10″ (Buckroyd 55). No matter how hard someone tries, they will never achieve the look and figure of the supermodels. “The problem of girls and women comparing themselves to ‘ideal women’ has gotten more difficult in recent years. A look at the measurement of Playboy centerfolds and Miss America finalists over the past 20 years shows that, although these women symbolize beauty have been weighing less and less. In other words, society’s ideal women keeps getting thinner and thinner and much more difficult for people to imitate” (Maloney 2). There is a right way for the female body to look and that way is thin. “But what we see on television is a special kind of thin. Most of us could starve our selves down to slivers and still not look anything like those sleek bodies that flit across our screen day and night” (Valette 4). “You can’t get away from TV, it’s everywhere” (Brew I). Leading characters in the current crop of TV shows are all thin. The TV shows with the highest ratings, such as Friends and Ally McBeal, have tall thin lead actresses. In Friends, there are three young, tall, and thin leads. They are outfitted in tight shirts and mini-skirts. They all live good lives and have fun. In Ally McBeal, Ally is played by a young tall and extremely thin actress. She plays a successful lawyer. The message that this is sending across is that the key to success in today’s society is to be young, tall and thin. Characters that are heavier are usually elderly , matronly, in low-status occupation or on the wrong side of the law. In the TV show Roseanne, she played an overweight mother of a low-income family. The show related with a lot more people, but the message was fat people can’t be successful. The media biggest target is children. They are young and easily influenced. “Oh, nobody takes stuff on television that seriously”, (Valette 31). But psychologists who study the effects of television on children’s learning do not agree. The have shown that television images have a unique power to mold children’s attitudes. “These attitudes are established at a very early age in America. Preschoolers who are given a choice of thin dolls or chubby ones tend to choose the thin ones. By the second grade, youngster describe overweight classmates as ‘lazy’ and ’stupid,’ even though these labels and inaccurate and unfair” (Erlanger 5). Consciousness about body image can start as early as six. Children look at TV characters as what society expects of them. Through television images, they can already start to stereotype if heavy people are seen in low-class or low comedy roles, children will look down upon them; if thin people show up in high roles, children assume that they play and important role in society. “Television is the most powerful communication medium in our whole visually oriented society” (Valette 32). Hollywood makes people feel inadequate if our bodies aren’t like the ones seen in movies. “Stars have personal trainers, stylists, make-up artists and people to airbrush the wrinkles and cellulite out of their magazine covers – all of whom create an image that is meant to be frozen in a photograph or presented in a two-hour snippet” (Brew I). The bodies we see on TV are perfect. They are bodies of athletes, models, and weight trainers. These people keep themselves in showroom condition all the time and are expected too. For example, Pamela Anderson’s contract for Baywatch strictly forbade her to gain weight. She had a fitness regimen, even during non-working months. “Anderson keeps to a rigorous program of 25-mile mountain bike rides or one to two hour athletic walks, plus 50 lap pool swims or more strenuous ocean swims” (Zimmerman I). Pamela Anderson isn’t the only one with such a vigorous routine, other stars have followed the trend too. “The REDBOOK article ‘Take it off like a star’ described Oprah Winfrey as having ‘a maniac exercise routine’ that includes two daily four mile runs, plus 45 minutes on the Stairmaster and 350 sit-ups. Bette Midler reportedly eats nothing but vegatable;es after 5:00 pm. Demi Moore’s workout ’stresses cross-training: road cycling, ocean and river kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking,m skiing, plus daily-weight lifting’ She also has a live-in nutritionist/cook and a personal trainer” Zimmerman I). No one realistically is supposed to go to those lengths to keep themselves in shape or look like them; their body image is unrealistic to attain. “We pore over magazines that show us the newest fashions in tandem with articles detailing how to hide your figure flaws” (Brew I). Magazines have no mercy on teens. “I’ve always found it fascinating that some of the loudest voices touting the ’super thin equals sexy’ message comes from magazines written for pre-pubescent girls and teenagers” (Zimmerman I). For generations magazines encourage dieting and worrying about weight. “In the 1960’s MADEMOISELLE and SEVENTEEN magazines became saturated with columns and features with diet strategies and exercise habits of models– a practice that still continues to this day” (Jill I). Magazine covers display pictures of men and women whose images are offered as near perfection in society’s consensus. People are drawn to magazines with weight-loss exercise articles. Women’s magazines contain 10.5 times more advertisements prompting weight loss than men. In 1992, there was rise in eating disorders and advertisements promoting weight loss in in women’s magazines Body image has certainly changed over the decades. In the twenties, the tubular “flapper” body was the feminine ideal. “Big-breasted, curvaceous women like Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day were certainly idolized in the fifties as epitomes of sexiness and cuteness, but the ideal mother and housewife was not expected to look like Marilyn; the more fashionable attractive women was supposed to be more Audrey Hepburn-esque in physique” (Zimmerman I). In the sixties, British model Twiggy set the standard for British models. She was the icon of Mod at five feet, six inches, and 89 pounds. The media keeps dispenses these images, but they don’t realize the negative effects its causes on women and girls. “Time and time again, I hear this confession in he conversations i have with young women. They want to look good in a bathing suit. They want a tight butt. They go on diets and work out everyday. They’re never thin enough, so they go to unnatural extremes. All they want to do is feel good about themselves in a sea of doubt and turmoil encouraged by a multi-billion-dollar-a-year beauty industry” Zimmerman I). Women feel they must look like supermodels in order to be accepted in today’s society. “And they think the panacea is to look like a supermodel: perfectly thin, tall, sculpted and commanding– our cultural epitome of feminine success” (Zimmerman I). All this can happen from just seeing a billboard or a couple of commercials. These media images make women feel less about themselves, they want to look like supermodels: tall, thin, sculpted. “I like the sweater on this model and she’s not a supermodel.She doesn’t starve herself, you can just tell I’d be happy with that, That should be the kind of model that people should put in magazines, because its just getting out of hand with people not eating. The models aren’t eating and girls look at them and think. “look how pretty they are. Look how skinny they are. Maybe if i don’t eat and ill wear those clothes, I’ll look like just like them. Girls won’t’ eat then they make themselves throw up” (Neumark I). They have low self esteems and feel this is the only way to be accepted into today’s society. This often causes eating disorders. “A person who has an eating disorder is someone who uses food to work out her emotional problems” (Maloney 3). Instead of expressing feelings a person with an eating disorder thinks the only thing that will help them is eating. “Someone with an eating disorder is addicted to food or dieting, like and alcoholic is addicted to liquor or a drug addict to drugs” (Maloney 3). Food becomes their whole life. “Anorexia has been known and recognized by doctors for at least 300 years. Initially the characteristic that was described was the striking weight loss and emaciation resulting from failure to eat. There are, however, a number of organic illnesses that result in loss of appetite and consequent weight loss, and so from the late 19th century doctors tried to describe more exactly what anorexia was and began to exclude organic causes and to identify it as a psychological illness.” (Buckroyd 3). Girls suffering from anorexia show a refusal to maintain body weight over a minimal normal weight for age and height. They are disturbed by their body image and are always claiming to “feel fat”. They have intense fear of gaining weight. (Buckroyd 4) Bulimia is another psychological illness similar to anorexia. It is the practice of consuming enormous amounts of food then throwing them up to avoid weight gain. Girls suffering from bulimia have recurrent episodes of binge eating and regularly engage in self-induced vomiting an average of 2 times a week. (Buckroyd 21)These girls have a persistent overconcern with body shape and weight. (Buckroyd 21) Some characteristics that may occur with bulimia are damage to tooth enamel, digestive disorders, irritation of throat and mouth, mineral imbalance, loneliness, social isolation, low self esteem, shame and self disgust. (Buckroyd 21) Today’s culture places great emphasis on outward appearances. Society is very weight-concious, and the value placed on thinness has grown in recent decades. Admiration goes to people who are thin and heartlessness goes to the obese. The media should give us a more realistic body type for girls and women to look up to. “But how do work on our self-image? How do we change our thinking and feeling habits in order to unite our various parts and neutralize the negativity that out culture blasts our way via the media? Unfortunately, we can’t wave a magic wand to make our culture more sensitive to our needs. But we can change our attitudes: we can refuse to take the media so seriously and we can challenge the images and their devaluing messages. The only way our culture will change is if we stop believing in the social attitudes which make us fell not good enough and start believing in ourselves and our right to OUR individual body– even if it isn’t a body type currently worshipped as fashionable” (Zimmerman I).


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