Published On: Tue, Feb 25th, 2014

Beauty and Media

beauty faceImagine growing up in a modern day society. Everywhere you look there are images of beauty, representations of how beautiful people are supposed to look; flawless and thin. You grow up believing that this unattainable image is the only image of beauty. As you look in the mirror and see only flaws in your reflection, you rack your brain of ways to make yourself more beautiful. This becomes your obsession. Your dream is to become a model, but in the very start of your career, a fashion agent tells you that you will have to lose ten pounds in order to find work.

In modern culture, a great deal of importance is placed on our looks and body image. This is portrayed by the media through magazine pictures, television advertisements, billboards, and the influence of models and actresses. Although the media affects both men and women, I will be showing how it specifically affects the behaviours, viewpoints, and attitudes of women. The media portrays a beautiful woman as being someone who is thin and flawless. Photographs of models that are posted in magazines are brushed-up, touched-up, and altered to make the models appear flawless. Models and actresses often get surgeries and have unhealthy eating habits in order to fit the perfect body image that is being portrayed. Studies have shown that the media has a negative impact on women, causing them to be dissatisfied with their body image. This often leads to depression and causes women to develop bad eating habits and disorders. In modern society, there is a direct relationship between the media and the development of negative body images.

Anorexia nervosa is not only an eating disorder but a psychological disorder in which the person has an extreme fear of being overweight and purposely avoids eating, even to the point of starvation and, in some cases, death. Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder that women suffer from. Similarly to anorexia, it often presents itself in women who are dissatisfied with their body. How it differs from anorexia is that women suffering from the disorder will binge on food and then try to purge the food by laxatives or vomiting because of an extreme fear of gaining weight. Although no definite cause of anorexia or bulimia has been determined, researchers believe the destructive cycle begins with the pressure to be thin and attractive. Women experience this pressure from the media:

Women are reacting to the stimulus, given by the media, that there is only one image of beauty: the one being portrayed by the media. Therefore, it’s no surprise that American women are learning such behaviour so often as to develop eating disorders. When the majority of those messages are either directly or indirectly making statements that a beautiful body is one that is thin and flawless, it is extremely difficult for women to get that false image out of their mind. Eating disorders are just one way that women react to a negative body image. The behaviour that affects an even greater population of women is dieting:

Dieting is such a huge part of culture because people feel that they need to lose weight in order to meet that ideal body image that the media keeps portraying as the only way to look beautiful. Dieting may seem like a healthy way to lose weight and appeals to many, but studies show it is very unsuccessful and the majority of people who diet end up gaining the weight back that they initially lost. While dieting is unsuccessful for the customers, it is extremely successful for diet industries. Some researchers believe that advertisers purposely normalize unrealistically thin bodies to drive product consumption. It is the lack of success of dieters that makes the diet industries more money because after people fail to succeed on a diet, they proceed to begin yet another diet. If people were happy with the way they looked, they would not find the need to go on a diet. For this reason, it is important for marketers and advertisers to continue to send out a false image of beauty in order to sell their products.

It’s not just a matter of finding rare, exotic, beautiful women to fit that false image in the media, but advertisers purposely alter the images of models to make them appear better. For some, changing their appearance to look like the “ideal” image of beauty is so important that they are willing to have surgery to perfect their bodies. This is an extreme but not uncommon behaviour of many people who are able to afford it. Hollywood stars and celebrities feel the pressure to look as perfect as possible at all times because they always have cameras on them. These celebrities set the trends of how we should look and dress. They help feed that ideal image of beauty. Our society is in need of these kinds of role models that send the message that it is beautiful to be normal and that there are other images of beauty in the world other than the one being portrayed in the media.

People have been obsessed with looks and fashion far before the media of advanced technology existed. So why must we blame others for our own beauty-seeking behaviour, one might ask? Aren’t we all responsible for our own actions? If a famous person decides to go under the knife for the sake of beauty, does that mean we should follow in pursuit? If the media sends the message that you are not beautiful unless you look a certain way, why can’t humans, being rational thinkers, just simply disagree with the media and be unaffected by those messages? How can anyone prove that the media truly does have an effect on body image? One might argue that there is no proof that the media has any influence on our perception of body image. However, an interesting study was conducted in Fiji that shows otherwise:

The media causes a kind of thinking and behavior that is different from mere vanity. There are three specific reasons why advances in technology, particularly the rise in the mass media, have caused an unhealthy and different kind of obsession with our own looks unlike previous forms of vanity. These three reasons are:

Because of the media, we have become accustomed to extremely and rigid and uniform standards of beauty. TV, billboards, and magazines mean that we see beautiful people all the time, more often than members of our own family, making exceptional good looks seem real, normal and attainable. Standards of beauty have in fact become harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than five percent of the female population.

Many people argue that the media has absolutely no effect on them at all. But if this were true, then why would companies spend over $200 billion a year on advertising? The answer is because advertising works. It absolutely influences people’s decisions. So now that it has been established that there is a direct relationship between the media and the development of a negative body image, the next question to ask is why would the media continue to advertise this false image of beauty when it is so damaging to the self-esteem of so many women? Sadly enough, so much money is marketed off of beauty and dieting products that advertisers purposely try to keep this “perfect body image” in order to drive women to buy their products in an endless effort to have the perfect body. Marketers know that this crazed obsession with body image only increases profit by driving up the market of beauty products. This is an unfortunate reality. The media is a powerful tool in the American culture. It could be used to empower people and increase their self-esteem. It could be used to unite people by sending the message that everyone is beautiful in their own unique way, rather than convincing everyone that there is only one type of beautiful. It could be used to bring positive messages and help people to focus on bigger issues other than their own looks. The media has the power to change our society as a whole. One can only imagine what our society would be like if that power was used for the good of mankind.

Denisha Sahadevan

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Beauty and Media