a personal style blog by Lauren Pfieffer

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Junior Paper on The Media's Negative Influence on Women's Body Image.

(Here it is as promised! Don't judge my writing too harshly now...)

Today’s Society Plays a Significant Role in the Negative Body Image of Women

Before 1994, the residents of the island of Fiji had never been exposed to televised images, however, in 1995 the residents were introduced to American television shows. Within just three years, the percentage of residents on the island who tried dieting started off nonexistent before television was introduced, and jumped to over two-thirds of the population after television was introduced. On an island where being larger was accepted and encouraged, in such a short period of time television created a negative attitude towards a larger body in the minds of Fiji’s people (Derenne 2). Not just in Fiji but around the world, society is brainwashing humans into idolizing only the stereotypical body types and beauty. Evident throughout history, negative body image of women associated with today’s society is affecting youth, based on economic principles, and contributing to eating disorders.

Looking back through history reflects society’s unyielding influence in how women perceive their body image. The pressure for women to have a svelte body is not just a recent demand, but dates back as far as the 1800’s. If a man could lock his hands around the waist of a woman, she was more attractive than a rotund woman. In addition, some women felt the pressure to be thin was so great, they would go to the ultimate extreme of even having ribs removed to achieve a smaller middle ( Derenne 2). Furthermore, in more recent years a thin figure is still in vogue more so than a fuller body. During the roaring twenties, flappers embraced a straight, thin figure that was idolized by the everyday woman. Forty years later, women still looked up to high fashion models, such as Twiggy, who had the shape of a small boy. And even as recent as the 90’s the everyday woman has idolized the stick thin models like Kate Moss who was so skinny she had the appearance of a drug addict (Derenne 2). Individuals do not have a chance to think for themselves what beauty means because countless generations before have already decided with unwavering reason what the ideal woman should look like and weigh. Society does not help either in changing the standard of beauty by flooding women more than ever with excessive and steadfast images of ideal of beauty. The reason today’s society places thinness on a pedestal is for the very fact that the image of a lean body has been engraved in the minds of humans for hundreds of years. Not only history plays a main factor in the negative feelings women feel toward their bodies, but also women pass down these unhealthy thoughts to the younger generations.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally older women, as well as, society is pounding the idea of thin is beautiful into the minds of this generation’s youth. Some children, not even hardly old enough to go to school yet, start worrying about weight issues at too early of an age. Exposure to television shows, movies, and even some toys can make a child feel uncomfortable with their body or looks. Studies from the article Developmental Psychology show, “ ‘Body perfect’ ideals are communicated early to children, for example through dolls such as Barbie, and girls as young as 5 to 7 years reported lower body esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body directly after exposure to such doll images” (qtd. in Dittmar 2). Since children are brought up to have a negative body image and vulnerability, those feelings carry onto later stages in a person’s life such as the preteen, teen, and adult years. Young girls and teenagers are highly impressionable, and look for role models. Unfortunately, writers from USA Today point out “The most celebrated, recognizable women today are famous primarily for being thin and pretty, while women who are actually changing the world remain competitively invisible” (qtd. in Do 3). Girls no longer insist to want to be doctors or lawyers as they did in previous years. Instead, young girls in today’s society state they would rather be models or actresses. Society has a plausible reason for charming not only adults, but also youth to have poor body image, and the reason is primarily based on economic principles.

The age old phrase “ there is always a reason for everything,” without a doubt applies to why society targets the fragile body image of women and youth: because it is all about the money. The beauty, fashion, and diet industries advertise the standard beautiful, skinny model not by coincidence. Alone the diet industry makes $100 billion dollars a year by playing into the sensitive emotions of women worldwide. Industries fuel the need for women to want to achieve physical perfection, and provide the “tools” to do this. At a price convenient for them to make a handsome profit that is (Webster 2). Makeup for this, a surgery for that is the way various industries make a pretty penny playing up women’s insecurities. Thousands of products of all price ranges are on the market that can help women look like the Malibu Barbie on the shelves of Toys R Us. A tiny waist. Large, voluptuous breasts. Long, shiny, blonde hair. Bronzed, smooth skin. And the perfect set of sparkling blue eyes. Although, women in today’s society want to embrace diversity in appearance, the media refuses to let that happen for economic reasons. Often, magazines feature a plus size model in the pages or on the cover. The response from everyday women is always positive, and women are pleased to see someone they can relate to. Placing a plus sized model is detrimental though to advertising companies, who claim that skinny models sell products better (Webster 2). As a whole, women are tired of being only presented what the beauty, fashion, and diet industries deem attractive, however, advertising companies clearly make the point that they are not willing to change the routine beauty that is presented. Because of the unwillingness of industries to change their marketing strategies, the consumer is effected and suffers serious consequences that are sometimes as deleterious as eating disorders.

Both experts and everyday people alike state that society is not the cause for the negative body image women feel, nor is the cause of the development of eating disorders. Even though society plays a significant role in the poor body image of women ,eating disorders do in fact often come about from various medical reasons. The most common is the lack of brain chemical called serotonin, and other supposed reasons for the development of an eating disorder can include anything from various physiological disorders, to complications at birth (Schwarz 2). Although it is true that various other factors contribute to eating disorders, the negative influence of society can still not be over looked or thought to be insignificant. A person with one of the factors that contributes to eating disorders might not develop one on his or her own because of just the complications alone. The persistent and emotionally appealing images presented by society to the vulnerable people, however, are perhaps just enough to push someone with a chance to develop an eating disorder over the edge. Even though other factors play into the development of eating disorders, chief executive of Beat, Susan Ringwood, makes the valid point that, “we can’t change brain chemistry and we can’t protect young women from all forms of trauma. Of all the factors involved in eating disorders, images in the media are the one area we can change” (qtd. in Bawdon 3). Instead of having the media focus on negative body images, the media should focus on all types of beauty and possibly make the rising percentage of those with eating disorders go down rather than up.

In conclusion, by looking at how throughout history society helps to pass a negative body image to the youth of the world for greedy economic reasons, even more serious eating disorders have resulted. It is up to the people to change the negative impact society has had on our body image by standing up. Standing up and insisting that all types of beauty be displayed in the media, and spread that being thin is not the only way to be beautiful. Promoting diversity and individuality is imperative because that is what each and every one of is: an individual. If successful, generations of women to come will be able to have more self acceptance and be able to love themselves as they are. Not only is a greater self acceptance finally wanted by people for society, but also now is the perfect time for it to be needed.


kati said...

This is a great paper! That thing about Fiji is so disturbing...It's sad that money and power is more important to advertising companies than the well being of the people buying their products.


Shady Del Knight said...

I read every word, Lauren. Great essay! It's a very important topic and you explored every aspect of the problem. I'm glad your paper was recognized as the best!

Amber Schmidt said...

Very important topic, and you were able to convey emotion without sounding like you were ranting (something I have trouble with!).

I hope you don't mind, but I've posted the link on my blog fb page and on twitter.

Ann Louise said...

Wonderful, wonderful paper.

Jenna said...

Women got ribs REMOVED???? Oh my gosh!!!!!
This paper is written so well!! You really expressed the seriousness of the topic while whipping out facts. Great job!!
And I so agree with you about how girls are practically raised believing that skinny is beautiful. My 7 year old cousin has been calling herself fat for the last two years. It's really terrible.

gee said...

this is a great essay/paper..
thank you for sharing this.

Kezzie said...

Bravo! The seriousness is dealt with delicately and sensitively! Very informative and thought-provoking

OrigamiGirl said...

Good work. :)
Just to throw another thought out there: I dont know if you read the Mademoisselle Robot blog but there was a post there recently about body image pressures on men.

In my own life the only person I have known with anorexia was in fact a guy.

I agree that women are under much pressure to fit a beauty standard (hey you saw my previous post) just adding in that a lot of these pressures apply to men too these days. The media has a standard for everything, men, women, relationships etc.

kate gabrielle said...

Fantastic essay!!!! And I'd never heard about women removing ribs to be skinny! :-O I can't believe anyone would do that! eek!

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