Body Image and the Media

Posted on 05 October 2016

The media in all its forms has more of an influence on our lives than most of us realize. That influence is not limited to TV commercials and magazine ads. From our favorite shows and movies, from billboards that catch our eye on the way to school or work, to all the visual stimuli that we perceive, consciously and unconsciously- we see images telling us how to dress, how to look, and what we think we need in order to be happy. It may be fun to see what trends and fashions today’s stylish starlets and models are wearing, however the constant barrage of images intimating what the ideal appearance should be is too often taken too far.

There is certainly more awareness of body image issues today than even a decade ago, but they are still present and media has a paramount influence. Young girls are not the only impressionable people susceptible to suggestive advertising. When bombarded with images of perfect bodies, faces, hair, makeup, often unrealistically touched up, women and men of all ages can feel some level of insecurity. This distorted body image permeates visual media and discourages us from feeling comfortable with the way we look.  It can persuade us to aim for a level of unrealistic, unattainable physical “perfection".

Oskar T. Brand made a shocking video exposé on this exact issue:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIIKTNPP5Ts

Some girls and women who don’t meet this unrealistic body image are hurtfully teased or harassed and made to feel ashamed for the way they look, for not meeting the improbable perfection promoted by visual media. This is known as body shaming and we take issue with conduct that shames others into trying to become a media-controlled and created image of beauty. Living a healthy lifestyle of moderation is a healthier goal. If you love your body, great! No one should make you doubt yourself. In real life, there is no “perfect” beauty, which is the way it should be. Our uniqueness and differences are what makes each and every one of us beautiful. 

This issue of body shaming brings to light a larger problem that exists among women themselves: the destructive need to criticize and judge other women’s appearances and bodies. The insecurities created by media advertising cause us to comment on the looks of models, actresses, our friends, and even women we see that we don’t know. As women, it’s more productive & useful to encourage solidarity and mutual empowerment than to break each other down with our words and judgements. We don’t have to accept the concept that beauty is external- all about how we look and not about who we are. We want to set a positive example for the young women in our lives who may be struggling with body issues and help them to understand that both feeling shamed and shaming others is destructive behavior for the one doing the shaming as much as the one on the receiving end. Remember that we are not enemies of one another; we need to work together in a united effort to uplift a world of women. 

To combat the images of "ideal beauty" that the media delivers, there has been a resurgence of embracing real beauty. An outstanding example campaign that has had a great deal of influence is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Dove launched the campaign in 2004 after a study found that only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful. This is a startlingly low percentage. Dove started a  conversation about beauty issues, encouraging women of all races, ages, heights, sizes, and walks of life to embrace their unique and real bodies. Efforts have included advertising campaigns featuring real women with real bodies and women ages 50+ and working with partners on creating self-esteem building programs for girls around the world.

There are other brands as well who have started some notable work in the real beauty movement. Recently, Aerie, the loungewear and lingerie line created by American Eagle, stopped using retouched and airbrushed images of its models in advertising and on its website. The company announced that they wanted girls to feel good about who they are and how they look. All women are beautiful and there is no reason to retouch beauty.

It is inspiring to see more effort being made to combat and correct the negative impacts of the media’s false body image advertising. However, campaigns like Dove's and Aerie's are a grain of sand on an endless shore . On both an individual and national basis, much more work needs to be done. In a recent study of over 1,200 10-to-17-year-olds by Dove in 2011, the brand found that a majority of girls, 72%, said they felt “tremendous pressure to be beautiful” and “only 11% of girls around the world feel comfortable using the word beautiful to describe their looks.” As more awareness is generated about the consequences of promoting unrealistic beauty expectations, we can keep the conversation going that there is no one definition, no one image of what beauty is. Already several countries,  France, the United Kingdom, and Spain, have passed bans on using excessively and unhealthily thin models on the runways. As consumers we do have influence with the brands we buy (or don’t buy) and a difference can be made by letting our opinions be heard.

Here's what one popular vocal artist, a young woman, had to say about it:

http://www.realclear.com/inspiration/2015/12/21/she_was_sick_of_being_photoshopped_so_she_did_this__12551.html

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