(Note: the following is a guest post written by Kayley Eshenaur, a 21-year-old senior at Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA. I haven’t done much yet in this blog to address the anxiety that many young women feel when it comes to body image. I thought Kayley’s well-written piece — originally published in The Lycourier, the student newspaper that I advise — would help to fill that gap.)
Growing up in today’s society can be strenuous on a woman considering the ideology of unrealistic female body types. Everywhere she looks there are magazines with bold headlines shouting the same reoccurring words, “loose twenty pounds in two weeks,” or “achieve radiant and perfect hair by using this product!”
The television does not offer an escape from this call to “perfection” either; specials like the E-Entertainment “30 best and worst beach bodies” pinpoint all the rights and wrongs of the female body.
The messages that the media is sending out to girls today is that they need to have the perfect hair, clothing, and body; overall they should be gorgeous. The media coverage on the female body puts a lot of stress on a woman’s appearance which deflates her self-confidence and leads some to self-destruction.
SCRUTINY ON THE BOUNTY
The media’s constant scrutiny of the female body causes stress on a woman’s self-image. According to the article “Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising,” a study found that 47% of the girls involved in the study wanted to lose weight because of what they saw in magazine pictures, but only 29% of these girls were actually overweight.
This statistic shows that 20% of the females who participated in the study were healthy but wanted to change their bodies because of the magazine’s distorted and unrealistic representation of the female body.
I remember while growing up I felt suffocated by the magazine headlines and TV specials. I was fourteen years old and my body wasn’t nearly done maturing, but I hated it already. My cheeks were too chubby, my feet were too big, my hair was too flat, and my waist not quite small enough.
Of course, the majority of the flaws I saw in my body were aggravated by my paranoid feeling of inadequacy; however, as a freshman in high school, body image felt like it was everything. The media depicted women as life-size Barbie Dolls rather than average females; this distorted portrayal of women emphasized the problems I saw in my body and augmented the perception of my flaws.
I was young and easily influenced.
I felt like it was normal to look as appealing as the girls in the magazines, and that my natural appearance would never compare. I became paranoid and felt that whenever someone passed me the first thing they saw was my weight. Many young women find themselves in this dilemma, and by the time they are in college, the media’s effects are internalized.
In an article and study, “Depleting Body Image: The effects of female magazine models on the self-esteem and body image of college-age women,” the authors found and proved that “The message being sent to women is that they are not pretty or skinny enough. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds, while the average American model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds.
THE PURSE STRINGS
Annually, magazine companies spend billions of dollars on diet and exercise advertisements to put in their magazines. Magazines sell body dissatisfaction to their readers through unrealistic images of women, as well as dieting and exercise information.” The article also stated, “As the beauty ideal continues to get smaller in our society, body image within American women continues to plummet.
Magazines portray and compare happiness with being thin; therefore some feel if they are not thin, then they are not happy. As with women of all ages, many college-age women are believed to hold unrealistic ideals of body shape and size, ideals that can be both physically and emotionally unhealthy.”
Women in college are in a delicate situation when influenced by society’s perception of what women should look like. When in college, especially as an upperclassman, students are bombarded with heavy amounts of homework, time consuming readings, extracurricular activities, internships, and part-time jobs. If students do not have time to work out they are living a relative sedentary lifestyle, which would lead to their metabolisms slowing down.
CHICKEN NUGGET DAY…AGAIN?
Campus cafeterias do not always offer the healthiest options either. Often the same options are offered, which is not the most appetizing situation considering that students are bound to campus food for four years. Striving to look like the type of women that the media presents is not an easy accomplishment when living the college lifestyle and it should not be a priority, but breaking free of the societal pressures that some women feel can be inescapable.
College students should be rewarded for making the monetary and time sacrifices to better their lives by achieving a college education. They should not be singled out and made to feel like they are not physically good enough in society based on the choices of marketing teams trying to play off the insecurities of females for the benefits of a corporation.
Due to the pressures created by the media, many females suffer from a depletion of their self-confidence. Another study done by “Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising” revealed that 68% of women felt worse about their body after looking through popular fashion magazines. The psychological impact of the media’s presentation of the “perfect woman” resulted in a diminished self-confidence for many women.
DEAR MEDIA: DO THIS, NOT THAT
The media’s impact can be so influential on women that they walk down the path of self destruction. The feeling of inadequacy and the desire to fill the expectations of society lead some individuals to try and mold themselves to the media’s image. Some women diet and exercise to the point of starvation while others self-mutilate to feel better about themselves. Others may attempt to fill the media’s mold by picking up smoking to kill their appetites in hopes of losing weight.
The media has a way of storing values into body image and setting unreachable standards for female’s bodies. These standards can make women feel inadequate and devalue their self-worth based on magazines featuring over the top photo-shopped gorgeous models as the social norm.
The stress and depletion of self-confidence can cause some individuals to harm themselves, and it is time for the media to stop.
It is not fair for women to feel bad about themselves based on the media’s ideologies of what a female should look like, nor should any woman feel that they are being compared to unrealistic edited models. The media needs to be placing value on healthy educated women, and stop encouraging underweight women as the social norm.
Originally from Selinsgrove, PA, Kaley is majoring in business management and marketing, and minoring in economics and literature at Lycoming College. She hopes to one day use her degree toward making a difference for those who are not able to do so themselves. You can follow her on Twitter @Kaylsnicole.
B. (2008, December 11). Eating disorders: Body image and advertising. Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel. Retrieved January 3, 2013, from http://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/articles/eating-disorders-body-image-and-advertising/
Chojnacki, M., Grant, C., Maguire, K., & Regan, K. (n.d.). Depleting body image: The effects of female magazine models on the self-esteem and body image of college-age women. Retrieved January 5, 2013, from http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~jpiliavi/357/body-image.htm
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Last reviewed: 24 Jan 2013