I know that on the rare occasion I post, it’s usually centred on a recent read but today I wanted to spice things up a bit. Because if you can’t rant about the media’s influence on female body image during adolescence on your own blog, then where can you? It is a subject that I am really passionate about and recently decided to research for a school assessment (I got full marks too). I learnt so much through my research that I’ve decided to adapt the same presentation to better suit a blog post so that I can share it with you all and maybe even inspire you to further question the unrealistic standards of our patriarchal society. So here goes!
Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self, but more importantly the thoughts and feelings one experiences depending on what they think about their body. These feelings can be positive, negative or both.During Adolescence we become more aware of our bodies, and form opinions about them that can affect us for the majority of our lives. Body Image is an important part of who we are and how we present ourselves in daily life, and an increasingly significant factor in forming our identities. Especially when heartbreaking studies conclude that more than half of girls as young as 6 to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size.
I’d like to recognize that Males also suffer from low self-esteem and are equally influenced by the media. However, I have decided to discuss female body image because that is my own experience.Media in its many forms, is significantly powerful in communicating to the multitude. Through various means of mass communication such as radio, television, digital media, social media and print media, women are exposed to a socially constructed idea of beauty that is often unrealistic and unachievable – and it is my personal belief that the promotion of this ideal within the media heavily influences the way women view themselves and their bodies.
The media all too often amplifies the sexist and harmful voices within our society that are either set on telling us what we 'can't' be, or preventing us from embracing what we are; i.e. women who come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, all of which are beautiful. A blatant ignorance of this diversity is woven throughout most forms of media. Although we are gradually seeing a greater variety in shape and size celebrated in the media.
This socially constructed idea of beauty portrayed by the media targets every size and every woman, even those we see as perfect. We face societal pressures and standards and can even see them directed at famous women on the covers of magazines or comments on Instagram posts. From the ‘thigh gap’ to the Nicki Minaj booty, there is a clear distinction between the physical aspects society typically views as desirable, and the ones it does not. You just can’t win. Tina Fey perfectly describes the double standards and impossibility of this ideal when she says:
“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
It is important to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with naturally having any of these or wanting to. However it is extremely damaging to women to present this image of beauty, as the only acceptable version of beauty. Especially when studies suggest that 80 percent of your weight and body shape is determined by genes, therefore rendering it physically impossible for some women to obtain certain features.
When low-self esteem and serious body dissatisfaction can have severe consequences such as harmful eating disorders and serious mental and emotional distress, it makes you wonder why we allow the media to hold such power over the way we view our bodies. The very temples that allows us to live and breathe each day 24/7, impacted by a forum that has little consideration for how confident we feel in that cute new dress.
To understand just how serious this issue is, I conducted a survey on the role of the media in influencing female body image and found that 100% of responders (99% of whom were female) had felt or were feeling self-conscious about their body image. The majority sharing that the features which majorly contributed to this low self-esteem included their legs, stomach, thighs and face. Additionally, 51% of respondents said they would call themselves confident whilst 39% stated that they would not.
Now I don’t know about you, but this is horrible and what makes it even more horrible is that these results were not at all surprising to me. I mean we live in a society where the usual feminine behaviour is to watch our weight and count our calories. But the thought of my beautiful class mates not feeling like the badass warriors they are, saddens me deeply.
|Even Buzzfeed somehow missed the point with this headline, despite their article being pro body positivity.|
I know you’re thinking, how is the media involved in all of this? Why are they suddenly the bad guys? And you know what, the media well and truly doesn’t totally suck. But they really gotta up their game when it comes to discussing women’s bodies as an overwhelming majority of 93% agreed that the media significantly influenced their body image.
One respondent said, “Yes, the media creates an ‘ideal’ body image based on the shape of a woman, which is ridiculous because every individual’s genetic makeup forbids one from having the same shape as another person”. Another respondent agreed to this sentiment but stated, “The media's influence has saturated my view of my body, so I sometimes feel as if my own body shape is inadequate or not the right shape”.
This feeling described in my results of not being the ‘right’ shape is in part provoked by the media’s representation of physical perfection and extreme thinness, which is reinforced through the use of digital manipulation – a form of editing just about present in almost every photograph of a model or celebrity. Photoshop is now allowing us to eradicate natural imperfections, change shape and size and distort things entirely so that an average woman appears physically perfect (in some cases baring no resemblance to their actual self). Say what? That’s crazy.
A member of the focus group I ran believed that airbrushing was okay to an extent however when over done, can be harmful. “Women are getting the impression that even models and celebrities need photoshopping - these people are looked up to as perfect, and if these 'perfect' people supposedly need photoshopping, what must 'normal' women think they need?”. So basically the ladies in the magazines don’t even look like the ladies in the magazines!
The media also negatively influences our body image by failing to represent and appreciate a variety of body types. Consequently making us question where exactly we fit in, if we don’t fit the image of beauty the media presents. An example of this failure being the exclusion of plus sized models in mainstream media.
A member of my focus group said; “The presence of plus size models is important for girls who aren't a size 0 to see that their bodies are also appreciated. I'm sure it's also really encouraging for 'larger' girls who dream about modelling to see what they can achieve”.
Representation of larger models in the media is undoubtedly important (as is representing the sizes between and beyond) in promoting a message of self-acceptance for all sizes. As I noticed through my investigation, an overwhelming desire to be thinner. In fact when I asked my survey respondents what features made up their ideal bodies, 48% stated that they wanted to be skinner (particularly in their thighs and stomach).
|Models who do a great job at promoting self-love: Mina Mahmood, Dounia Tazi, Diana Veras, Barbara Ferreira, Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham.|
Meanwhile, some individuals argue that the label itself is just another way of segregating women and making them feel unnatural for not being thin. A survey response said, “I see what people call ‘plus size’ and they’re nowhere near so. Also, they trash gorgeous woman for being “fat” and that makes me think less of myself”.
A recent surge in the exposure of plus size modelling has allowed us to normalize things like stretch marks and cellulite, which are totally normal things yet hardly seen in the media. I know that seeing plus size models of varying shapes, sizes and ethnicities has really inspired me to work towards self-love so I think the media should really zone in on this diversity in order to encourage others to feel the same.
|Gabi Gregg (GabiFresh) creator of the swimsuits for all range.|
*images are not my own