Media and Body Image by Lisa C. Anderson

Main Slide
Did you know that in the US alone 9.5 billion dollars are spent on cosmetic surgeries a year and 45 billion are spent on cosmetics?
I think it would be fair to say that Americans have a warped body image. Why do we have this warped image of ourselves? Who makes us feel this way? I have found that media and their portrayal of women plays a big role in our quest for perfection and disappointment at the lack thereof.
As a society we should be aware of the tactics used by media concerning body image and the negative effects it has upon women. There are at least three points we should remember:
1. False Perfection In Media
2. Why Media Portray Women in this Fashion
3. Negative Effects this Media has on Women
False Perfection In Media:
Have you ever felt like there are us, the normal people, and then there are the perfect people? Some weird breed of man or woman who never seems to age and always has glowing skin with perfect hair. We all want to look like them, these supposed beauty models, but if the truth be known they probably wish they looked like that as well.
This is propaganda tactics. Of the sort that have been going on since post-WWII. Indeed, even Hitler had his alpha male—the ideal German. Media sources today use tricks of the trade such as makeup, lighting, photo and video editing tools such as Photoshop to alter the look of their models into the perfect human being. Much of these images are what we actually see on the Internet, TV, and magazines. The Dove company has used video’s, such as Dove Revolution, from their real beauty campaign, to give us a glimpse into this perversion of human image.
Now that you know how media sources accomplish this level of false perfection you might ask, “Why do they do such a thing?” The number one reason is of course money and we all know that sex sales. Sex is used to catch the eye of the audience. The more glamorous, seductive and perfect their models look the more money they are going to make.
The “Journal of Experimental Psychology” suggests that it has been proven that the human eye of both the male and female stay attentive to television commercials exceptionally longer when a female, particularly a seductive or at least attractive female, is on the screen.
An unreachable perfection is good for sales by using an image of unattainable perfection. It is as though we are less than perfect and need their product. If this form of marketing was any more explicit we would probably reject the notion, but since it is implicit in the message of the commercial campaigns and Hollywood’s desperation for unreachable perfection many often accept this false image.
There is little protest against this as well. Only recently has some fashion shows stopped allowing ultra thin models on their runways due to protests.
Negative Effects of Media Body Image on Women:
You may say so what? Who cares what tactics the media uses? The problem is that this form of media has some very negative effects on women in particular, especially adolescent women. In the least, it fosters a negative perspective of anyone not attaining to their benchmark for perfection. When a woman does not measure up to the image of perfection that media sources project upon her the woman becomes dissatisfied and depressed, which results in low self esteem.
There can be an increase in eating disorder as well. Author of Beauty and the Beast of Advertising ,Jean Kilbourne, states When Glamour magazine surveyed its readers in 1984, 75 percent felt too heavy and only 15 percent felt just right. Nearly half of those who were actually underweight reported feeling too fat and wanting to diet. There is evidence that this preoccupation with weight is beginning at ever-earlier ages for women.
A recent Wall Street Journal survey of students in four Chicago-area schools found that more than half the fourth-grade girls were dieting and three-quarters felt they were overweight. One student said, "We don't expect boys to be that handsome. We take them as they are." Another added, "But boys expect girls to be perfect and beautiful. And skinny."
The amount of regretful cosmetic procedures is also astounding. As stated in my opening in the US alone 9.5 billion dollars are spent on cosmetic surgeries a year trying to achieve that perfect form of beauty. However, many of these procedures end in regret. The two top reasons for regret are:
1. They no longer look like themselves and feel disconnected
2. Botched surgeries.
The “Chicago Tribune” states in an article that “After plastic surgeries more do an about face”. Thousands of patients actually find themselves so displeased with the results of their surgeries that they are later paying top dollar to undo what they had done. The demand for such procedures is so high that some doctors now promote themselves as “revision plastic surgeons” and devote 50% of their practices to such cases.
It is our responsibility, as a society, to be aware of certain tactics used by media and the negative effects it has on women in particular, especially those of adolescence. Parents and ministers should arm themselves with this information as they battle the results of the media’s body image propaganda.

1. Ryan, Jennifer D., Cohen, Neal J. (2004). The Nature of Change Detection and Online Representations of Scenes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 30, 988-1015.
2. Dr. Barry Lycka, The Ethical Cosmetic Surgery Association
Kristen Schamberg, Chicago Tribune, Monday, January 21st 2008. After Plastic Surgeries, More Do An About Face
3. Jean Kilbourne, Media & Values Issue #49. Beauty and the Beast of Advertising
4. Dove, Real Beauty campaign video, www.Dove.com

Lisa C. Anderson

Lisa is a business owner (dylosh.com), a pianist and singer. She is also a Sunday School teacher for New Life UPC. Lisa studied Graphic Design at Northeast Texas Community College and is currently studying Science.

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