Body Obsession In The Media Essay Research

Body Obsession In The Media Essay, Research Paper

Melissa Willyard

November 29, 1999

English 1201

Body Obsession in the Media

In a world where image seems to be everything, it’s hard not to pay attention to the way you look. Body Image is a quickly growing fad all over the world today. Everyone wants to be that “Victoria Secret” model or the buff guy on the cover of GQ magazine. The problem is some people go the wrong way about obtaining that image and even go to the extent of hurting themselves to reach that ideal look. Many of us catch ourselves standing in front of a mirror analyzing every detail, curve (or lack of), and flaw of our bodies, although there are those who admire their favorite parts as well. Of course everyone has a part of their body that they dislike, but when analyzing turns to an obsession that’s when trouble can start. Millions of Americans are in a battle with their own bodies, focusing so much on what they look like that it turns into a fixation. In fact, so many are dissatisfied with their bodies that poor body concept is considered normal in today’s society. People tend to distort their views about their own bodies causing them to have a negative body image and such an obsession may be detrimental to their health. Such a negative image can cause low self-esteem, depression, sexual dysfunction, poor health habits, and sometimes psychiatric disorders (Something-fishy website). Most of all, it can lead to the eating disorders that are currently plaguing a majority of women today.

When women go beyond the limits of their own bodies, the results can be deadly. In today’s day and age, society is more aware of this then ever. If a young woman walked into a doctors office twenty years ago thirty pounds underweight and her hair falling out, the doctor would probably recommend putting moisturizer in her hair. Today, every doctor would know better than to overlook the possibility of an eating disorder considering five to ten million females and one million males suffer from an eating disorder of some sort in today’s society. “(Anorexia) strikes between 5 and 10 percent of American women, and has one of the highest fatality rates for a mental illness.” (Wolf 355). Martha Herrin, codirector of Dartmouth College Eating Disorders Education said, “(The sufferers) tend to be young, from 14 to 25, white, affluent perfectionistic type-A personalities”( website). Strangely enough, such a fatal and widespread disease does not get recognition, research, or prevention programs as other equally fatal diseases. But why is there such an increase in eating disorders in today’s generations, and why is it targeted at white, middle class, teenage girls?

There seems to be a difference between today’s society and that of previous decades. Although, even decades ago people were still obsessing over their weight and envied people of the media. From wasp-waisted, corset look to the dangerous curves of Marilyn Monroe to the boyish figure of Twiggy and the more recent supermodel Kate Moss. “A generation ago, the average model weighed 8 percent less than the average American woman, whereas today she weighs 23 percent less?the average model, dancer or actress is thinner than 95 percent of the female population.”(Wolf 356-7) The obsession probably began during the time of the first women’s movements of America, around the 1920’s when females became equal members of society voting and becoming a part of the once thought of “man’s world”. Perhaps as women became involved in society, they began to let their bodies be controlled by it. The once valued image of fertile women, commonly seen in statues and paintings, with full hips and plump bellies and faces suddenly turned to “the look of sickness, the look of poverty, and the look of nervous exhaustion.” (Wolf 356). Maybe women in their mind feel that if their bodies represent self-control and obedience in today’s society. “Women operate in a man’s world and no matter how accomplished you are, or how good you are at anything, you have to look the part of the beautiful woman, the model thin woman.”(”Cindy”, Berman 353). Perhaps the equality that women now share today caused competition within themselves to prove to be what society labels as “the best”.

Along with the rise of women in today’s society affecting their self-image there is still the highly influential effect of the media. Everyone knows that media also has something to do with why we obsess. Many do agree that the most of us obsess to obtain that ideal model-like figure from those disgustingly perfect people we see everyday on TV and in magazines. The fact is that we obsess because society pressures us to be beautiful and even rewards us if we are. Today’s teenagers are in an age of sexual confusion and the media seems to take full advantage of that. The nineties was a decade full of sex related issues; from the ever growing problem of AIDS, giving causal sex a whole new meaning, to the Bill Clinton controversy which showed that a national role model such as our own President could reinforce the belief that it is in fact an era where sex plays a leading role.

. Advertisers and television producers know that sex is appealing and will always be apart of human nature. Let’s face it – sex sells. The most popular television stars and music singers are attractive, beautiful people. Even though the average teenager does not follow everything that these media icons do, they do however greatly influence the standard for what is sexy, beautiful, attractive, masculine and feminine. With the drastic changes we see today in the media, with new addition of the internet and the increasing risqu? programming we see on television, it’s no surprise that self image is bigger than ever. Programs with sexual content are no longer only for those to venture to porn shops and strip clubs, it’s in everyone’s home. Along with everyday problems like school, friends, and family, teenagers also have to deal with the fact that sex seems to be everywhere. The problem with the media glamorizing and over-exploiting sex to sell their product or increase their ratings is that today’s generation is being influenced to believe that this works in reality. “They don’t mention HIV, and you don’t get unwanted pregnancies on TV, and you know nobody is getting chlamydia or syphilis on Beverly Hills 90210.” (”Michelle”, Habib) You see models and actresses with perfect bodies and perky breasts living in mansions and making tons of money, and it’s all based on their physical appearance. You see them smiling on late night talk shows, strutting carefree down the runway, or posing scantily clad in their newest video or movie. What you don’t see is their everyday life of hours of tedious exercise, their battles with eating disorders, and trips to their plastic surgeons to perfect their features. “We don’t see Cher’s surgeries, we don’t see Stallone’s compulsive work-outs. We don’t see the soft focus lens that takes years off anchormen and newscasters. We don’t see numerous models throwing up their food every day. We only see the dazzling images of perfection and success – and feel bad about ourselves” (”Susan Bordo”, Habib).

The reasons behind our body obession vary from person to person. Some influences are family, friends, opposite gender, or the obsession might relieve the lack of control in one’s life. Also, society’s ideal image also varies from culture to culture. This might explain why such pressure for unreasonable image standards is directly effecting the Caucasian girls as opposed to others for their ideal differs than that of other cultures. Research has proved that different cultures have different ideals of the perfect body and different standards of beauty. For example, studies have shown that white and black girls have different images of the “ideal girl”. White girls, much more than black girls, opt for an unrealistic body of 5′7″ 100 pounds. Much of the cultural diversity with body image has to do with the role models of that particular culture. A majority of women seen on TV and magazines have what seem to be flawless bodies with the most recent fad of the waif look, and many of these women are white. Other cultures seem to value full figured women more than others and this is evident from what we see in the media. This may explain why 90% of white teenage girls were dissatisfied with their bodies, while only a mere 30% of black girls were.

Why is there such a difference between cultures? There are a few possible explanations. First, most black men value a full figured women more than white men would. Also, black women are more prone to having hypertension as adults, therefor, they are not as worried about gaining weight. White women tend to focus on weight issues because they tend to live in environments that value thinness and dieting. A recent study done by Fernham and Baguma in 1994 demonstrated that, “the greater the wealth (of a country or society) the more thinness is felt desirable”(Something Fishy Website). A large majority of girls with eating disorders are those fairly middle class individuals. Most black women don’t view a fuller figure as a negative aspect; rather they see it as a sign of prosperity and happiness. There is also another difference between white and black teens. White girls tend to envy and loathe a person who has that ideal figure and those women are actually resented for it. African American teens on the other hand, support and respect women who match their version of ideal.

So does this mean that their body image standards are changing to conform to popular standards as well? Or will other cultures be influenced by Black and Hispanic standards? With Grammy winners such as Will Smith and Lauren Hill, hip-hop culture has become mainstream in recent years. Although it seems as though this may bring a new body image ideal to mainstream as well, it might have the opposite effect because another growing problem for Black and Hispanic women today is the increase of thin media figures of their culture who represent the same appearance standard. Such figures like Mariah Carrey and Jennifer Lopez are influencing young girls to aspire to be like them. It seems as though Black and Hispanics are also conforming to popular culture belief that thinness is in. Although African American and Hispanic women tend to value full figures more than white women, in no way are they immune to eating disorders and poor self-image due to weight issues due to media and society. “Dangerous Eating” (Essence Magazine, Villarosa) featured an article on the subject of Eating Disorders is Black women, providing a possible insight. “The Black-American culture traditionally accepts more fat on women than the White culture, but when Black middle-class women become integrated into White culture while they are trying to get ahead, they become more at risk of developing Eating Disorders.” Black and Hispanic women do face problems related to their body image just as white women do. The white ideal is more excepted in the business world today and it can lead to complications for women whose ideal differs. This then forces Black and Hispanic women to become competitive in the workplace and with their bodies.

Along with the influences of other cultures today, which are changing how we feel about our body image, there seems to be a more desirable fad than the waif look of the early nineties. Since the widespreading popularity of plastic surgery the next new image women are trying to have is the totally-flat-except-for-exceptionally-large-breasts look that current stars such as Pamela Anderson and Tyra Banks have made famous. The look is unnatural and physically impossible for many body types to have naturally, making that want for that ideal body even harder and making people go to the extent of altering their bodies through expensive surgery. Even Pamela’s recent removal of her breast implants does little to extinguish that image because her supposed “C-cup” still seems to unreasonable for the average woman. Exercise is obviously healthy, but how far will people go to burn off their problem areas? Most professionals, such as doctors and health specialists, will say that too much focus on body image is bad but thankfully women are beginning to no longer trying to squeeze themselves into a size two with the growing, but not yet popular enough, fad of healthier bodies with a reasonable weight. For example, a few companies such as Jockey underwear, Gap, and Anne Klein are all beginning to use a new line of models with a healthier look. So are women going to have reasonable body image goals? Maybe that’s a question to ask ourselves. Also, maybe this new media fad will change women self images as other decades have shown such changes. Perhaps women are realizing that the anorexic look does not portray such self-control and obedience but actually an image of weakness and vulnerablity. The healthy look may finally solve women’s’ body battles with a healthy focus on fitness rather than thinness. The next step is for society to make such a look acceptable and more desirable with the help of the media exposure and influence of popular role models today.

But the media hasn’t completely conformed to the new look and as long as there are beautiful, thin people plaguing the covers of magazines and on every channel on TV, the obsession will continue. Even with the positive role models of every culture, thinness and perfection seems to still be plaguing society today. “I particularly fear for this generation whose sense of self-esteem is so connected to having a perfect body” (”Bordo”, Habib). The important thing is how people handle it and the extent they take it to. The people of today’s generation must realize that image is only skin deep, only when one moves beyond admiring appearance that is when they can live their lives to the fullest extent.

Berman, Nina. “Disappearing Acts.” Speculations. Ed. Charles I. Schuster, William V. Van Pelt.

- 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: A Blair Press Book, 1996. 348-53

Wolf, Naomi, “Hunger: A Feminists Critique” Speculations. Ed. Charles I. Schuster, William V.

Van Pelt 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: A Blair Press Book, 1996. 354-69

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Janice. Am I Thin Enough Yet?: The Cult of Thinness and the

Commercialism of Identity. New York: Oxford Press, 1996. “The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders”, 1999

Something Fishy Music and Publishing,, “Dartmouth College Homepage”, 1999.

Trustees of Dartmouth College. Hanover, New Hampshire

Habib, Dan. “Teen Sexuality: In a Culture of

Confusion”, 1995, Impact Visuals


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