, Research Paper
Mass Media Contributes To Societies Obsession With Thinness
Over a period of time societies view of the ideal woman and their weight has dramatically changed. According to Joan Jacobs Brumberg (an author of a popular book, Fasting Girls) in the 19th century, “bigger was considered better.” Back then “the larger a man’s wife was, the more she was seen as a good provider. Today, however, fat is seen as unhealthy and being “thin is in.” Now when we see an overweight woman we tend to stereotype them as “lazy” and “sloppy” and we equate slenderness with being successful and attractive to men (Michael Levine, 1987). You can see how drastic these changes have become over time by looking at the facts.
Even in the 19th century women were self-conscience of their bodies, but they were worried about different body parts than women today. Back then women were worried about their hands and feet being too large. Fearing that people would identify them as the working class. Yet, today women stress about their overall figure and bodyweight. Most women dread being overweight because of the way we view being thin vs. being thickset.
Weight did not actually become a critical part of the female identity until the 1920’s, when home scales and dieting became more common among American women. Until then drug stores and county fairs were the only places women could weigh themselves. Today nine out of ten people own a home scale and over a period of time dieting has become the latest trend. There are over a hundred different diets with over a hundred different answers on how to loose weight. Over time society has slowly taught women to measure themselves in terms of physical appearance. Therefore they strive to improve their figure to meet societies standards. However, the standards that society has set (for example, supermodel Kate Moss) are out of reach for most women.
Often times, teenage girls compare their body size to those of popular actresses and supermodels such as Jennifer Aniston and Elizabeth Hurley. With examples such as these, is society sending out the wrong message? Vast amounts of people consider these women too thin. Yet, teenage girls still strive to reach their body types. Frequently they may turn to eating disorders in order to reach their goal. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Center, the number of anorexic and bulimic women has increased dramatically over the past 30 years due to the obsession with the body and constant weight watching
The media has a major contribution to the drastic change in women’s weight over a period of time. Thanks to television, magazines and movies, we are constantly given the impression that “thin is in.” Magazines for teenage girls generally contain articles on looks, where the emphasis is on make-up, fashion, weight and how to attract boys. Surprisingly $20 billion is spent on cosmetic ads and $40 billion is spent on the diet industry each year! Both target mainly women. Because of the media, women often feel that 1) in order to be successful you must be thin, 2) Guys often are attracted to thin girls rather than heavyset women, and 3) thin is crucial to physical attractiveness.
By comparing statistics such as these to the 19th century, it is obvious that over a period of time, society has altered the way we view the ideal women and their weight. Unfortunately, body dissatisfaction is occurring in younger and younger ages. Being children and young teens are growing up in a culture that is obsessed with thinness, they are learning body dissatisfaction through the media. Not only is the media affecting them, their parents may be as well. Watching their mom or dad partake in the latest diet or stress about their weight teaches their children to be dissatisfied with their own bodies. In California surveys were handed out to third to sixth graders regarding bodyweight and weight loss. “Fifty percent of all children wanted to weigh less and 16% reported attempting weight loss.” (Children’s health.com) (Keep in mind that these children are only 8-13 years of age.)
As a result of the mass media, our view of the ideal woman and their weight has changed drastically from the 19th century. Our societies obsession with thinness and perfection is perhaps the major contribution. Today, appearance and above all, thinness are the criteria by which young teens and women are being judged. Over time, the body has become the central personal project of young teenage girls and women. We continue to see body dissatisfaction throughout time, now in ages as young as 8 because of cultural transmission. Now the question is: if society were to depict models and actresses who were overweight, would it send a message to young teens and women that being overweight is sexy and good?