Perhaps no time in history have body image standards had such an enormous
impact on society. With today’s mass media people can be subjected to thousands of
images and messages daily, portraying the “ideal” body image. The people most often
portrayed and effected by these messages are young women. Females can feel constant
pressure to live up to these ideals which are most often unattainable. This pressure can
cause detrimental physical and mental states.
To fully understand this problem we must first ask ourselves, “Why?” Why has
the female body been pushed to the forefront of society and media? It is undeniable that
it is merely a marketing ploy. The beauty sector is a multibillion dollar a year industry.
Companies such as Revlon, Cover Girl, Maybelline, L’Oreal insist that girls must look a
certain way if they want to be anything. These corporations are only concerned with the
bottom line. They take no responsibility for the negative image that they portray, in fact,
that is what they thrive on. The worse self-image a woman has, the more beauty products
she will buy to try and “improve” her looks. And there is no better way to make her think
she is ugly than to subject her to thousands of unrealistic, airbrushed pictures of models
to compare herself to. This way of thinking is further drilled into the female mind
through women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and so on. Never do you find
an article entitled “Big is Beautiful”. More often you will find “How to lose 20 lb.. so
your man will love you!” sprawled across the cover of the latest issue. Occasionally
magazines will run a heart touching article about an ex-models fight with bulimia. They
will often forget to mention, however, that the same model was portrayed as the pinnacle
of health and beauty on the cover of last years April issue.
The beauty industry and magazines are not the sole cause of the problem though,
there is plenty of blame to go around. And so we look to Hollywood. The cardinal rule
in movies and television: sex sells. When you tune into to watch Friends on Thursday
night you will not see one leading lady (or any ladies for that matter) with a waist over
size six. The only “imperfect” characters in the show are the “fat ugly guy and fat ugly
lady” who live across the street and are the objects of constant ridicule. The same can be
said for virtually all mainstream shows on television. It is a constant barrage of beautiful
people that viewers are being exposed to. And, unfortunately, it is becoming accepted
that society should look like TV. There is essentially no one in this medium saying that it
is okay to be yourself, to look how you look and feel good about yourself at the same
What are the effects of all this? Major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, social
phobia, body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa to name a few.
The impact that today’s body image standard is having on women is immeasurable.
Eating disorders and low self esteem are at an all-time high. The problem isn’t getting
better either, in fact it’s getting worse. Girls are now being reached by these messages
earlier in life. The younger they are, the more susceptive to the image they are. Women
are essentially growing up from birth with this unrealistic image of what they should look
like embedded into their minds. The evidence is in the fact that every year cases of
anorexia and bulimia are occurring among in younger and younger girls.
The number of women effected by these disorders may never be known. Most
will never come forward and seek treatment, and many will die as a result. What society
must do is tell the beauty industry, tell the magazines, and tell Hollywood that what they
are doing is not acceptable. The image they portray is unrealistic, unhealthy, and
irresponsible. There seems to be little hope though. It is unlikely that the beauty industry
will loosen its grip on the minds of women and not try so hard to make them think
they’re ugly. That would of course hurt sales and cause them to make only hundreds of
millions instead of billions. It is also improbable that Hollywood will break perhaps its
only rule, because that too would disrupt the bottom line. So, for the time being anyway,
we are a society being told how to look, and trying to live up to an impossible standard.