Girls growing up in the 21st century spend most of their days playing with barbies and watching Disney princess movies, as they get older this turns into scrolling through Instagram and flipping through beauty magazines. Although these things might come off as harmless, they could be damaging to how they perceive themselves. When the internet started to expand in the 1990s with new social media’s and magazines with beautiful models posing on the cover, the expectation for a woman’s body appearance morphed into set standards for young girls seeing it. Now, women everywhere have filled their minds with thoughts that they want to be as beautiful as women in the media. In some cases, this may lead to problems such as extreme dieting and possibly eating disorders by trying to achieve these unattainable standards set by the media.
Body image issues look different for everyone who experiences them; it is hard to pinpoint what body image looks or feels like for a person struggling with these issues. In a 1996 research project about body image, David Garner, a lead researcher, thought that was the time that body image issues for women started to become a bigger problem. He stated, “body image is a complex and puzzling topic, one that has fascinated psychologists and neurologists for many years. It is a term that almost everyone seems to grasp but even experts do not really understand. It is concerned not only with external and objective attributes but also with subjective representations of physical appearance: beliefs, feelings, sensations, and perceptions about the body” (Garner para. 3). For many women this thought of negative body image never leaves their minds, leading to other solutions they turn to so they can reach the expectation the media has made for them. The following quote was found in an article about body image that gave facts on the topic; “Approximately 91 percent of women are not happy with their appearance and turn to dieting to achieve what they consider the ideal body shape” (Gale para. 9).
Women who do not see themselves as the people they think they should be based on media standards might take extreme risks to meet this goal. Body image is a subject hard to define, it can be seen differently to every woman. When people struggle with this issue, it can lead to negative dieting and unhealthy thinking patterns of not being happy with their appearance. Many young girls spend a lot of their free time playing with Barbie dolls, Barbie may start to become a friend, a mentor and even someone that they could look up to. Barbie can go from just another doll sitting in a room to a friend that is carried around everywhere. This simple plastic toy has affected many girls mental health, leading to poor confidence, eating disorders and perceiving themselves as “not good enough” for the rest of their lives. If you look into the roots of Barbie, it is not what you would expect. An article from a student at Penn State University wrote about the women who developed Barbie. Ruth Handler, the mastermind behind barbie dolls was a tomboy her whole life, Ruth never played with barbies and was seen as someone who was very confident, so why would she think to create a doll with merely impossible physical appearances?
As the article stated, Ruth was walking in Europe when she spotted a European doll in a store window, this doll was known as the Lilli doll known for being given to men as a “sexy novelty gift based on a comic strip”. Clearly, this doll was not made for kids, but that did not stop Ruth from producing a similar doll in the United States. After the original doll became very popular within the younger population, Ruth and her team decided to come up with a second version of the doll, Slumber Party Barbie. “This doll came with a set that included a diet book, a scale, a hairbrush, and a sign that said, How to lose weight? Don’t eat. In addition, the scale only went up to 110 pounds, which is way below a woman’s average weight in America” (Hoskins para. 7). With the title, Slumber Party Barbie it already lets the buyers of Barbie know that this is advertised towards younger kids. Many parents were outraged about this new doll as it portrayed women as needing to lose weight and be lower than 110 pounds.
After this new version of the doll went viral, parents started to notice differences in their children. According to the article from Penn State University, one parent found a notebook in their 7-year-old girl’s room that had a title name as “diet” and listed everything they do daily to stay “just like Barbie- 110 pounds” this notebook consisted of lists of workouts and how much food she eat a day. This is just one example of how Barbie has made an impact on young girls. Barbie transformed the minds and expectations of young girls giving them lower confidence. The stress of being perfect on social media is a big weight on many women. Endlessly retaking selfies, photoshopping bikini pictures, and reloading posts for updated likes and comments take an incredible strain on their minds. Florida House Experience in Deerfield Beach, Florida did a survey to over 1000 men and women to get statistics on body image and negative confidence being provoked by social media. “In that survey, 57 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 said they feel pressure to look perfect on social media” (Murray para. 6).
These statistics show that over half of these women have a mindset of fear towards other people viewing them as anything but the stereotypically what they should look like, based on what the media has taught them. With that, social media leaves imprints of expectation on our minds which form how we think we should look. Celebrities, through social media, seem to be the happiest and pretties people in the world, so naturally, we have tendencies to compare ourselves to them. A model named Kate Moss started to become very popular in 1995 when she started modeling for Calvin Klein, the public was becoming very upset as she was very skinny and was setting an unrealistic expectation for young women. “Moss’s thin physique and young appearance outraged many women. They were concerned that the model represented a shift in perception that women should be treated as children, or women should starve themselves to fit men’s version of the ideal size for women” (Gale para. 7) This model was setting an assumption that in order to be as successful as Kate Moss, you must be physically comparable to her.
So, putting pressure on yourself to have a perfect profile equivalent to a celebrity or model is a mind consuming issue. Although women are bombarded daily with billboards and magazines featuring stereotypical perfect women, recently big companies such as Victoria Secret and World Lifestyle have been advertising their plus-size models. As the world becomes more educated on body image awareness, plus-sized models become increasingly popular because of the positive representation of they create. A study about plus-sized models said, “women reported the greatest body satisfaction and the least amount of social comparisons when viewing plus-size models, but body satisfaction decreased and social comparisons increased when viewing average sized followed by thin size models” (Feldman para. 4). Body diversity through media is positively impacting women as they feel less pressure to compare themselves to others. Unfortunately, it is not presented as much as it should. Another point the same study said, “Giving women confidence, providing them with role models they can relate to and prompting a more positive relationship with their own bodies” (Feldman para. 8). Plus-size models help to have a more confident society where women can be lead by other women more physically diverse. In conclusion, plus-sized models are putting the media one step in the right direction towards body confidence for women.
As time continues, this issue will not get better on its own. Technology and media are getting more and more prominent in our lives. In the past, it has been easier to avoid comparison to other people. For example, if you didn’t want to buy a magazine you didn’t have to. Now it is everywhere, young people in our time are socially required to constantly be checking social media and posting beautiful pictures of ourselves so we can be successful in proving themselves worthy. An article was written about body image and wrote, “the findings suggest that a ‘new’ idea may be gaining ground: it is time to be comfortable with one’s body even if it does not conform to cultural body size ideals. Some people are naturally fatter, others naturally thinner. Perhaps the healthiest course is to accept yourself the way you are, rather than try to mold yourself into some narrowly defined ideal” (Pandelios para. 5). Society needs to start looking at themselves as how they are made. It is unnatural for everyone to be skinny and beautiful. Companies will never stop promoting there most skinny and physically perfect women, so we need to change our mindset. In the ISU body project, they talked about how our minds can separate online pressure and our actual selves. “We want students to see the connection between those sorts of advertising messages and how they internalize those ideas” (Pandelios para. 7).
When we see these unrealistic appearances through media, we need to start teaching ourselves to look at that and know it is photoshopped, improbable and fake. To end with, we should start to coach ourselves into putting positive thoughts into our minds and to know the difference between what is on media and how we should see ourselves. In conclusion, the media sets unrealistic standards for women through social media and other means. There is no easy way to fix for this issue, but we can start by putting positive ideas of body image expectations into our minds. We need to reconsider the effects of barbies, magazines and social media on the mental health and confidence of women everywhere.