Body Image in the Media

Looking around today, it’s nearly impossible to avoid images of seemingly perfect people everywhere. On average, Americans spend 250 billions hours a year staring at the television (The Media and Body Image). Whether it be magazines, social media, or television, society and the world seems to throw ideals at you from every direction.  These ideals are usually representative of only a small portion of the population, but the media’s portrayal causes people to believe that everyone fits that image.  This leads to the majority of the population that do not match these too-high standards to become dissatisfied or sad.

Women are expected to be a size two and are shown that anything above that is simply “too big.” The models that we see on the runway are curvy, toned, and skinny. Despite the fact that these women make up a small percentage of the population that identify as women, they are advertised as the norm. The average fashion model is under a size four, however the average American woman is between a size 12 and 14 (The Media and Body Image). As you can see, the average woman in the United States is well above a size two, but they are led to believe that they are an anomaly when they are above that size. As exposure to these ideals continues, women may feel dissatisfied with their bodies. Even at a young age, this pressure to stay thin is prominent. According to one study, 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen. (Teen Health and the Media). As a result, eating disorders are common among the women in order to become or stay thin.This pressure is also shown by the shockingly high number of women with an eating disorder. According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, between 0.3% to 1% of young women have anorexia nervosa, between 1% to 3% have bulimia nervosa, around 3% have a binge-eating disorder, and between 4% to 20% practice unhealthy trends of dieting, purging and binge-eating. Overall, around one in 20 young women have had/has an eating disorder. That’s an astounding number of people who have fallen victim to the media’s pressure. (Fast Facts on Eating Disorders)

Similarly, men also experience in the unreal pressures as women. They are expected to have muscles, but not too much so that it becomes intimidating. The models are muscular and tall with perfectly coiffed hair. In reality, that is nearly impossible. The idea that everyone is expected to fit a nearly impossible physical standard puts a heavy toll on all of society. As a society, the idea of an attractive man strongly correlates with a tall, fit man. In an experiment, one image of a male was sent to 19 different countries to edit into the “ideal” man. The results were astonishing, with the American and Russian designers giving the model much larger muscles and changing his hairstyle (What the ‘Ideal’ Man’s Body Looks Like in 19 Countries). The problem with this is that sometimes the body does not allow for musculature to accumulate quickly or the height in which your genes allowed you to grow are not “ideal.”  According to a study done in 2012, more than a third of middle and high school boys reported using protein powder or shakes, almost six percent reported using steroids, and ten percent admitted to using another form of muscle enhancement.(Body Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys). As you can see, men commonly resort to anabolic steroids or extreme workouts in order to try, and most likely fail, to achieve the “ideal” shown by society. This leads to men also becoming dissatisfied with the way that they look, especially when they’re seeking a significant other and are unable to find one. Men, experience a pressure to fit this standard not only for themselves, but they feel the need to conform in order to find somebody to be with. According to a study done by Psychology Today, men are actually much more concerned about their image than women are. For example, double the number of females as males said that muscles do not matter (Men’s Bodies - The Survey). It is clear that the pressures men feel are not due to their significant others, but to society as a whole.

These examples only scratch the surface of the growing problem that the media has caused for body image among society. Eating disorders and body dissatisfaction has increased greatly, causing many campaigns to “Love Your Body.” For example, there is the glaring difference between Dove and Victoria’s Secret in their advertisement to “Love Your Body.” To advertise their new body collection of undergarments, Victoria’s Secret dressed their Angels in their underwear with the slogan “The Perfect ‘Body’” stamped over the models. Although the ‘Body’ is referring to their new line, most people likened it to body shaming. The outcries from its consumers caused Victoria’s Secret to change its slogan to “A Body For Every Body” (Victoria’s Secret ‘Perfect Body’ Campaign Changes Slogan After Backlash). Dove also released its version of “The Perfect Body” during it all. Instead of the smaller-than-average Angels, Dove used models who were much more diverse in body type and size, gaining a lot more support (Women Strike Back Against Victoria’s Secret ‘Perfect “Body”’ Campaign). It is important to remember that the “ideals” shown everywhere should not be “goals” to strive for, but should remain “fantasy” that rarely or never exists. As a society, we need to recognize the potential harm that staring at these “perfect” beings can do, as well as set new, realistic goals.