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Media And Body Image

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How do the media influence females?

Images of female bodies are everywhere. Women, and their bodies, sell everything from food to cars. Women's magazines are full of articles urging women to fit a certain mold. While standing in a grocery store line you can see all different magazines promoting fashion, weight loss, and the latest diet. Although the magazines differ, they all seemingly convey the same idea: if you have the perfect body image you can have it all...the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex, and a rewarding career. The media, whether TV, print, or Internet advertising, seems to play a huge role in influencing women of all ages; from adolescence and teens, to women in their twenties and thirties, as well as menopausal and post-menopausal women. Of course, American females take the information differently depending on age, life experiences, and where they are in their lives. Today we will examine the influence the media (TV, print, the Internet, and advertising) has on the American female's feelings toward her place in society, as well as her sexuality, self-esteem and body image, and physical health.

The media is a pervasive and ever present entity in the lives of Americans. It has a strong influence on females and seems to bring meaning to their everyday lives. Social Comparison Theory posits that "people will (at some point in their lives) compare themselves and significant others to people and images whom they perceive to represent realistic goals to attain" (2005). We look to the media to help us explain the world around us. Without always knowing it, we make automatic comparisons of ourselves and situations in our lives after seeing images either on TV or in magazines. Then we are motivated to attain these goals and expectations the world has now put on us.

The media has been selling what women should look like for many years. In the 1890's the look of the day for women was a plump body and pale complexion, which represented wealth and an abundance of food and a refined indoor lifestyle. Once we hit the 1900's, women's magazines were going for the corseted, hour-glass look. Then in the 1920's, the flat-chested, slim-hipped flapper became vogue. During the 50's and 60's it was the sultry, full-figured shape of Marilyn Monroe that graced the magazines. In the 70's and 80's, the taller, thinner look, with no visible body fat and highly toned muscles were promoted in the media. The early 90's were full of waif-like figures such as Kate Moss, as well as the youthful preteen look in adult women. The late 90's was the time of narrow hips and large breasts, which were a rare combination without the help of breast implants.

Today's mass media presents thousands of images and messages daily that portray the "ideal" body image. This marketing technique not only pushes the "ideal" female body to the forefront of society, but it also identifies and defines this body type. Look at any cover of Cosmopolitan or Shape magazine and you will see a picture of a beautiful woman with an "in-shape" body, flawless complexion, perfectly done make-up, no wrinkles, etc. Why do you think that is? The beauty sector is a multibillion dollar a year industry. Companies such as Revlon, Cover Girl, Maybelline, and L'Oreal are concerned with the bottom line, and to sell their beauty products they imply that females should use these products to improve their looks and enhance their sexuality. These magazines appear to be saying to American females that if they are to be beautiful and appealing, they should emulate the beauty of the airbrushed pictures of models in the magazines and they must use the products that are being featured in the advertisements. This premise is further portrayed or expounded throughout women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Good Housekeeping. These magazines did not contain any articles entitled "Big is Beautiful" or "Flab is Fabulous." Is it possible to be beautiful without these products?

Although the fashion trends may have started with women, we are noticing that our young adolescent females are starting to adopt and follow these trends as well. It seems that younger females are more apt to believe that most everything they see in the media is realistic and attainable, and they try to mimic what they see on TV or read in magazines. They also tend to watch TV shows like One Tree Hill, Laguna Beach, and Gilmore Girls. Why do our young females look to these fictional characters for real life answers? Do they see these characters as role models? One has to wonder if they believe that if they mimic how these characters look and act they will belong and then they, too, can have the same outcome the characters do. How many times have you walked down the street and seen an 8- or 9-year-old girl wearing something that might be more appropriate if worn by an adult? Females between the ages of 9-12 read fashion and beauty magazines, and their exposure to these "ideal" images coincides with a period in their lives where self-regard and self-efficacy is in decline. This is the same time period where body image is tied to self-esteem and it becomes quite fragile due to physical changes of puberty. This is also the same time frame where the tendency for social comparison is at its peak. Girls thus find themselves in a subculture of dieting, due to the messages given by the media.

Over the past 4 weeks I have spoken to many adolescent girls, ages 9 through 12, who candidly admitted they had already tried dieting. These girls commented that to be "cool" they were striving to wear the clothing styles that permeate the fashion magazines and TV. "Cool" is what these adolescent girls strive for and portraying this image is very important to them. While walking through the mall on September 17, 2006, I saw a young girl who could not have been more than 12 years old. She was looking through a rack of clothes in Charlotte Russe when I stopped to ask her a few questions. With her mother's permission I asked the girl's name and age: Miranda J., age 11. She agreed to answer a few of my questions and we sat on the bench outside the store with her mother. I asked about all the different brands of clothes and if she were loyal to any particular brand. She said that she got most of her clothes from Charlotte Russe, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle Outfitter or Aeropostal, "because that's what's cool." She explained that her perception of "cool" depends upon "what all the 'cool' kids are wearing." She expounded that, "cool" kids take their fashion sense and style from the hip TV shows. I mentioned



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