Media Beauty Standards' Effects on Women's Self Esteem
Beauty standards, which vary but nevertheless exist in all societies, are generally relatively narrow. For instance, in China women were forced to bind their feet for centuries in order to be regarded as beautiful. Women who failed to have small feet were seen as un-marriageable. Similarly, specific beauty conventions exist also in the United States and other Western countries. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, American society's stereotypically ideal measurements for a woman's figure were a 36-inch bust, 24-inch waist, and 36-inch hips. The full-figured woman was thus deemed attractive. This changed in the late twentieth century when the slim, slender, and "fit" body became the ideal figure for both men and women. For women, the "ideal" female body grew slimmer over the decades starting with the 1970s (Sherrow 55). American society moved slowly from admiring female figures like Marilyn Monroe's and Susan Hayworth to obsessing about increasingly thinner figures. Research has in fact "demonstrated that the women who embody the ideal of feminine beauty in the American culture (beauty queens and models) have become thinner over the last decades to the point that the ideal figure is actually below the actuarial norm" (Straight 19). The initial change in perception is often traced back to the late 1960s when an English teenager nicknamed Twiggy (who at 5.7 feet weighed around 90 pounds) became a popular model(Sherrow 55). The staggering amount of images in mass media of increasingly thinner, and often pale-skinned and blonde females, have in their turn affected the perception of the ideal body image among women, particularly amidst those who do not fit these standards.
Today, the mass media has become a powerful force in disseminating cultural attitudes about what is attractive. The standards of beauty affect not only women as images of muscular and incredibly toned men have come to fill the magazines and television as an example of what the ideal man looks like. Men as well as women have been noted to be affected psychologically by the pursuit of an unrealistic idea of beauty as propagated in the media. This is for example clear by the growing numbers of plastic surgery procedures. However, the number of plastic surgeries and eating disorders remains higher among women who, regardless of age or social status, are choosing extreme measures to reach the desired body standards or looks seen in the media. This pursuit of the "ideal" beauty is very psychological in nature. The media namely constantly reinforces the idea that women who lose weight can have the perfect family, career, and sex life. This makes women who do not have the desired thin figure feel inadequate. The National Eating Disorder (NEDA) has for example noted that the primary cause behind the development of the problem among women is related to the imitation of a model or star who possesses the thin figure. NEDA has therefore pleased with the media to try and present more diverse and realistic images of what the majority of women look like in order to reinforce self-esteem and follow a healthier lifestyle (Gitter).
In relation to this observation about media's stimulation of eating disorders among women through its dissemination of unrealistic images about beauty is the noted conclusion among researchers that the thinner women grow in the media, the more prevalent problems like anorexia and bulimia become socially. The Playboy data demonstrates for example that measurements have moved to a more 'tubular' body shape. The movement towards a thinner body in Playboy and Miss America Pageant winners stands in sharp contrast with the increase in weight of the female population norm as given by the Society of the Actuaries. Thus while the magazine centerfolds, Pageant participants, and presumably the prevailing female role models have been getting thinner, the average women of a similar age have become...
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