Effect of Media on Body Image
Many people will go great lengths to change their body image to whatever the media shows to be normal. In some instances, not only can changing one’s body image make them appear “normal”, it can ultimately lead to greater future success. It all comes down to being normal. Adolescents are being shown what is considered “normal” by media. The children in turn, try to live up to those unreal expectations of their body. The way we have been trying to change our children’s views are completely wrong. Instead of pointing out negative flaws on other people’s body image in the media, we need to solve the root of the problem which is obesity. The media aren’t only affecting adults and teens, but also children as young as nine and ten years old (Helmich, pg.2). Runway modeling plays a big role when it comes to setting these children up for failure.
Children are taught that these models portray beauty, and that’s what they should look like when they’re grown up. Kelly Cutrone, owner of People’s Revolution, explains that “Women shouldn’t be comparing themselves with these girls. These girls are anomalies of nature. They are freaks of nature. They are not average. They are naturally thin and have incredibly long legs compared to the rest of their body. Their eyes are wide set apart. Their cheekbones are high.”
Children need to be taught that modeling is meant to highlight the clothes, not necessarily the wearer’s physique. Two examples of the media portraying “normal” as a freak of nature are the toy dolls Barbie and Ken. Both dolls project the perfect body type, when it’s actually unrealistic to look like them. “If Barbie was real, her neck would be too long and thin to support the weight of her head, and her upper body proportions would make it difficult for her to walk upright. If Ken were real, his huge barrel chest and enormously thick neck would nearly preclude him from wearing a shirt” (Croll, pg.700). Other examples would be female models. The average female model is 5’ 10” and weighs 110 pounds.
The average American female is 5’ 4” and weighs 144 pounds. (Croll, pg.700) There is nothing normal about their appearance. A lot of models are genetically inclined to naturally have the body types that they do. It doesn’t mean they are unhealthy or superior in any way. That’s just how they were meant to be. Some people, such as Katie Ford, chief executive officer of Ford Models, don’t believe that fashion models are the ones responsible for creating this perfect image through the media. “The biggest problem in America is obesity. Both obesity and anorexia stem from numerous issues, and it would be impossible to attribute either to entertainment, be it film, TV or magazine” (Hellmich, pg.703).
On the other hand, a study mentioned in From Body Image and Adolescents, states “Young women surveyed before and after being shown fashion and beauty magazines have decreased self-image and increased desire to lose weight as compared to young women shown news magazines. Females report they exercise and diet more in response to fashion magazine images” (Croll, pg. 701). Not every case of anorexia comes from media, but the media sure isn’t innocent either. Croll also claims “At eight years old, girls believe that weight control is strongly associated with self-worth and view dieting as a means of improving self-worth” (702). Children shouldn’t be comparing body image to self-worth, especially at this age.
Not only is the media and society detrimental to our emotions, but physically as well. Many people are trying to change the way they look by a variety of methods such as vomiting, laxatives, diet pills, exercising, cigarette smoking, and surgery. Society can’t really blame people for using these strategies because they don’t know any better, and we already have this perfect body image burned into our minds.
Body image can directly affect one’s potential to succeed, according to Joe Kita in All to Be Tall. Kita explains that taller men are more likely to be hired, make more money, be chosen as leaders, and make better first impressions. Due to the large impact that height has on success, people such as Jim Conran are paying up to $80,000 to have their legs broken, caged, and then lengthened. All of this pain and money just for a few inches added to his height. Jack Turner, another patient who grew two and a half inches from the surgery says “It will reduce the toughest man to a crying little girl in a matter of weeks.” (Kita 712)
Society has become so overly inspired by other’s image, that they are willing to do whatever it takes to change their own. Dr. Paley says he needs to be careful when choosing people to proceed with the surgery, “I’ve had some real nutcases-people who were willing to sell their houses, steal their wives’ money, and do unbelievable things for a few extra inches” (Kita. 713).
If society had never fallen into this state of wanting to look perfect, there wouldn’t be a need for surgeries like this. Whether you are short or tall, you would still have the same potential to succeed as the next tall person. Some evidence does show that being tall has a few physical advantages, but not enough that it should change the amount of success in ones’ life.
Another example of the need to change one’s body image comes from Toby Sheldon, a 33-year-old Justin Bieber fan. Toby spent $100,000 on plastic surgery in five years in order to look like Justin Bieber. Not only did he use Botox injections and hair transplants, he also changed his smile. Toby says “It’s Justin’s smile that gives him his youthful look. So I had my upper lip lifted, and my bottom lip plumped out”. (Man Undergoes). This is where it gets out of hand. When Jim Conran had surgery to increase his height a few inches, he was still Jim Conran. But when Toby Sheldon changed his entire appearance, it’s hard to say if he is really himself anymore. Pretending to be somebody else takes away from your character.
Studies from An Intervention for the Negative Influence of Media on Body Esteem, suggest that “media exposure to unattainable physical perfection is detrimental to people, especially women” (Cash and Henry, 1995). The journal also suggests that replacing a lot of the super-thin models with average size models, might make a positive change in the viewer’s self-image. In addition to that, women should be shown how much the media actually alters the images that are shown. (Cash and Henry 3) Accomplishing these steps would be near impossible though.
The media has too much control to have them just throw out their thin sized models. Instead, solving the obesity dilemma could potentially help with the view of our self-image. Instead of telling our kids that models are freaks of nature and that our children look good the way they are, we need to teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle. If our children are living healthy, they will, in return, look healthy, which will increase the view of their self-worth. Although it won’t eliminate this problem completely due to the images of the media, people will generally feel better about themselves. Rather than showing children how to overcome the negative things they will see, teaching them how to live in a positive
way just might do the trick.