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Media and Body Image
 by Margit and Anika
 Ages 16 and 17

Our Health Our Futures Logo

Photo of Margit
     Margit, Age 16
  Photo of Anika
     Anika, Age 17
spacerWHAT is the Problem?

spacerThe media provides role models that are degradingly submissive to women and teach them to value beauty and thinness over strength and character.
spacerWhile men are influenced by their role models to succeed academically and excel in all areas, we are expected to maintain a beautiful appearance, i.e. a thin, sexy body. Many of our role models are not only weak and thin, they are submissive to men and highly sexualized - essentially, they lose their personalities and become objects and images for the pleasure of others. If we look at currently running milk ads we see teen heartthrob Joshua Jackson (Dawson's Pacey) with a milk mustache looking strong, confident, dominating - and fully clothed. However, if you view Rebecca Romjin in an ad by that same company she appears in a bikini - submissive, helpless, and sexy - as though she is waiting to be dominated. That same company's ads also show us teen stars Britney Spears and Jennifer Love Hewitt as scantily clad, cute, innocent role models, waiting for teenage girls to collect them.

spacerWHAT do we see?

"Whoever controls the image controls the mind." - Allen Ginsberg

The Media Thin Ideal
    "The Media's Thin Ideal by Emily"
spacerThe Little Princess

spacerThe visual aspects of the media influence us from an early age. 90% of American girls ages 3-11 own Barbie dolls and live in a world with fairy tale princesses as our role models. We may be unaware of the underlying messages that these figures contain. Barbie dolls augment the "perfect" image to a ridiculous extent, complete with tiny waist, enormous breasts, and long, slender legs. Fairy tale characters usually rely on their looks to attract a handsome mate (because they believe that they need a man to take care of them).

spacerFor instance, Sleeping Beauty goes to sleep, arresting the aging process (puberty) until Prince Charming comes to wake her. Even before we reach our teenage years, most of us have forsaken Barbie and fairy tales, and instead we absorb highly sexualized images around us that display real-life Barbie dolls and waif-like models as the ideals. Then when we hit puberty, many of us are scared of gaining weight and developing more mature figures, because we will lose our own innocence and we certainly won't look the same as our role models.

spacerBaby, Baby
spacerA number of girls become sexualized early too these days. While teenage celebrities have been traditionally wholesome, and look like normal teens (perhaps a bit prettier), today's teen role models are a different story. Think of the picture of seventeen-year-old Britney Spears in white booty shorts with BABY written across the butt in sequins, clutching a pink tricycle. Or recall Sarah Michelle Gellar, a popular teen icon, posing on the cover of Cosmo in a low-cut dress. We are exposed to innumerable adult women with mature clothing, makeup, and behavior, and many of us use these adult products in an attempt to emulate the sexy women in the media. This naturally leads to complications. If we're going to show off our bodies, we're told that they better remain thin and pretty! We had better force ourselves to look perfect.
  spacerThe Supermodel Look
spacerSupermodels are extreme abnormalities, a rare species. They represent the endomorphic body type: tall, thin, and "perfect." Most women are endomorphs - pear shaped or round - and no amount of dieting or exercise will make them otherwise. Today, supermodels weigh about 23% less then the average women. (For other jarring statistics involving media's effect on women, go to HYPERLINK and go to the same site to check out the "Gallery of Offenders." This points fingers at companies such as Calvin Klein and Bebe, which offer offensive and unrealistic images). Supermodel Kirsty Hume, for example, is 5'11 and weighs less then 120 pounds. If she were to see a doctor she might be hospitalized. Instead, she is paid at least $500,000 to be idolized in Vogue, Allure, W, and Bazar. But even supermodels are not perfect: deceptive airbrushing, plastic surgery, makeup, and computer imaging can turn a realistic, imperfect woman into a doll-like, "perfect" creature, or even create an artificial woman by piecing together bits from other women, as on a recent Allure cover. How insulting!

spacerThe Results:
spacerSince we find it important to mimic these thin images as we mature, we may spend hours and dollars trying to paint on new faces, reduce our waists and legs by dieting, or undergo painful and sometimes dangerous surgeries in the hopeless pursuit of an unattainable goal of beauty. The majority of these procedures have no long-term effects except on our bank accounts. Sadly, the industries fostered by our zeal for appearance-improving items and diets are making billions of dollars.
spacerDieting is the most popular form of image control. Thousands of us diet, occasionally to the extreme of becoming anorexic or bulimic, and many of these girls die every year from these deadly diseases. In cultures where thinness is not worshipped so reverently, dieting is not considered necessary. It also rarely works, because most dieters gain back the weight they lose or deprive themselves of proper nutrition. We all need to know that it's not possible to naturally look like a supermodel and it's OKAY not to! (Really, it's good not to resemble the emaciated waifs that many advertisers use in their ads; very few of us - only 8 out of every 3 million - actually look like a supermodel, and there's nothing wrong with the rest of us.)
spacerAs Krista Sande-Kerback, age 16, wrote, "Although members of society may think modern standards of beauty and youth don't affect them, these standards have become so ingrained in our culture and manifested in our lives by the media that it is hard to be completely immune to them." The point is, it is a struggle that we all have to resist sometimes, but in truth, thinness doesn't equal happiness, dieting is not the solution, and it's better to focus on what's inside, not on fleeting qualities such as looks. Why bother wasting money and energy trying to reach an unattainable goal? If we learn to love our bodies as we are, we will be so much happier.