Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Culture of Thinness

The media has long been accused of having a negative toll on the health and self-esteem of females in society. We are bombarded by displays and advertisements of beautiful, thin, young women from the moment we turn on our television, flip through a magazine, or leave our houses for our morning commutes. The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tell an ordinary woman that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected. Constant reminders of the North American beauty ideal will infiltrate any living, breathing individual’s mindset regardless of their self-esteem level.

One cannot escape or dispute that being thin is the ideal body image for women. Regardless of how much one strives to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle, even the slenderest of woman will admit that they are unhappy with one or more facets of their appearance. Why is it that we have such an obsession with being a size 2 dress size, or eliminating those tiny laugh lines that appear as we progress into our 20’s? Women’s magazines portray body image as a lifestyle. They are full of articles urging that if you can just lose those last twenty pounds, you can have everything you’re missing -the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex, and a rewarding career.

Images of female bodies are everywhere. Women—and their body parts—sell everything from food to cars. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller and thinner. Standards of beauty are being imposed on women, the majority of whom are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models portrayed through any media outlet. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are growing. It is no accident that youth is increasingly promoted, along with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty.

Many women, no matter what age are not blessed with a naturally so-called perfect body. One’s body has become viewed as an object, an object that can be altered and manipulated, and ultimately in need of adjustment. This being said many young women in particular resort to unhealthy methods of weight loss which include starvation, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. The pressure to be thin is infiltrating girls as young as 5 years old, many of whom witness their mothers obsessing over their own body image, post partum bodies.

If we date back to the era of Marilyn Monroe, one of the sexiest women of her time, she wore a size 12. Size 12 today is considered one dress size away from a plus sized woman. How has society progressed to view a beautiful woman’s body type, such a Marilyn Monroe as “plus sized”, which unfortunately is not viewed with the endearing connotation it would be. The media and society has categorized fashion and beauty, and clothing into size categories that we have unfortunately equated to the definition of beauty, and what it constitutes to be beautiful.

Thin is good. This philosophy has infiltrated North American culture by the mass media. This message is subtly conveyed by the absence of females who deviate from the thin ideal in electronic and print media. The overwhelming presence of media images of painfully thin women means that real women’s bodies have become invisible in the mass media. Is it a tragedy that many women internalize these stereotypes, and judge themselves by the beauty industry's standards? Women learn to compare themselves to other women, and to compete with them for male attention. This focus on beauty and desirability can truly destroy any awareness and action that might help to change the North American philosophy.

In recent years there has been attempts to buck the trend of thinness in the media. Women’s magazines such as Chateleine have vowed to not include models under the age of 25 in their publication, while beauty product companies such as Dove are striving to promote “real” beauty through their campaigns. Ultra-thin models were banned from the runways in Spain in 2006. In an attempt to eliminate negative body image amongst females, Spain also implemented a project with the aim to standardize clothing sizes through using a unique process in which a laser beam is used to measure real life women’s bodies in order to find the most true to life measurement.

The classic saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” could not be more factual. Beauty is present in all shapes and sizes and ethnicities across the world. A literal interpretation of this quote could be taken, as everyone will view beauty differently. This being said, one can only hope that the media does not corrupt and narrowly view our perception of beauty to be solely narrow body types.