‘God. My hips are huge.’ ‘Oh please. I hate my calves.’ ‘I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body’ (2004). One of the iconic quotes from the teen hit, Mean Girls, about a girl navigating her way through high school and ‘girl world’, sheds light on the disparity between perception and reality. Adolescent girls are bombarded with over 180 minutes of media images a day showcasing various ideals of beauty (Heubeck 2006). The continued habitual nature of this exposure forces teens to try to assimilate to them; some taking more drastic measures, including eating disorders.
As society evolves, different concepts of ‘feminine beauty’ arise and disappear based on the aesthetic standards of that time period. From the voluptuous curve of Marilyn Monroe to the frail frame of Kate Moss, the vast difference in ideals can be seen even within the last 40 years. The average model is now more than 20 percent underweight (Wiseman 1992). These models are being over-represented in the media resulting in a small minority of women being able to relate based on body size. In a study of 500 adolescent girls, nearly 70 percent believed magazine images influenced their idea of the ideal body shape, and 47 percent desired to lose weight as a result (Field 1999). The self-satisfaction of young girls is becoming negatively affected by these social stereotypes.
Flipping through the pages of a magazine, a reader would be hard-pressed to find an image that has not be altered. The vast majority, if not 100 percent, of magazine and advertising images receive retouching before heading to print. This alone sets the standard for perfection extremely high. The models do not even have to be the ideal for the final product to appear so.
Credit is due to certain brands that attempt to take back the power of the media and direct it towards healthier ideals. Verily Magazine attempts to alter the face of magazines, without altering anything at all. Verily (2013) vows to “never alter the body or face structure of [the] models with Photoshop.” The magazine feels the unique features contribute to the beauty of reality; in doing so, they are on the cusp of a new revolution.
Another company that stands out is Dove with their Beauty campaigns. The campaign stems from a study The Real Truth About Beauty, focusing on the definition of beauty across the globe. Dove launched their campaigns to ‘make beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety’ (2013). Their newest video advertisement shows women describing their features to a sketch artist, resulting in a dissimilar sketch of the woman. The video went viral and sparked the notion that our self-perceptions continue to be disconnected from reality.
A similar disconnect exists in the corporate identity of Dove and its sister company, AXE—both owned by UniLever. It is difficult to acknowledge the power of the Dove campaign without also acknowledging its relationship with the AXE brand, notorious for its sexist advertisements. Although two separate brands, Dove, being such an activist for beauty in the media, should focus on the corporate image and related affiliations to give higher value to their overall message. The phrase ‘guilt by association’ certainly poses a great question in this case.
VOGUE has also taken steps forward to change the face of beauty with placing age and weight restrictions on models. This comes after the Council of Fashion Designers of America created a voluntary initiative in 2007, which “emphasizes age minimums and healthy working environments during New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week” (USA Today 2012). The keyword here is voluntary, as designers have the decision to use the models they desire, resulting in the continued use of thin models on the runway.
With only two percent of women believing they are beautiful (Dove 2013), it is not difficult to determine that there is a problem with overall self-esteem among women. It may be a little more difficult to pinpoint where to make the changes. Until the ‘ideal’ is shattered, the evolution of societal norms will continue at its current pace. The issue lies within the mentality of those buying into these ideals, for which we are all guilty. The magazines are still selling—each with their retouched cover with that ‘IT’ celebrity or model and most with an article pertaining to changing your body type either through diet or exercise. The modern narrative about women seems to focus on “what we should look like, how we should date, how to be successful, what should make us happy” despite women being more educated and influential than ever before (Verily 2013). It is realizations like this that move us forward. There are clearly frontrunners in the attempt on changing the way society views beauty. These need to continue to blaze the trail for others to join, which they will. That’s the great thing about society—it constantly evolves.