Body ideals for women have dramatically changed over the past 60 years, according to media research. Scholars have found that the women shown in media images have become increasingly thinner over time – dangerously thinner. Body mass indexes (BMI) of women on television and in magazines have fallen below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s BMI guidelines for a healthy person. Sadly, the message that is sent to the public is that the ideal female body is one that is excessively and unhealthily thin. Scholars have also found that women’s bodies are typically objectified in media images. In other words, women are often treated as objects where the focus is on their appearance and body parts rather than on who they are as people.
Sadly, the message that is sent to the public is that the ideal female body is one that is excessively and unhealthily thin.
In light of that, it is no wonder that a flip through women’s fashion and glamour magazines leaves most of us feeling discontent with our body. How many of us have thought to ourselves, after looking at the women in magazine features and ads, “if only I were skinnier, taller, tanner, had a bigger chest…”? Yet, the models we see in those magazines and commercials are an atypical picture of the female body. They’re usually at an unhealthy weight, at an above average height (the average female height is 5’3.8”), and photoshopped to look the way that they do.
Unfortunately, many of us have been injured by comparing ourselves to these idealized images of women. The research studies have repeatedly and consistently shown that exposure to these “thin-ideal” media messages about women is related to a number of negative outcomes for women, including: dissatisfaction with one’s body, concerns over weight, eating disorder symptoms, and internalization of the thin-ideal (thin-ideal internalization is when a person accepts the media’s unrealistically thin ideal for women as their own personal standard – this often leads to eating disorders). For example, one research experiment with college-aged women found that after spending 30 minutes looking through full-page photographs of “thin-ideal” women in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, they were less satisfied with their own bodies, had lower levels of self-esteem, and were in a more negative mood than they were before viewing the pictures.
…research studies have repeatedly and consistently shown that exposure to these “thin-ideal” media messages about women is related to a number of negative outcomes for women…
All of this research shows that — yes — we’re bombarded with unrealistic pictures of womanhood that make it difficult to be comfortable in our own skin and to see ourselves as beautiful, just as we are. Helen Keller, both blind and deaf from the age of two, once said “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” Let’s keep that in mind as we go out and face a world that tells us a woman’s worth lies in her appearance, not in the beauty of her character. If we are a little more careful about what we read and watch, we might just find that we are happier women, less burdened by worries over our physical appearances.
Does what you read impact the way you see yourself? How do you guard yourself against the unrealistic standards the media can impose?
For additional reading on this topic, be sure to check out “The Ripple Effect” found on page 78 of our Issue No. 6.
Image via Live In The Moment