Throughout modern history, the unrealistic standard for the female body has been nearly impossible to obtain. As Doctor Joel Yage puts it, “Every society has a way of torturing its women, whether it is binding their feet or by sticking them into whalebone corsets. What our society has come up with is designer Jeans” (qtd. in Derrenne and Beresin). People in a higher socioeconomic status are far more likely to be able to match such standards. Women are willing to go through excruciating pain and sacrifice their own comfort just to achieve the unrealistic body image that has been created.
Eating disorders are one way for women to achieve such standards. Eating disorders among young women have become more prevalent due to the increase in the media’s involvement in portraying the “perfect” female body image. Once an eating disorder has begun, it can generate a domino effect on one’s life, both physically and emotionally (Perfect Illusions: What Causes). Physiological and emotional disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and also Binge Eating can all be classified as eating disorders.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which one starves oneself to lose excessive weight. Anorexia can be fatal, socially and psychologically (Perfect Illusions: Anorexia Nervosa). Bulimia is an emotional “weight control” disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating, followed by purging or restriction from food (Perfect Illusions: Bulimia). Anorexia and Bulimia are linked with the attainment of thinness (Harrison). The third most recognized eating disorder, Binge Eating, is the consumption of unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time (Perfect Illusions: Binge Eating).
The binge-purge process is usually followed by self-deprecating thoughts such as depression and the awareness that the eating disorder is abnormal and out of control (Perfect Illusions: Bulimia). Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating are not about weight and food. They are, however, complex disorders where the victim is overwhelmed with low self-esteem, an inability to cope with their own problems, and many other underlying issues that have led them to their eating disorder (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). The reason an ideal body image as been created and worshiped by so many is primarily the result of the media’s influence. Companies such as Gucci, Calvin Klein, and Nike have all been known to promote their products in ads with super thin models. A Nike ad, “When do we start so desperately wanting to be someone else? ” (qtd. in Harrison). A Philips television ad said that they were introducing a TV so thin that a regular TV’s would have a complex (Harrison). For the perfume, Obsession by Calvin Klein, the producers went as far as to say that if a girl or woman looks like Kate Moss, she will be loved too.
Even Gucci has joined the campaign to promote thinness: “She looks like she hasn’t eaten in months and she’s proud. And yet another ad by Calvin Klein demonstrates the idea if you look like the woman on the screen you will look “good” (“Eating Disorders and the Media”). The media brainwash women viewers to believe that “sexy” is what the media says it is (Derrenne). The more one is exposed to beauty ads has a direct relationship to the likelihood to have a desire to be thin, or thinner. Almost all ads that are seen on the television have some sort of promotion of thinness in them; whether it is directly or indirectly.
Ads for beauty products portray women who are not healthy. They have a weight far beneath what the average is said to be (“Eating Disorders and the Media”). In addition to TV ads, pop culture plays a large role in the portrayal of self-image. People in pop-culture consciously and subconsciously continuously refer to ideal thinness in their conversations, judgments, and the teasing of their peers (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). It is said that the ad companies are “escaping with murder” and girls should not support these offensive ads by buying into them (“Eating Disorders and the Media”).
According to former United States Ambassador Claire Boothe Luce, “Advertising has done more to cause the social unrest of the 20th century than any other single factor. ” (qtd. in ANRED). The social unrest, whatever its form, has created cultural changes which, in turn, have changed how people define themselves. A distorted body image, which leads to eating disorders, occurs in a three-stage process. During the first stage, one can absorb images of the repeated ideal body picture painted by the media.
A fantasy of being a “thin and beautiful” version of one’s present self may be seen during stage two. The third stage, depression, is likely to occur through comparisons of the ideal and current body images (“Eating Disorders and the Media”). Examples of stage one of the eating disorder process, are constantly around us. According to Health Magazine, 32% of female TV stars are underweight, while 5% of their audience is underweight (ANRED). It is a depressing fact that one thousand women die annually because of eating disorders (“Eating Disorders and the Media”).
The increasing prevalence of eating disorders in the United States coincided with the prevalence of ultra-thin models and actors in the media. Out of the three-hundred million people residing in the United States, roughly five million are living with eating disorders. It is no wonder then that constant, repetitive messages, for example, more women than men have eating disorders by a ratio of ten to one (Harrison). It is said that the most common times for a female to develop an eating disorder are during adolescence or the late teen/ early adult years (Perfect Illusions: Facts).
Young women’s’ pattern for disordered eating is not only related to the types of media they are exposed to, but also the way they perceive and respond to specific media characters. A recent PBS documentary showed that 42% of girls, grades one through three, want to be thin and 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Perfect Illusions: Facts). In California, 80% of fourth grade girls were dieting because they thought that their body “needed improvement” (Eating Disorders and the Media). The dieting industry spends over 3. billion dollars a year on ads (Derrenne and Beresin). It is shocking to think that out of 600 daily advertisements, only one out of eleven is directly beauty related (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). One third of all ads has an attractive-based message incorporated into the theme (“Eating Disorders and the Media”). To add to the deleterious effect, females who watch television more than three times per week are fifty times more likely to develop an eating disorder (ANRED).
The media, through advertising and programming, both directly and subtly use the psycho-social weaknesses of their audience. Three of the key psycho-social factors would seem to be psychological, interpersonal, and social. Interpersonal factors that would appear most frequently include: a troubled family life or personal relationships; difficulty expressing emotions and feelings; a history of being teased or ridiculed based on size, weight or appearance; a history of physical or sexual abuse; and, a history of being praised on size, weight or appearance (Perfect Illusions: What Causes).
For example, the negative or antagonist characters in television shows or movies are portrayed by actors who may be older, frumpier, or unkempt, mainly, “unattractive” and “fat”; whereas positive, popular, and protagonist characters are played by “beautiful” or “sexy” actors (ANRED). Interpersonal attraction is a perceived similarity to a female celebrity and a likeness for and desire to be like a famous woman, claims Professor Bearnie DeGroat.
Another key factor, psychological issues consist primarily of: low self-esteem; feelings of inadequacy and/ or lack of control in one’s life; depression, anxiety, anger or loneliness, and also a search for perfection and acceptance (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). Women are ashamed, or feel they should be ashamed, of their body size—whether it is big or small. Overestimating bodyweight is very common: 45% of healthy women say they are overweight, according to a study by Hofstra University.
Case in point, 75% of women aged 18-35 thought they were overweight, when in reality, only 25% were (“Eating Disorders and the Media”). Today’s society directly and indirectly encourages women to be prone toward eating disorders. The third key factor, social issues, may include: cultural pressures that glorify thinness and place value on having the “perfect body”; narrow definitions of beauty that include only women of specific body weights and types, and cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance, not inner qualities and strengths (“Eating Disorders and the Media”).
It is not just television that is to blame. The print media, too, perpetuate the “ideal” body image. The Hofstra study noted above claims that increased exposure to beauty ads, for example, have a direct effect on a woman’s desire to be thin (“Eating Disorders and the Media”). Another study suggests that the reading of fashion magazines is directly related to a woman’s wish for thinness and negative self image of her body (DeGroat). Health-related magazines also contribute to the perception of the negative body image.
A study by ANRED had results that proved that after five years of reading dieting articles, teenage girls were more prone to fasting, vomiting, and smoking cigarettes than girls who did not read dieting articles (ANRED). The “ideal” image created by the media has, unfortunately, become embedded in our society. A recent news program looked at candidates applying for professional jobs and how looks played a major role. Two men and two women were sent out in search of jobs (one was considered “prettier” or “handsomer” than the other). Both were dressed very ell and had the same qualifications. Each time, the more attractive man or woman, though equally eloquent, admirable, and qualified, was immediately invited back for a second interview or hired right on the spot. Looks and weight continue to play a role in whether a person –especially a woman– is hired or promoted. Professional women are often expected to be thin, well-dressed and attractive (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). In today’s world, almost everything depends on how someone looks. No longer is someone admired solely for their wonderful personality or brilliance.
Rather they are looked at as being “sexy” or “hot” or “gorgeous”. Could someone who is sexy, hot or gorgeous, be as qualified as someone who is brilliant enough to find a cure for cancer? Maybe, but the likely answer is “no”. However, that is not to say that people with attractive features are incapable of doing something brilliant, such as finding a cure for cancer. The fact that they may have been hired because of their looks, rather than their qualifications is, however, unacceptable. Popularity, happiness, success, and status are all dependent on looks in today’s society.
Women believe that to be attractive to the opposite sex they must look a certain way. To be accepted and feel happy, women feel they need to look a certain way. (ANRED). Models are even known to have plastic surgery just to be represented by their agency (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). Hiring managers make amazing assumptions about one’s professional credibility and potential performance based upon your appearance during a first meeting. It’s very difficult to overcome a poor first impression, regardless of your knowledge or expertise (Perfect Illusions: Bulimia).
The phrase “dress to impress” is a way for someone to play off that they are a person who deserves the job. However, just because one may not have the opportunity to shop at Versace or Armani does not, in any way, mean that they don’t deserve the job. One should, of course, try to look their best in a conservative manner without being flashy. Even model Kate Moss, better known as the “heroin chic”, is said to have a major problem with disordered eating. A Kate Moss favorite: “It was kind of boring for me to have to eat.
I would know that I had to, and I would. ” (qtd. in “Eating Disorders and the Media”). Media creates ads and commercials in which the message says that we can be more successful if our bodies are copies of the “icons of success” (ANRED). While eating disorders have no doubt been around for centuries, it really wasn’t until mass medial “told” us we weren’t “cool” that these disorders became so prevalent. In May 1999, research was published by Harvard University that showed the media’s unhealthy effect on women’s self-esteem and body perception.
In 1995, before television came to their island, the people of Fiji thought the ideal female body was similar to that of the Renaissance: round, plump and voluptuous. The reason the female body, during the Renaissance was perceived as such, is a result of the fact that only the wealthy truly benefitted during this time period. Only the rich were able to afford quantities of food. The availability of food for the wealthy compared to the lower sects made it very hard for someone of lesser means to obtain adequate food quantities.
All of the artists of that era made pieces of art which pictured women of larger sizes. In the present day, there is an increasingly distinct line between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Much as the women of the Renaissance sought to be perceived as fashionable, and, therefore popular, the women of Fiji, once exposed to television sought to be perceived as modern, fashionable, and popular. After 38 months of exposure to television, programming like “Beverly Hills 90210,” Fijian teenage girls showed serious signs of eating disorders (ANRED).
Many cases go unreported because of the secrecy and shame that comes along with eating disorders. Treatments are available, however they are quite expensive. It can cost up to $30,000 a month or $100,000 a year for outpatient treatment. With treatment, 50% of all anorexia and bulimia cases do have full recovery while only 30% have partial recovery and 20% have no recovery. Shamefully, 2-5% of all eating disorder cases commit suicide (Perfect Illusions: Facts). From early in childhood, children are taught that looks matter.
This can be seen by the “cuteness” that comes with babies and toddlers and the things they do. Nonetheless, adults need to take control and assume responsibility for teaching children healthy habits by modeling healthy eating and exercising. Mass Media is correlated with obesity and negative body image. Politics and media, throughout history, have determined body image. The female body type has been shaped by the public’s perception of the dominant political climate and cultural ideals (Derrenne and Beresin).
Our society continues to believe the ads that claim that one can have dramatic weight loss although it has been proven that the products do not produce the results claimed (Eating Disorders and the Media: Media Influence). Ad agencies are paid to convince people to buy a client’s products. People should ignore the ads and boycott the products, manufacturers, or retailers.
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