The Beauty Myth and Media’s Distortion of Beauty October 30, 2012 Semester Project Socy-2112 Shante White, Taylor Sharpless, Caleb McCora [email protected] edu, [email protected] edu, [email protected] edu What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see a well-dressed young woman on the street, at work or in class? Most people’s reaction would be that the young lady looks beautiful. However, everyone has a different perception of beauty, especially the media. The media’s distorted view of beauty is based on a Eurocentric ideal, in which a blonde haired, blue eyed, thin white female with large breast is considered the “ideal” beauty.
Across the nation, this beauty myth is being reinforced in the commercial culture through magazines, television, and film. In doing this, women’s perception of beauty is being altered to fit the media’s unrealistic view of beauty. Beauty, as seen in cultures around the world, is expressed and revered in many fashions and forms made by those individual cultures. It seems that almost everywhere one goes; “beauty”, “beautiful people”, “beautiful things” or “beautiful places” set the trend for the norm in which society is to follow.
As seen with popular television shows, advertising commercials, and the simply newspaper ad, beauty is the dominant focal point for which businesses or advertisers have turned to and are using as the object of desire to make an ordinary item seem more lucrative and marketable. People, especially women, envision themselves as being beauty and desirable by all; even if extreme measures are sought out and extensive procedures are performed to enhance themselves into what “society” deems “beautiful”.
Even though many continue to revere this “artificial” sense of beauty, many continually pursue it, while there are others who condemn this concept and consider it a waste of time and energy. Furthermore, many feminists argue that emphasizing beauty only reinforces the idea of a sexual inferiority. Since 1970, there have been more than 2,000 published articles examining the theories of beauty and attractiveness and there still no clear assessment as to defining what beauty really is (Schulman, 2008). Individuals concerned with their appearance are getting younger and younger.
The false beauty portrayed in the media gives everyone exposed to it a skewed perception of what beauty really is. Much of the “beauty” so many people seek to obtain is not naturally obtainable. 80% of women and girls feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty advertisement (Matlins, 2011). The sad part is only 5% of women in the United States actually fit the body type popularly portrayed in advertising (Jean, 2011). In magazines and ads much of it is Photoshop and in real life it is plastic surgery and makeup.
According to a recent study, children as young as 10 are worried about and often dissatisfied with their appearance (Matlins, 2011). A child’s happiness is directly related to the way they perceive their body. For girls, their body image is directly linked to how thin they are. 69% of girls feel that models in magazines have a major influence on what they think a perfect body should look like (Matlins, 2011). Boys were happiest when they were neither too lean nor too heavy. Just 30 minutes of television programming and advertising can change the way a young person perceives the shape of his/her body (Viskovicz 2012).
The effect advertisements have on the average person is often daunting. One might say that the magazine editors do not know what they are doing and they should not be the ones to blame, but they know exactly what they are doing. They know you will aspire to obtain the beauty you see in their magazines and that is why 9 times out 10 the next page after an article titled, “10 Ways to Be The Most Beautiful You” there will be 5 advertisements with the latest makeup and beauty enhancers. Though women go through a great deal to be beautiful and desirable they want their beauty to appear effortless.
In Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters the author writes that, “We have the ultimate goal of ‘effortless perfection. ’” “Effortless perfection” is a term that young women at Duke University used to describe ‘the expectation that one would be smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, and that all this would happen without visible effort. ” Perfection is not obtainable though, and trying to reach perfection is certainly anything but effortless. In the United States, girls begin eating disorder behaviors at 12, wearing make up at 13, and dieting at 14 (Matlins, 2011). 1% of 9-10 year olds said they feel better about themselves when they’re dieting (Matlins, 2011). 53% of 13 year olds are unhappy with their bodies (it goes up to 78% at 17) (Matlins, 2011). The earlier that girls first become concerned about their overall physical appearance the lower their satisfaction and self-esteem today. In the study, 8% of women (15-64) surveyed have never been concerned about their physical appearance (Matlins, 2011). 66% of woman (15-64) globally has avoided taking part in an activity due to feeling badly about the way they looked.
Activity avoidance is most likely practiced by 15-17 year olds. A number of 15-17 year old girls did not take part in certain activities-like giving their opinion, going to a job interview, attending school or work because of feeling badly about their appearance (Matlins, 2011). 97% of girls 15-17 believe changing some aspect of themselves would make them feel better (Matlins, 2011). All of this comes as a repercussion of false advertising and the beauty misperception. Standing in line at a grocery store you may see many magazines. On each cover there is a beautiful, flawless, perfect looking human being.
It may make you feel bad, envious; maybe even jealous wishing you could look as perfect as them. There is no need to feel bad, be jealous or even be envious of any picture you see in a magazine. Those people you see in the magazines are probably jealous of the way they look in those magazines. The pre-Photoshop and post-Photoshop pictures are drastically different. Photoshop widens eyes, slims back fat, narrows the jaw line, erases the bags under the eyes and fixes every other imperfection someone may possibly have. Recently a Taylor Swift Cover Girl ad was banned for excessive Photo shopping of her eyelashes.
The ad was for Cover Girl NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara (Hawks, 2011). The mascara did not make Taylor Swift’s eyelashes in the ad as long and did not have so much volume as they appeared, Photoshop did. Similar bans have also been placed on ads with Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington. The advertisements Photo shopped were not just enhancing their beauty but also enhancing the image of what the product is intended to do; making the ads, false advertisements. This is becoming popular all around the world. Many companies and brands are growing tired of the extreme Photo shopping that is being done.
Hopefully this is a sign of a step in the right direction. Television is one of the largest influences on how beauty is perceived. In the 1920’s, mass media arose and the first wave of modern ad techniques were developed. In doing this, television advertising became more influential in defining beauty (Croteau, Hoynes, & Milan 2012). The image of being ultra-thin and beautiful emerged in the late 1960’s due to the over exposure of thin runway models, such as Twiggy. In today’s society, women on television have been commercialized to fit the “ideal” beauty image.
The television ads that promote beauty are used to target young girls and women with low self-esteem. Benjamin Radford (2007) states that repeated exposure to the thin ideal via various media can lead to the internalization of this ideal. This suggests that young girls and women who constantly see advertisements with thin women promoting self-improving beauty products will eventually start to believe that it is normal to be very thin. The beauty myth is a monolithic ideal, which means that it is not universal and does not reflect diversity in society (Croteau, Hoynes, & Milan 2012).
It encourages women to believe that focusing on their physical attributes should be their top priority. In doing this, women are being trapped in a hallucination that is rigid, cruel, and euphemistically painted (Kesselman, McNair, & Schniedewind 2008). In today’s society, the television is on for more than seven hours per day; therefore unrealistic ideals can be found in the ads and television shows. The vast majority of female television characters are thinner than the average American woman, with less than 10% of women appearing on television being overweight (Thompson & Heinberg 1999).
The advocacy organization Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 71% of adolescent girls age 16 and 17 believed that female actors on television were unrealistically thin. A study of 3,452 women responders, 23% indicated that movie and television celebrities influenced their body image when they were young (Thompson & Heinberg 1999). American women have become obsessed with self-improvement, which led to thirty-three thousand women telling researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than to achieve any other goal (Kesselman, McNair, & Schniedewind 2008).
Unfortunately, for most of these women that goal is not obtainable. Only about 5% of women actually fit the media’s ideal of beauty (Croteau, Hoynes, & Milan 2012). Researchers found that “trying to look like girls/women on television or in magazines,” was one of the strongest predictors of variance in level of weight concerns in middle-school students. Two reality television shows that were criticized for promoting plastic surgery and a beauty standard package were: Extreme Makeover and The Swan. Both shows took ordinary people and gave them a complete transformation, which involved plastic surgery, exercise regimens, and fashion styles.
The reality television show The Swan was based on the fairytale of the ugly duckling, in which a not so attractive or homely bird matures into a swan. The program consisted of a pageant for the ladies who participated in the transformation. They were given scores on various categories and the winner won money and other lavish prizes. However, these shows reinforced the media’s ideal of beauty, which encourages women to believe that if you do not like something about yourself than you should change it so that you can fit media’s ideology of beauty.
Researchers found that girls who watched more than 8 hours of television per week reported significantly greater body image dissatisfaction than girls with less television exposure. A study was conducted that measured media exposure, gender role endorsement, ideal-body stereotype internalization, body dissatisfaction, and eating disordered symptomatology among undergraduate women. The results showed that media exposure led to internalization of a slender ideal body shape, which in turns led to body dissatisfaction and eating disordered symptoms (Thompson & Heinberg 1999).
Therefore, women who strive to obtain the “ideal” beauty image tend to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. Also, they develop anxiety/stress disorders and depression when they are unable to achieve this goal (Thompson & Heinberg 1999). The ideology of beauty’s main goal in women’s lives and health is elicited by the pervasive and repetitive nature of the media’s ideals that portray only women who fit their “ideal” of beauty or women who are digitally made to fit the ideal. Most of the women we see on television are glamorized with ots of make up, fashionable clothing, and plastic surgery. This sends the message to young girls and women that if they put a lot of work in to making themselves look better; they will eventually get the attention they are searching for. However, the beauty myth deals with more than just a person’s physical appearance; it actually prescribes behavior (Kesselman, McNair, & Schniedewind 2008). Beauty is more than skin deep. Some people who are beautiful on the outside have an ugly personality, which makes them unattractive.
Unfortunately, the media is only promoting the physical aspect; which leads many women to believe that beauty is one dimensional. In observing “beauty” with respects to its use in movies, it seems that all major roles are being performed by the most “beautiful” actors and actresses. For instance, let’s take a look at the American Pie series of movies. It is a series of movies, targeting high school aged guys, that is filled with the images of “beauty” that has become the American high school dream date for that age group.
This stereotypical expression of “beauty” is forcing high school aged girls to imitate these fashions and models by forcing themselves to alter their natural body images, either by unnecessary plastic surgery or a starvation diet in hopes of being as “beautiful” as these actresses in these movies. The actresses in these movies seem to be blonde or brunette, pretty faces, large breasts, small waists, and voluptuous hips, with great personalities, or air-heads, who engage in provocative behaviors appealing to their audience.
The male actors in these movies are nice looking, athletic, smooth-talking gigolos that scoop up these girls for a risky moment of hormone driven passion. Plainly it can be seen that the ideology and psychology behind the “beauty myth” and the notion that beauty and sex sells has become a world-wide culturally accepted marketing strategy for most major corporations as well. Another observation of how media promotes the beauty myth is in the commercial advertising department. Abercrombie and Fitch use scantily-clad attractive females to promote sales for their clothing lines.
PETA, the out-spoken animal rights group, have even rolled out a soft-porn website to promote their awareness to animal cruelty. The mere image of “beauty” as portrayed in these commercials, along with a hint of sex, have further perpetuated the adage that all things “beautiful” is good and desirable. The old cliche of “The Beauty and the Beast” which attempts to replace “beauty” as being from within ones-self, still holds much hope for the less fortunate members of a vastly changing society and culture.
Interestingly enough, an independent research study shows that sex and beauty only sells when the product being sold is related to sex or beauty in which for a brief moment defies the ‘beauty myth” (Kalb, 2012). In closing, you can tell from countless examples in magazines, television, and film that the media’s perception of beauty is affecting women all across the country. The commercial culture supports “the beauty myth” by spreading their definition of beauty all over the cover of magazines, television ads and in films.
In doing this, we are saying that only women who meet certain standards or criteria are beautiful and everyone else who does not fit this “ideal” image of beauty are not beautiful. The media’s one dimensional view of beauty does not reflect the diversity among women in our society. We should not define beauty by physical attributes only. However, we should judge each individual based on their character; as well as their physical attributes. Until women are confronted with their own mirror images they will continue to measure themselves against an inhuman and unrealistic ideal of beauty.
References Croteau D, Williams H, Milan S. Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc. 2012 Hawks, A. (2011, December 20). Taylor swift cover girl ad banned for too much photo shopping. Retrieved from http://starcasm. net/archives/134540 Jean, K. (2011). Advertising and the obsession with thinness. Retrieved from http://www. mediaed. org/assets/products/305/studyguide_305. pdf Kesselman A, McNair L, Schniedewind N. Women: Images and Realities, A Multicultural Anthology- 4th edition.
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2008, p. 122-124 Kalb, Ira. Do You Think Sex Sells? Think Again. 2012. Web. < http://articles. businessinsider. com/2012-04-16/news/31345728_1_products-commercials-david-ogilvy Matlins, S. (2011, October 22). Change. org. Retrieved from http://www. change. org/petitions/protect-our-girls-and-pass-the-media-and-public-health-act Radford, B. Media and Mental Health Myths: Deconstructing Barbie/Bridget Jones. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 2007, Vol. 5, No. 1 Schulman, R . Matthew. Beauty Defined. 2008. Web.