Issues of the Media in Regards to the Body Image and the Attention of Thinness

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The following essay will discuss issues of the media in regards to the body image and the attention of thinness.  The argument of this paper will be that thinness is a serious problem especially in America.  The literature reviewed in this paper will support this statement in terms of the media.

The limelight focus on how glamorous it is to be thin will be especially critiqued in this paper.  The argument will expound upon the notion that the media propagates a negative body image, one that is certainly unachievable and expects women and men to live up to this apex standard.  The following paper will also present a counterargument to the idea that body image is shaped by attitudes in the media.  Part of this counterargument will rely on the fact that thinness is cultural problem and not a media problem as will be examined using the peer reviewed article Ingrassia & Springen wrote The body of the beholder, which examines attitudes of race in regards to body thinness and how Caucasian women are more strict on their bodies while African American women, due to culture, perceive their normal bodies to be normal.

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Body image in the media is intended to represent a product and to sell that product.  The media gurus choose thin models not as attesting to how women should look but rather as a tribute to how they want their product to appear to the audience.  The idea of thinness is misconstrued on the idea that women’s bodies are too thin and thus those too thin bodies present to the advertising world what their body should look like, but this is not true.  Thinness is in the eye of the beholder, “When individuals evaluate their appearance, they can either concur or disagree with other evaluators.

If dissensus occurs its direction can be either self enhancing or self-denigrating” (Levinson 1986; 330).  This is the counterargument to this paper.With the issue of thinness, the disease anorexia is conjured up; since the advocating of the media towards a thinner woman’s body, disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have become predominant among women and men.  In the Western culture this rising phenomenon has become a central fact for overly conscious people who focus on their appearance, as Dittmar and Howard state, “…they learn to see themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated by appearance.

This pressure is constantly reinforced by a strong cultural ideal of female beauty, and that ideal has become synonymous with thinness” (477-478).  With this notion in the forefront of the paper other issues such as model size as they are propagated through the media become a rising concern.Dittmar and Howard go on to state that roughly 20% of models in the fashion industry are underweight which in turn clinically diagnosis them with the condition of anorexia nervosa.  These conditions give further rise to other women’s problems.

Since the cultural idea of thinness as perpetuated by the media and the fashion industry is to have increasingly thin body types, the average woman or man tries dieting and exercising to keep up with the ‘standard’.  When the average woman or man finds that they are still not ‘normal’ according to the cultural guidelines of the word, they begin to be dissatisfied with their bodies which leads to low self-esteem, “Thus it stands to reason that women are likely to experience body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and even eating disorders if they internalize and strive for a beauty ideal that is stringently thin and essentially unattainable” (478).The mass media is the continual hindrance to a healthy body image for Americans.  The media is a social influence that reinforces these ideals through repetition and product placement.

The media is a visual stimulation letting the American public voyeuristically fantasize about ultra thin models and having a body (sometimes these bodies are digitally re-mastered) that provides relative pleasure in shape.   Dittmar and Howard’s article highlights one such concern with the UK government in which they held a conference in June 2000 to discuss this issue of thinness and the media and to in essence debate about banning the use of these too thin models as media advertisement since the image essentially gave permission to the public to suffer over gaining a great body, no matter the public acquired anorexia nervosa or other clinical conditions.The detriment of this fact, the fact that thinness is amounting to such problems as anorexia nervosa raise many social and cultural issues.  The cultural issue may best be summarized in Dittmar and Howard’s article as they quote Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer, both spokespersons for top models, “…(s)tatistics have repeatedly shown that if you stick a beautiful skinny girl on the cover of a magazine you sell more copies…Agencies would say that we supply the women and the advertisers, our clients, want.

The clients would say that hey are selling a product and responding to consumer demand.  At the end of the day, it is a business and the fact is that these models sell the products” (478).   Thus, the opposite side of the spectrum is arguing that businesses or model clients are merely representing something that already exists within the cultural dynamic.  The argument is that thin models represent what people want to see and so the products the models are advertising sell more copies.

The clients of the modeling agencies are merely tied into the vicious cycle of believing what they want to believe.  Although this point seems somewhat valid, the validation stops when such perpetuating leads to serious illnesses (in some cases anorexia or bulimia have lead to death).It can plainly be deciphered from the above text that body image is created by the media, as Guttman quotes in her article “Advertising, My Mirror” in an interview with Christian Blachas, “That image comes to us from the fashion world.  People like to say advertising starts trends like the recent wave of ‘fashion pornography.

’ But this came straight from designers and fashion journalists.  The job of advertising is to pick up on trends.  It’s rarely subversive because brands don’t gain anything from shocking people too much.  Advertising’s a remarkable mirror, but it doesn’t start fads” (25).

Consequently, Blachas is stating that if fault is to be placed anywhere for the over correction of dieting, then the blame is not on the fashion industry but on advertisers who are the ones who pick up trends and allow these trends to filter down to every consumer; thus, while 20% of models are diagnosed as too ‘thin’ this relevant percentage can be related to the American public.Women and men are sensible enough to know what is too thin to be realistic; often times media transform their model’s bodies and digitally enhance or decrease the model’s body thus presenting a false image.  This is not done in order to impress upon young girls that their bodies should be thin but merely in keeping in mind with the best possible way to present the product of the advertisement.  The fact that such images are digitally enhanced in one way or another is no secret and therefore the justification that such images produce too thin body ideals does not hold against the argument that they indeed do,I mean we can alter that body shape definitely…I mean the computer can pretty much do anything.

You can alter it…they don’t tend to …but its kind of up to the model editor…You make ‘em…sort of squish them together to make them look thinner (Milkie 2002; 851). Another argument against the too thin body image presented in the media is that this is more of a cultural attitude.  In The body of the beholder the authors highlight that more often than not Caucasian women have poor images of themselves while African American women do not; this is attributed to culture and not to media; in other words, the body image is in the eyes of the beholder and not in the eyes of the media, “Quite commonly researchers restrict samples to white subjects or ignore race as an independent variable in their designs.  However, existing anecdotal and case studies report that blacks assign positive qualities of well-being and power to heavy-women” (Levinson et al.

1986; 331). This argument however is hard to accept since the media drenches the advertisting world with continuous images of the thin model as is seen with CK models, Victoria’s Secret models, and especially in layouts of Sports illustrated.Culture teaches that thinness is the ultimate ideal; but whose culture?  The argument of this paper now becomes mingled with the fact that American culture is increasing found imitating African American culture in dress, song, and literature.  Rap, Hip-Hop and Gansta Rap are all becoming the norms by which the culture focuses its appearance right down to cars, jewelry, clothing, and body image.

It is now considered popular or normal to have grills on one’s teeth, to wear ‘bling’ and to emulate in whatever capacity possible the African American culture and nowhere is this seen more often than in suburban neighborhoods as rap sales are more than half sold to young white audiences.With this new found cultural inheritance alive in the American culture the other argument evolves into one that also reflects the body image of African American women which is voluptuousThe minority respondents, in sharp contrast, did not emulate these images nor compare themselves as negatively with the models.  Even though most of the black girls occasionally read the mainstream publications, they considered the images less relevant, belonging to ‘white girls’ culture and not part of a reference group toward which they oriented themselves…The black girls indicated that they did not relate to the images and did not wish to emulate the rigid white beauty ideal (Milkie 1999; 200). African American women present to culture their body image as counter to waiflike, with curves and in fact African American women are more content with their body image than Caucasian women.

This leads to the fact that since American culture has incorporated into its normalcy the images of African American women that soon the idea of thinness will be counter culture and African American women’s standards will be the normal standard, “…there’s growing evidence that black and white girls view their bodies in dramatically different ways.  The latest finding come in a study to be published in the journal Human Organization this spring by a team of black and white researchers at the University of Arizona.  While 90 percent of the white junior-high and high school girls studied voiced dissatisfaction with their weight, 70 percent of African-American teens were satisfied with their bodies” (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66).  Thus, thinness in the media becomes a cultural narrative of how America strives for their women to be thin while other cultures and subcultures such as is found in the African American context is the opposite.

This study goes on to state that even when obese black teenagers were interviewed they still viewed themselves and described themselves as happy.  This source of obesity in fact is somewhat of a source of pride, the study further emphasized other different facets by which white and black girls viewed themselves, “Asked to describe women as they age, two thirds of the black teens said they get more beautiful, and many cited their mothers as examples.  White girls responded that their mothers may have been beautiful—back in their youth.  Says anthropologist Mimi Nichter, one of ht study’s coauthors, ‘In white culture, the window of beauty is so small’ (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66).

Thus, the problems of thinness arrive from the culturally corrupt.  Black and white girls are exposed to the same media but their sense of self identity as reflected in that media is quite different, as the above statements have proven.  Thus, the ideals of beauty are the main contributors of what is considered to be normal.  White girls see 5 foot 7 inches and between 100 to 110 pounds to be normal while African American girls describe their ideal size as exhibiting full hips, thick thighs, and basically in the words of Sir Mix-A lot ‘baby got back’ (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66).

These African American teens also described ideal beauty has having the right attitude.  The dynamic of this paper now changes from thinness to the overexposure of thin models whether or not they are black or white; in fact, either race as models exhibits the contours of thinness, however,…African American mothers must teach their daughters how to negotiate between two often confliction cultures: Black and white and must prepare daughters to cope with the racial and sexual dangers in the realities of the world that Black women must confront…Black mothers also play an important role in mitigating the dominant culture’s devaluing messages by providing more positive messages and alternatives to the white middle class ideal to their daughters to offset the negative reflections they see of themselves in the eye of the dominant culture (Lovejoy 2001: 253). This study only further exemplifies the argument in this paper that it is not the media that perpetuates the cult of thinness but rather this false ideal is found in the fact that perception is the ingredient in thinness.  Culture is the curse from which thinness arises,Underlying the beauty gap are 200 years of cultural differences.

“In white, middleclass America, part of the great American Dream of making it is to be able to make yourself over,” says Nichter. “In the black community, there is the reality that you might not move up the ladder as easily. As one girl put it, you have to be realistic-if you think negatively about yourself, you won’t get anywhere.” It’s no accident that Barbie has long embodied a white adolescent ideal-in the early days, she came with her own scale (set at 110) and her own diet guide (“How to Lose Weight: Don’t Eat”).

“It’s not that you hate them [perfect girls],” says Sarah Immel, a junior at Evanston Township High School north of Chicago. “It’s that you’re kind of jealous that they have it so easy, that they’re so perfect-looking.” (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66). Thus, the black ideal can be argued to be less restrictive, and less focused on something that is unrealistic.

Since white culture emphasizes the make-over modality then black culture emphasizes self respect and being happy with ‘you’.  In Ingrassia & Springen’s article they quote Tyra Banks, a supermodel who had said that in high school she was the envy of her white friends when she would repeatedly say that she wanted thighs like her black girlfriends; the dichotomy of culture is succinctly stated in this fact.The media centers on selling a product through presentation of an ideal body.  However, the media world is quite literally being taken over by Black culture from BET to Fox.

The ideals are changing with regards to body image.  The strongest signal that is competing for body image is peer pressure.  Since groups of teens are influential with their friends the black community is able to reiterate their ideals of body image to their friends and since they do not emulate the waiflike figures of supermodels so prevalent in culturally white media (which is diminishing) they are more able to disregard the unrealistic image presented to them in advertisements.  White girls however are suffering from their own culture and the reiteration of this culture not only through media at times but through the concept that has been taught to them that their mothers are always on a diet.

White culture has taught these girls more than the media has that their daddies eat and their mothers are on diets (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66).Ingrassia & Springen further emphasize that white culture teaches that it is okay and even normal to have an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, but in black culture these are even more of a phenomenon as black girls do not succumb to this masochism since their culture does not present it as a strong factor to be considered normal, “Black teens don’t usually go to such extremes. Anorexia and bulimia are relatively minor problems among African-American girls. And though 51 percent of the black teens in the study said they’d dieted in the last year, follow-up interviews showed that far fewer were on sustained weight-and-exercise programs.

Indeed, 64 percent of the black girls thought it was better to be “a little” overweight than underweight. And while they agreed that “very overweight” girls should diet, they defined that as someone who “takes up two seats on the bus.””  (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66).Ingrassia & Springen state in their study that 90% of white girls have some dissatisfaction with their bodies and that 62% of them are on a diet within the past year.

The study further states that 70% of black girls are happy with their body image and 64% say that it is better to be a little overweight than a little underweight (Ingrassia & Springen 1995; 66).This paper has stated that the media’s norms are changing with the introduction and focus on black culture that presents different body images.  The paper further stated that media was not the only device by which white girls receive their dissatisfied approach to their own bodies but with their mother’s influence of dieting thinness became an ideal.  It is with the changing cultural norms of switching focus from white culture to black culture that new media images will begin to filter into society as is exemplified through programs on television such as Queen Latifah whose body image though overweight by white culture standards is considered to be beautiful with black cultures.

Thus, the focus of a more voluptuous body, with curves, and a larger ‘booty’ is becoming the American standard.For further arguments supporting the idea of thinness and the media however, blame seems to be resting with the advertisers.  The media perpetuates fads and other culturally influential eras, but this seems to have heightened within the past few decades.  The bombardment the public receives from the media and especially from the advertising end of the media is seen not only in commercials but in product placement in music videos, and movies.

Magazines also aid in distributing the advertisements’ ideals as can be seen in repeated simulation on television soap operas, just as much as from fashion magazines, as Hargreaves and Tiggemann state in “Longer term implications of responsiveness  to ‘thin-ideal’: support for a cumulative hypothesis of body image disturbance?”, “Although this evidence appears to support the media’s negative impact on body image, various methodological limitations need to be acknowledged.  In particular, the causal direction of correlations between body dissatisfaction and media use remains a challenge.  The causal direction is clear in controlled laboratory research…One possible link between individual reactive episodes of dissatisfaction in response to specific media images and the development of body image is that enduring attitudes, beliefs, and feelings about bodies and appearances accumulate over time through repeated exposure to ideals of attractiveness in the media” (466).  Thus, the level of insecurity is maintained in the public through the barrage of repeated body images through advertisements.

Beauty is a powerful commodity in Western culture.  The culture is stuck in a reiteration of holding beauty as the ultimate self-worth and if this worth is not available then the abysmal recognition of the self as of lesser value perpetuates low self-esteem.  This fact can be witnessed in Vartanian and Giant’s article “Ally McBeal vs. Arnold Schwarzennegger”, “Roughly 50 million American adults begin a weight-loss diet each year and spend 33 billion dollars on weight-loss products and services.

Nearly 8 million individuals struggle with eating disorders annually; treatment costs can exceed 30,000 dollars per month” (711).  With these statistics it is obvious that the threat of thinness is very serious.  There is an exquisite torture in trying to remain young and beautiful, trying to persuade the physiognomy to be the replica of magazines (Seventeen, Girl Alive! Boy Meets Girl, Junior Miss) and all those plastic mannequins in store windows and department stores.  Beauty is violent when it becomes a substitute.

Beauty is a social quality.  For both women and men; on the opposite side of this argument against thinness, models are thin or are chosen for advertisements because they are thin because the public wants to surround itself with pleasure and something that inspires them.  Women may see an advertisement for a workout machine and want to have the body of the model and thus go out and purchase the equipment and get in shape because they were inspired by the model.  This could easily be the argument on the side of thinness.

Thinness is presented in the modeling world so that the average woman can strive to make herself better.Women and men however are not allowing themselves to see the muse of advertisement, instead they are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies due to frequent exposure to perfection on the television, in the magazines, etc.  So it seems that even from early on, women are conditioned to believe that it is on their beauty that society will appreciate them, and give them merit.  It is with beauty, and not the intellectual power that gives women that sense of control, and it isn’t false control for society backs up the notion of being attractive wholeheartedly.

In this primitive ideal of having to be beautiful to be accepted, American culture is trapped.  It is societal rules that say, the beautiful will conquer, and every corner turned perpetuates this notion, in television, magazines, billboards, etc.  A pretty women, is a powerful women, in this gender biased society.To present a neutral or unbiased note on this argument of thinness and the perpetuating of it in the media, Dittmar and Howard state, “…there is a need to examine whether the body size of attractive models has an impact on the perceived effectiveness of adverts, while investigating at the same time whether thin models have negative effect on women’s body-focused anxiety” (478).

The authors go on to state that in recent studies the effects of ‘thin’ media exposure has had not serious effects on women or men and that they are not likely to suffer negative effects from such advertisement.In focusing more on the advertiser a better understanding of thinness and culture may be surmised.  Advertisers use models as marketing ploys to sell product.  The focus of advertising can be argued to be about the product and not necessarily about the model.

The advertiser wants someone who looks good because by extension they are a representative of that product.  With this train of thought is may also be suggested that advertisers want the Western culture and society to feel dissatisfied with themselves so they will buy their product and feel good about themselves.  This is especially true for weight machine commercials, dieting commercials, fashion commercials, etc, “Advertising also tells consumers how to remedy such discontent: it attempts to associate the purchase of relevant consumer goods with the consumer becoming more like the idealized image” (Dittmar and Howard 479).  Thus, the consumers seduction of a product begins with the way in which it is represented and if it is represented by the idealized person, toned, pretty, with muscles, then the consumer in turn is more likely to go out and buy that advertiser’s product; and this is the vicious cycle of consumption and thinness.

Despite this clear distinction of cyclical social norms, little research has been done to prove this theory, but as Dittmar and Howard further state, “A study that investigates exercise promotion found that a slim model, as opposed to an average-size or overweight model, is the most effective image” (479).  From this simple statement it is clear that thinness is perpetuated by advertising.  This perpetuation is instigated by the monetary focus of advertisers.  This purpose leads consumers to at once crave their product and to recognize that if they consumer this product in some fashion then they will have the joy and happiness, and body, of the models in the advertisement.

When this need of the consumer is not satisfied sever depression may give rise to eating disorders.  This paper surmises that advertising with thin models allows for a despondent culture.         Work CitedDittmar, H. & S.

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