An Introduction to the Issue of Societys Negative Influence on Body Image

Society and media have a huge impact of the idea of beauty and body image, often in negative ways. As defined by Jillian Croll, a contributing author of “Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services,” body image “is the dynamic perception of one’s body, how it looks, feels, and moves. It is shaped by perception, emotions, physical sensations, and is not static, but can change in relation to mood, physical experience, and environment” (Croll). Primarily affecting teenage girls, many factors influence society’s ideal image of beauty, and how women view themselves. The effects that come out of this are often negative and harmful, due to the need to meet society’s standards. Although these standards set by society are unrealistic, depicted by ultra-thin models and retouched makeup ads, women feel that they need to look like them. It was not always like this, as the old standards of beauty included curvy women instead of skinny, “perfect” women.

There are a myriad of factors that influence body image, on all different levels. Television, movies, and music videos often include actors and actresses who are thin. In addition, celebrities are often striving to be skinny, which sets bad examples for all who look up to them. Examples of celebrities who are often depicted as too skinny are Nicole Richie and Mary Kate Olsen. Models also send out the message that being very thin is attractive. They give a very unrealistic portrayal of what average women look like, with sizes mostly ranging from size 2 to 6. Another huge factor is the advertisement industry. Commercials, magazines, and billboards all contain images of women that have been edited, doctored, retouched, enhanced, and airbrushed. Good qualities are enhanced, while any flaws are taken out, making the image as perfect as possible.

Other advertisements, such as ones advocating diets and weight-loss products, are unavoidable. The weight-loss industry is huge, and new diet fads are popping up everywhere. Puberty also leads to negative effects, due to major body changes. Girls may feel insecure when their body starts changes, especially if it is before her friends. Peers also can have impacts of how a someone views himself or herself. Girls can be very sensitive, and small comments from friends about how they look can be upsetting. Also, girls tend to compare themselves to other girls. Bullying, of any age, also occurs a lot, which kids make fun of a person’s weight, shape, and appearance. Comments by family members, also regarding weight and appearance, can lead to pressures to lose weight. Athletes experience some competition with weight and appearance, for example, with college volleyball players.

A recent study explores the effects that playing sports has on body image: “The present study explores positive and negative effects of athletic participation as well as the impact of level of competition on body image among female collegiate volleyball players” (Hoag). Other miscellaneous factors include dolls and Disney princesses. Barbie dolls, the most popular toy amongst young girls, can give off misleading messages, regarding their body proportions. With a huge bust, small waist, and thin figure, a Barbie may give girls the wrong image of what they expect to look like when they get older. This false sense of beauty may drive them to desires to look perfect, like a Barbie. Young boys also get influenced by toys such as action figures. Their fit bodies make boys want to be muscular.

Society’s ideal image of beauty has changed drastically over time. In the nineteen forties and fifties, being thin was considered unattractive: “In the 1940s and 1950s, actresses like Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell, and Marilyn Monroe, who were known for their curves and large breasts, were the ideal” (Smolin). Marilyn Monroe was an icon of the fifties, and the ideal image of beauty. She was curvy and was a size 14, and her body type was considered perfect. Weight gain advertisements were seen everywhere, advocating curvier bodies.

In the sixties, societal changes led to new body types becoming popular. Actresses like Audrey Hepburn and models like Twiggy were examples of thin icons of the century. Being skinny seemed to matter a lot more, and women cared about how they looked, and whether or not they looked attractive. The ideal look, which transformed into today’s ideal look, included a small waist, skinny arms and legs, large breasts, clear skin, and a toned stomach. Models today, following the footsteps of Twiggy, tend to be frighteningly thin, opposing the old views of beauty that Americans used to hold.

The effects of society’s pressure to be perfect have many negative effects on girls of all ages, primarily teenagers. Diet fads and health crazes that girls get caught up in almost never work. They can mess up a person’s body and the way it should naturally work. By cutting out certain foods or food groups, or specifically eating only one type of food or fasting, none of it is worth it. Other effects include constantly weight oneself, which can lead to disappointment and depression, another one of the negative effects. Girls also may obsess over counting calories, and develop serious eating disorders.

These include anorexia nervosa, which is intentionally starving oneself or eating a small amount of calories per day, and bulimia nervosa, which is purging immediately after consuming food. Both disorders are extremely dangerous to a person’s body and mental state. Efforts are made to raise awareness about eating disorders, for example, through organizations and symposiums at colleges: “Approximately 4 to 5 percent of all college age women have some sort of eating disorder, according to statistics presented in the “Myths & Fact About Eating Disorders” session of the symposium” (Brunt). Dissatisfaction with oneself can lead to other effects, like loss of confidence, low self-esteem, self-judging, loss of interest in school, depression, and social isolation.

There are, however, many ways to promote body acceptance. Overall confidence is the key to happiness. A person needs to feel comfortable in their own skin, and accept themselves for who they are, and not what society tells them to be. Nikki Blonsky, in an interview with Seventeen magazine, spoke her mind about body image, and the need to stay about negative influences: “Healthy is your mind too, and making sure you’re comfortable looking in the mirror. If you can look in the mirror every day and feel comfortable, then you’re healthy” (Gandhi). It is necessary to keep a positive attitude and an open mind, because all body types are beautiful. Do not criticize or judge oneself, or others.

Also, people need to stand up to bullying, of any sort, to make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable with being themselves. Teenagers should not have to worry constantly about what everyone thinks of them. They should be able to walk around school hallways and know that they will not be judged. Another way to promote body acceptance is to stay far away from diet fads and health crazes. They are everywhere, whether it is in a commercial, a magazine, or overheard from friend. People who believe in the magic of dieting need to keep in mind that diets usually are not worth it. Starving oneself or maintaining a weird diet is not as effective as eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. In fact, fasting leads to weight gained rather than lost. Exercising is a great way to feel great about yourself, not because it leads to weight-loss, but because it releases endorphins that makes you feel good about yourself. Also it just feels good to know that you’re doing something good for your body.

Overall, society’s impact on body image is huge, and has changed greatly over time. The negative effects of this impact can be startling and serious, but there are ways of overcoming them.

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