Media, Mirrors, and Mass Disorder An Exploratory Article about Body Image

Everyday, I walk into a room with floor to ceiling, mirrored walls.

Flaws you never noticed are instantly accentuated. Mess up a dance move, everyone sees. In dance, you are constantly being critiqued on what you do, and a single movement makes all the difference. Yet, I ask myself, is it the teacher giving me a critique, or my own reflection, staring back at me with searching eyes? A mirror is addictive, and can easily be compared to the media, as they both portray body image in a distinct light. Before searching about this social issue, I thought people were conscious of their body image because they were not confident about themselves. I thought they created their own problem. Growing up, I was an average height, lightweight, blonde hair, blue eyed girl. I never felt conscious about my image, and when I was lectured about ‘loving your body’ or ‘being proud of your flaws’, it never phased me, and I never payed to much attention. I never had thought about, nor felt the pressure that over 50% of young girls face each day (sirc.org). With this in mind, I made sure to try and get to the bottom of what is causing this epidemic of body image anxiety within our civilization. In other words, what contributes to the anxiety many have towards their body, and what is influencing the way we view ourselves?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is when you look in the mirror, and see something different from what is actually there. Based on everything I have learned, I think that our society as whole, has a horrible case of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. In the novel, Gorgeous, Rebecca Randall is a country girl that gets magically turned into the most beautiful women on earth. Her long, dark hair and thin figure is admired by both men and women, her picture covers every magazine cover, and she gets eyed by the Prince of England. Yet, when she is by herself and looks in the mirror, she just sees Becky, the Missouri girl she is on the inside. The central message within this text is simple and connects perfectly to my main point. Take away the magic and glitter and gorgeous princes, and you have someone who is shown everywhere as the ideal person. The ideal body. Everyone wants to be like her. She is the spark of all comparison, even her own. When Rebecca looks in the mirror, she first sees the breathtaking figure that leaves everyone in awe, and then all she can see is ragged, tired Becky. Even her inner self is being compared to Rebecca, as she is the standard, and Becky will never be able to be like her. This can be compared to the Body Image Disorder our country faces. No matter who we are or what we look like, we can always be compared to something or someone better than us. We see this central idea becoming more and more common due to the increasingly prevalent existence of media in our society.

A cartoon portraying Body Dismorphic Disorder. This can be compared to the issues our society is facing. Image: Travismillard.com via Pinterest

From when you get up to when you go to bed, the average American views anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements a day (RedCrowMarketing.com). To me, this is astounding. When I found this statistic, it further proved that advertisements may be the main cause of all comparison in regards to body image.

We are surrounded by sexualized images of women with fair skin and chiseled features, with waist sizes dipping to unrealistically low numbers.

In an article from the Social Issues Research Center, co-director Kate Fox states, “Standards of beauty have in fact become harder and harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population. If you want the ideal shape, face etc., it's probably more like 1%” (Sirc.org). The advertisements we see on TV, Magazines and even cereal boxes are affecting how we view our own image. Social media platforms are becoming places where one can go to seek out comments about how they look, which can have varied effects. Because we see images of beauty more frequently than we even see our peers, the extremely high standards seem normal, real and available (Sirc.org). A video made by BuzzFeed, lets us see how women’s ideal body size has increasingly become thinner and thinner as time passes. I link the decrease in body size to the increase in media. Larger figures were deemed ideal, yet as technology is invented and advances, we can see women's body image taking a drastic turn. Now, looking at society today, we can see the effect that the media has had on men, women and children alike.

From ancient Egypt to the present, women's ideal body image has changed tremendously BuzzFeedVideo via Youtube.

When people hear the words body conscious or body image anxiety, many instantly think of women as being the victims. While this is a stereotype on some level, it is also true. According to The Social Issues Research Center, “Up to 8 out of 10 women will be dissatisfied with their reflection, and more than half may see a distorted image” (SIRC.org). This data supports my idea that our nation, as a whole, has Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Additionally, a 2014 British Social Attitudes survey shows that only around 60% of women aged 18- 49 are satisfied with their image. Women’s body image is also affecting women’s occupations and roles in society, as attractive people have a higher chance of getting a job. All my life, I have been surrounded by movements aimed to empower women. Until I got older, I never realized the inequalities women face on a daily basis. The only time I had seen accounts of people being ashamed of their bodies were in movies, and I never knew how apparent this pressure was in the real world. I especially never thought of men being body conscious, and it was surprising when I found out that men tend to be just as dissatisfied with themselves than women.

Image Via mychicagotherapist.com

Men are given a set of specific instructions and standards for perfection. Like women, these standards are unrealistic and unfair. The ideal man is rugged, strong, emotionless, handsome and tall (HuffingtonPost.com). Admit it, that is what we think of when we hear the perfect man. This standard is plastered into our brains, and is an easily accessible, negative comparison to any guy that looks in the mirror. Jessica Lovejoy, a positive body-image advocate brings up a good point when she mentions, “You will almost never see a heavyset lumberjack-esque man gracing the cover of a clothing catalogue. Or a fashion magazine. Or an in-store poster” (HuffingtonPost). When you walk into a women's store, there is a chance there could be a plus sized model or a plus sized section. Unfortunately, men do not usually have this option (HuffingtonPost). I have never been told to be more feminine, yet phrases like “Man up!” or “Be a man!” are used often and are cruel and harsh. Attractive men are better off than others, as taller men earn almost $600 than shorter men. They are also less likely to be found guilty, and more often to have less severe charges if they are (SIRC.com). This new information forced me to think differently about the subject. Plus-sized models are not common for men, and their gender role is always associated with how they should look. If you still think body image problems are all about women, think again.

(Left) This image of a man holding a sign with a powerful message has sparked lots of controversy, especially due to the bounty of negative comments he received for it. Image: Relaxandsucceed.wordpress.com (Right) Unfair standards

Kids and teens may be hit the hardest when it comes to body image anxiety. I got a phone in 6th grade, and I immediately wanted to join social media to share with friends. Young children are growing up in a society where body image is more prevalent than ever, for this specific mirror. In an article from CNN, we learn that a report from common sense media “...noted how more than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as 6 to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size. By age 7, one in four kids has engaged in some kind of dieting behavior…” (CNN.com). I believe that the root of this hysteria is the media. Children learn as they grow up, and try to mimic things they see. Unfortunately, today's world is full of unrealistic images of adults, providing false expectations for them to live up to. Some experts have found that the Mother-Daughter Effect is influencing how young girls see themselves. A mother could be trying something on in the mirror, criticizing themselves and how they look, and a daughter who is watching may take those critiques and put them upon herself (Ana Homayoun, CNN.com). For most girls growing up, including me, your mom is your main role model. Since almost everyone has some insecurities about their bodies, it is easy for them to talk about them, unaware of the devastating effects this could have on developing minds. Young boys are also bit by the bug of body negativity, as they are influenced daily with subtle, yet demanding standards. Boy’s action figures have defined and large muscular builds, some with larger measurements than body builders. Kids who play with these toys often aspire to be just like them when they are older, providing false hope that they may look the same too. Ana Homayoun, an author of various body image books mentions, “ ‘...everyone talks about Barbie, but no one talks about that’ " (CNN.com). After reading about this, I thought it was crazy how often children are exposed to such devastating ideals, while the world stays so blind to it’s effects.

Image Via kateahughes17.wordpress.com

After I researched, analyzed and formulated my theory of body image and the media, I had a few questions that sparked many emotions and thoughts in my mind. How can we eliminate the body dysmorphic disorder from society, how can we feel satisfied every time we look in the mirror, and most importantly, how can the media’s attitude towards body image be changed? Yet, no matter how much I try and chase for the answers, all these questions are interconnected by years of history. From the beginning of time, there has always been someone who is superior to the rest, and no matter what we try to do to level the playing field for all, we may never be able to change the social makeup of civilization. This superior being is what is causing stress to people of all ages as they look in the mirror, as human desire and jealousy is natural. That select person is what media is trying to mimic and broadcast for all to see. However, this upscale person is different to all, whether it is a king, a movie star, a family member or even a doll in a sequined dress you saw in a store window when you were a kid. As I read quotes and statistics, it is hard to ignore a central theme that keeps coming up; We as humans prefer to look up to this certain figure, a satisfying image, as we have for centuries. If media changes it’s ideals, will we change ours with them? And vice versa. While our standards are changing little by little, I believe that the media is catering to what we truly want to see on the outside, which, unfortunately, is causing society dismay on the inside.

This video shows how unrealistic body standards are in our country, which really provokes thought on why we obsessed over something that is practically unreachable… The perfect body. BuzzFeedVideo via Youtube.

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