The Media Impact
It's In Our Faces, Everywhere, Every Day
It doesn't matter where you look, women's bodies - or parts thereof - are on display. The magazine racks at the checkout counters of the grocery stores (especially in the spring, just before swimsuit season) give us a plethora of movie star bodies to measure ourselves against. Granted, some of them are not pencil thin, but the accompanying disgust at the areas of offence on their bodies let us know that cellulite and "excess weight" is definitely a sin.
Although there has been a noticeable change in some magazines in terms of using real-size women and women of color as models, advertisers still want to use thin models to display their jewels, clothing, perfume and cars. Popular film and television actresses continue to be taller, thinner, and often younger than the average female population. Twenty years ago the average model weighed about eight percent less than the average woman, in 2006 that number was at 23 percent less. Even if a magazine chooses to use a real-size woman to advertise their goods, advertisers still threaten to withdraw their product advertising.
It's All About Money
Why are these standards of so-called beauty imposed on women - the majority of whom are larger and more mature than the models used in advertising? Some analysts suggest the roots are economic. The cosmetic and diet industry prosper when the ideal is difficult to achieve and maintain. It is not an accident that youth is promoted, side by side with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty. Even if not all women need to lose weight, it is certain they are aging...and, according to the industry, age is a disaster that needs to be addressed in no uncertain terms.
From Baby Boomers...
Most of us are well aware of the pressure to be thin. It's been part of Western culture for many years. Magazines, television and movies have ensured that women are constantly anxious about their weight, or about looking older. The cosmetic and plastic surgery industries are flourishing today with the money spent by aging baby boomers trying to recapture their youth. The idea that unless a woman is young, slim, and sexy she has no worth continues to be the glue that holds the beauty industry together.
The stakes are massive for the beauty industry. It's a double whammy for women, though. The women most likely to buy diet aids and beauty products as well as new clothing are the women who are insecure about their bodies. The diet industry in the US alone is worth close to 100 billion dollars a year - money generated through the sale of temporary weight loss products. Nearly 95% of dieters using these methods regain the weight they lost. The second slam comes through research that indicates women who are constantly exposed to thin, young, air-brushed images of female bodies are more prone to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits - eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and even more prevalent bulimia nervosa.
...To Little Girls
The last decade has seen little girls as young as five and six years of age taking weight control measures. What they don't get from magazines and peers, they get from their moms. The influences of young movie and television stars has established that nearly half of all preadolescent girls wish to be thinner and, as a result, have engaged in some sort of dieting regime. We're talking about little girls between the ages of nine and eleven.
We're All Affected
The continued barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty, targeted to all age groups - from little girls to baby boomers and beyond - tell a woman that she's just not good enough and is in need of some serious adjustments. It also creates a mindset that the female body is nothing more than an object that needs to be perfected.
Unfortunately, for most women today, the fact that more media agencies are using real women in their advertising is too little too late. The die has been cast and for most women over the age of 25, it's cast in stone.