We live in an era where obsessing over our bodies and our looks have become a daily activity. In mainstrem media the most beautiful are rail thin, have long hair and perfect skin. If one is pleasing to the eye, one is acceptable to society. However, the projected image that media places on women is a big controversy today. Media is responsible for creating ideals about beauty and body image. Women are suffering from negative body image which leads to an increase in dissatisfaction with oneself and can cause many negative effects such as individual harm, depression, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder. Low self esteem and body related issues are of the negative psychological effects that media does not take into consideration. Media continues to depict models and celebirites throughout advertising in brands such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoria's Secret. They want society to think of what is going on as a "trend." Women watch celebrities and tend to follow their habits because they want to be like them. Women continue to compare themselves to figures in the media. Actresses, singers, and models always seem to be perfect, and when women can't achieve that, they begin to bash their bodies.
It has been found that nearly half of females ages 6-8 have stated that they want to be slimmer. This is really sad in which a child growing up should not be thinking of this. Body image has become a big issue as females go through puberty. Girls in midadolescence frequently report being dissatisfied with their weight. (Hayes) They fear weight gain, and begin to become preoccupied with weight loss. This is the beginning of the many effects media places on society. In the article: "Am I too fat to be a princess? Examining the effects of popular children's media on young girls' body image," the study was to examine the effects of exposure to popular animated children's media on young girls body image and appearance-related behaviors. (Hayes) Those in the experiment were shown a video containing appearance-related clips from 10 animated children's movies. The children also went through an interview where they were asked questions about their appearance satisfaction. They were asked if they like the way they look. The response options (never or almost never, sometimes, and nearly all the time) were used to help the participants answer some questions. The children were also asked questions such as: Could you be a princess? What would you have to change to become a princess? In the findings, it was concluded that all of the young girls indicated they disliked something about their physical appearance. In response to being asked 'If you could change anything about the way you look, what would it be?', "30.6% of girls noted that they would change something about their physical appearance. Of those responders, 59.5% would change their hair, 27% would change something about their body. The majority of the girls believed that they could be a princess regardless of their weight. Only about 8% of the girls endorsed needing to change their hair or skin color to become a princess." Example responses included 'my hair would have to grow long', 'I'd need yellow hair', 'I'd paint myself white', and 'I would change from brown skin to white skin'. It is concluded that animated children's media contains a number of appearance-related messages that may affect body dissatisfaction. At a very young age, girls appear to not be affected by media in ways comparable to females ages 6-8. This may be because, at younger ages, children frequently engage in pretend play and may not be capable of making social comparisons. Children do not worry about their weight or beauty. As children become older and have more an an insight about things, they engage less in pretend play. This results in girls beginning to stop identifying themselves as the characters they idolize. This means that girls are having an increased concern about how they look. Over time, girls are more likely to have had more exposure to media and this is unavoidable to them.
With the many effects of beauty and body image media places on society, it is said that magazines and advertisements are marketed to help women. Magazines and advertisements are suppose to provide information and products that are supposed to make women look and feel better. Most magazine reading is caused by dissatisfaction with one's self. Women who view other women pictured in these magazines show increased levels of depression, stress, guilt, shame, and insecurity. (Tiggemann) In the article, "The Role of Social Comparison in the Effect of Magazine Advertisements on Women's Mood and Body Dissatisfaction," the study supports the effects left on women looking through magazines and ads. In the study, "mood and body dissatisfaction were measured before and after advertisement viewing, while weight anxiety and the amount of appearance comparison engaged in were measured only after the advertisements. The first finding was that viewing thin-ideal female images did lead to increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction." (Tiggemann) This is a disturbing finding in that people have demonstrated negative effects after only very brief exposure (11 images of thin idealized female bodies after 10 minutes). This is far less than what would be contained in a single issue of a fashion magazine.
There are many concerns involving women being exposed to media negatively. "Since the curvaceous ideal embodied by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, media models have become progressively thinner, so that the typical model now is often as much as 20% underweight. It becomes clear just how extremely thin this body size is when we consider that 15% underweight is one of the criteria used to diagnose anorexia." (CNN World News, 2006) Media has influenced women for decades. This concern of a unhealthy lifestyle is increasing.
Seeing the "perfect" female body image be promoted throughout media encourages women to diet and manipulate their size and shape. According to Lisa M. Groesz, Michael P, Levine, and Sarah K. Murnen, "females are socialized to see themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated." (12) Women feel shame and develop dissatisfaction with themselves. Society values the "pefect" body. Media states that a slim woman is successful, attractive, healthy, happy, and pleasing to the eye in society. Women want to be all of those things and begin to be more like the people they see that are like this in the media. Even if it means losing some weight to obtain the perfect body. This is when eating disorders begin to develop due to the media's influence. "Eating disorders are prevalent in women ages 15-19." (Groesz) Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are huge issues within today's society. This is a problem because women are striving for an unhealthy lifestyle while continuing to think that if they were thinner, then they would be happy. Women begin self-starvation in the fear of being fat or overeat and then crash diets.
Through means such as advertising and the media, body dysmorphic disorder may be contributed due to image and beauty related social pressures. Also, some type of childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness in which you become obsessed with the flaws of your appearance. You begin to produce a certain image of yourself and feel as if you don't have an actual perception of your body. You feel ashamed and have a distorted idea about the way you look. "People with BDD commonly also suffer from the anxiety disorders obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social anxiety disorder, as well as depression and eating disorders" (Lifespan). Those with the disorder may resort to cosmetic surgeries and treatment for relief. However, these procedures do not address the root of the problem. From this web source it is concluded that patients are still not completely satisfied with their results and may become obsessed, depressed, or suicidal after. Those exposed to the media in a negative way are at risk of suffering from obsessions about their appearance and feel the need to alter it.
Though there are many negative effects media places on women, there are also many positive effects. The media's job is to inform, educate, and entertain the public. Positive effects such as celebrities talking about good health through ads and their support of the significance of a healthy lifestyle such as eat healthy, and exercise. Take Jennifer Hudson for instance. She is a strong role model for promoting healthy attitudes about body image. She has publicly addressed her struggle with weight and body image. She now focuses on weight loss as an ongoing lifestyle change. Demi Lovato also discusses the importance of a healthy body image by promoting eating disorders awareness. She promotes the awareness through her positive way of addressing media's exposure that has surrounded her previous struggles with disordered eating. Jennifer Lawrence is another celebrity who wants to be a positive body image role for girls. She claims she never diets for jobs and speaks out about the dangers of girls dieting. It is good for girls to have people like Jennifer Hudson, Demi Lovato, and Jennifer Lawrence to look up to and feel good about themselves. Promoting a healthy lifestyle can help adolescents and young adults embrace their bodies whatever the shape or size. Overall, the public sees media as a negative influence. Though, if the media was to stop bombarding society with messages about being ideal and perfect, then more people would be able to see the good influences that media is trying to produce.
Media's depiction of women portrays a standard of beauty that is unattainable. Models in magazines and in other advertisements are shown in all forms of popular media. These women are considered appealing to society. They are shown to be very slim, have long hair and perfect skin. Women are suffering from the many effects media promotes on beauty and body image. Negative effects include dissatisfaction, self-harm, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and body dysmorphic disorder. This is a huge problem in today's society but can be changed. The media can stop airbrushing, and can feature women of all shapes and sizes in advertisements. The media needs to produce healthy behaviors and lifestyles in order to allow women to feel good about themselves. Women will then be able to stop feeling pressured by the media.
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Table of Contents
The purpose of this paper is to examine and criticize the representation of female body image by mass media. For decades the bodies of women have been tailored to highlight products and services by advertisers and owners of the media as a means of generating capital gains. This tailoring, has led to what many have come to accept as the ‘ideal image of beauty’ that every woman should endeavor to achieve. This paper continues the discussion on a topic that is widely and frequently discussed. The theoretical framework that this paper employs is based on one of the most applauded theory in communication studies; The Political Economy of Communication and Media theory, which was first coined by Dallas William Smythe. This theory is pertinent to understand the presence of the commercial forces behind creating and maintaining this ideal body image, particularly by advertisers in mass media. The form of mass media that this paper concentrates on is women’s magazine, with specific focus on advertisements regarding beauty and cosmetic products/services. Additionally, case studies in the US and China are used to depict the influence mass media representation of female body image on women.
Body image, political economy of media, audience commodity, mass media
Fifteen years ago, I was not equipped with the critical thinking skills I have now neither did I possess the self confidence I now enjoy; consequently I internalized the images I saw in mass media and was dissatisfied with my body. I compared myself with the images I saw which made me feel like I needed to change or improve my physical features to match the standard image I frequently saw. I know that I am not alone; millions of women are affected in the same or similar way. I have always been passionate about the issue of female body image as presented in mass media, hence the reason for pursuing it as my term paper topic. Moreover, the lectures in Communication Theories class have provided me with refreshing insights into theories and approaches for which I can use to better comprehend the topic of Mass Media and the Representation of Female Body Image.
The influence of mass media on female body image continues to be a favorite topic for discussion and analysis for researchers in the field of communication studies. This discussion is necessary in order to analyze media representation of female body images, particularly in advertising and how this representation influences women. Advertisers often emphasize sexuality and the importance of physical attractiveness in an attempt to sell their products and services, but researchers are concerned that this places undue pressure on women to focus on their appearance (Body Image and Advertising, 2000). The political economy theory coined by Dallas Smythe in his article Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism in 1977 is used to further discuss the market forces behind the issue of advertisers and the standardization of female body image in mass media. Dallas Smythe was one of the founding figures of the political economy of communication (Mosco, 2009).
The images of women presented in mass media are always thin and over the last 40 years, female ideal body weight as shown in magazine images are decreasing (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2008). For advertisers and fashion designers, thin sells and because it sells, images of ultra thin women are what they always put before their audiences. Scholars Emma Halliwell and Helga Dittmar (2004, p. 105) quoted a spokesperson for the agency representing top models such as Naomi Campbell that “statistics have repeatedly shown that if you stick a beautiful skinny girl on the cover of a magazine you sell more copies” (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2004). The effect of hearing a song over and over again can be related to seeing an image over and over again; it stays with you. Why do the media continue to depict such unattainable images? Jean Kilbourne maintains that “women are sold to the diet industry by the magazines we read and the television programs we watch, almost all of which make us feel anxious about our weight” (Mediasmarts, 2014). There is also the reason of commercial economic forces who work to ensure that such physical ideal images of beauty are standardized. Media Smarts website reveals that the reason the media imposes impossible standards of beauty on girls is simply economic: when the media consistently present a “physical ideal that is difficult to achieve and maintain the cosmetic and diet industries are assured continual growth and profits” (Mediasmarts, 2014).
Stuart Hall in his video lecture on Representation and The Media remarked that “the word representation means that the media “represent” something that already exists (Hall, 1997). As such when you look at the images in consumer magazines, it is undoubtedly visible that those images have been re-presented by photo editors to mimic reality as it is “industry standard for touching up images used in magazines” (Kretz, 2009).
This term paper examines the relationship between advertisers and magazine media with emphasis on the audience commodity category of the political economy of communication and media theory. It then analyzes and criticizes mass media in the representation of female body image. Thirdly, it explains in three ways the impact of mass media on women who are consumed by the images presented. For this section, this paper first looks at the obsession with being thin and secondly the profitable world of cosmetic surgery.
Research shows that there is an enormous amount of literature on the topic of media representation and female body image and on other relatable topics. Therefore, this paper aims to contribute to work of other researchers by adding views from a new perspective. Moreover, it is absolutely important that this topic continues to be at the centre of global discussion, so as to provide members of the public with insights and findings that will help them understand the reasons women are represented the way they are in mass media. Off course understanding mass media representation of female body images is less focused on passing blame and more to do with creating awareness to these unrealistic images so that women are empowered to love themselves in the bodies they have.
The relationship between advertisers and magazine media
Although criticized for projecting unrealistically thin images of women, the forces in the advertising industry are unwavering to their approach (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2004). Recent reports show that readership is in a good position as (data source: magazine.org, accessed on December 8, 2014): an average gross audience for magazine brands of 1.50 billion in August/September/October 2014 up 9.8% over the same months in 2013 (1.37 billion). The report currently covers 151 magazine media brands from 34 companies, representing 95% of the reader universe (Magazine Publishers of America, 2014).
The Statista Portal reveals that magazine’s advertising currently stands at $15.1 billion U.S dollars and is projected to increase to $15.2 billion in 2017 (Statista, 2014). As a result of technological advancements magazine readership is split into digital and print. A total of 91% of Americans over the age of eighteen read magazines and there is a diverse readership attached; 91% are African American, 87% Asian American and 86% Hispanic American (MPA Magazine Media Factbook, 2013/2014). President and CEO of Magazine Publishers of America in the most recent annual report said that “Magazine media deliver powerful relationships that influence, inspire and endure. The magazine media brand experience is based on trusted editorial, complemented by relevant advertising. This dual immersion in edit and ads satisfies the interests and passions of millions of readers. The reader’s commitment to this unique brand experience results in superior levels of ad receptivity, online search, and purchase intent” (Berner, 2013/2014). This explains the relationship between advertisers and magazines; it further explains how this relationship shapes the representation of female body image. Women perceptions of how they should look are formed by fashion and cosmetic advertisers in magazines. The advertisers are powerful and usually very effective in ensuring that their messages are received and believed (Mediasmarts, 2014). Women are the main target audience for magazine advertisements; advertisers expect that women will identify themselves with the images presented. Not in all its forcefulness could “advertising image work without being associated with it a kind of claim on identity”. The overall intention is to persuade the audience by winning them over through identification (Hall, 1997).
The Political Economy of Communication theory has been extensively studied by researchers in the likes of Christian Fuchs (2012) and has become an important aspect of discussion, particularly in the fields of media and communication. Political Economy as defined in the book Political Economy of Communication by Vincent Mosco, is the “study of social relations, particularly the power relation that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources, including communication resources” (Mosco, 2009). This introduces the audience as a commodity: the primary product produced by the media in order to earn their principal revenues from advertisers (Meehan, 2008). The words control and survival are vital when it comes to understanding the political economy in this case. Control is framed politically because “it shapes the relationships within a community” and survival is framed economically because it involves the process of production and reproduction” (Mosco, 2009). In other words, females are represented in a certain way so that they sell advertisers’ products. The ideal body image continues to be plastered on the covers and on inside pages of magazines as objects used to generate sales. If we look at figure 1, we will see that the advertiser is not just selling a bag; that advertiser is also selling an image to the reading audience of that magazine. It is highly unlikely that the audience will be focused on the bag. The model is tall, thin, toned and represents the facial beauty standards of advertisers and the media. Researcher Christian Fuchs concludes that “no product is sold to users; the users are sold as a commodity to advertisers” (Fuchs, 2012). Emma Halliwell and Helga Dittmar agree that experimental studies confirm that consumers are highly motivated to make an actual purchase of a product after they have seen a beautiful model advertising it (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2004).
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Figure 1. Source: http://fashion.zarzarmodels.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Beautiful-Brazilian-Fashion-Model-Gisele-Bundchen-Modeling-For-Versace-Ads-Modeling-As-The-Highest-Paid-Model-In-Brazil-Brasil-1024x668.jpg