In our generation, teenagers are constantly surrounded by images in magazines, movies, on television, and online. Subjectively targeting adolescent women, they are exposed to these images learning societal depictions about the ideal physique from exposure to media. Eventually, this unconscious habit leads to Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where people tend to think about their perceived flaws for hours on a given a day. This disorder develops in adolescents typically around 12-13 years of age. While BDD affects women slightly more, this disorder affects more men than you would actually think. While men seem to be quieter about their body negativity, men are typically more satisfied with their physical appearance and are less likely to exhibit body changing behaviors. Research suggests that women are merely exposed to more social situations making them less satisfied with their bodies. Females look at these retouched images of models and celebrities with the belief that something is wrong with themselves because they are not as thin as these women. How you look, or rather, how you think you can look can greatly affect the way you feel about yourself. If you are taught that models on magazine covers are Photo shopped, and their look is impossible to achieve naturally, then there is no reason to be upset you cannot achieve it. Although we know media teaches women to self-objectify, we are not to blame; this is indeed the society in which we were raised.
So, why are women so dissatisfied with the body they were born with? Personally, I believe the media plays a role in part for this ongoing question in society. In the article “Teen Mags: How to get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem,” Author Anastasia Higginbotham writes about the attack of media image that show thin models who are dissatisfied with their bodies. “I used to be the teen magazine market’s ideal consumer: vain terribly insecure, white, and middle class. I craved attention and approval from boys often at the expense of meaningful relationships with girls, spent far too much time staring at myself in the mirror, and trusted the magazines’ advice -on all sorts of really, really important issues, like lip gloss and luv” (Higginbotham 88). Higginbotham focuses primarily on the medias influence on these women who strive to be something society has set them up, but fail to realize that this standard is not meant for everyone. By sharing personal stories, Higginbotham connects with her audience by helping them overcome the idea of conformity, asserting the claim of how diversity is not a bad thing, and these Photo shopped magazines should emphasize beyond the differences in every woman, rather than one precise form. Magazines are only published in order to bring our self-esteem down in order for their profits to grow.
Recently, a social impact documentary was released that explores the issue of body image called Embrace. This project is told from the view point of Embrace director Taryn Brumfitt, who speaks with experts, other women, and well-known figures about their “flaws”, and the alarming rate of body image issues seen in those of all shapes and sizes. Taryn states that her inspiration for the documentary came about after she posted a before-and-after picture that went viral on the internet. Her comparison image was seen by over 100 million people, and due to the amount of press she received she wanted to voice her opinion on a larger platform. Brumfitt is passionate talking about body image, as for she has also been affected by this disorder. The independent documentary Embrace begins with Taryn’s individual life story of how she wanted plastic surgery, but then decided against the idea in order to provide an example to her daughters that plastic surgery is unnecessary. Brumfitt visits a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, where he proceeds to knead and lift her stomach, breasts, and buttocks and refers to “cut and paste” her fat to make her “smaller” and “shapelier”. For being a homemade-looking one-woman crusade film, Embrace is an excellent documentary.
However, we cannot forget about this disorder existing in men. “Thus not only does gender restrain us as individuals, but is through the language of gender that we become who we are, that we come to recognize ourselves- and be recognized by others- as men and women, and only as men and women” (Page, 26). This quote, from Riki Wilchins makes sense due to the fact gender is not who you are but what you are (Page, 24.) Men are constantly told to “Man up” or to “Be a man”, making both genders victims of the media. This example of gender typing is generally assumed to obstruct the emotional development in males while also accounting for their destructive behavior. While it is now known that men are also affected by body image dissatisfaction, the literature continues to demonstrate that women suffer from higher rates of discontentment with their bodies and that this discontentment negatively impacts their lives, more so than male body image concerns affect men (Johnstone et al., 2008; Mendelson et al., 2001). As men associate muscle mass with masculinity, it is more common that males turn to steroid use. Every gender is unprotected from the low self-esteem and poor body image due to our society and our media.
Individuals who are deemed attractive are often favored more than unattractive individuals. Attractive individuals are sought to be smarter and more admirable, while unattractive individuals are not, causing the halo effect. (Thorndike, 1920). people who are rated highly on one dimension (attractiveness) are assumed to excel on others as well (intelligence). This is also referred to as the “what-is-beautiful-is-good” stereotype (Solomon, Zaichkowsky, & Polegato, 2005).