The Body Type that Men Prefer

The modeling industry and its employers clearly favor women with tall, lanky, stick-figure bodies, but who else admires this look?  Does the average American man also long to have a romantic partner with barley any body fat and protruding bones? According to askmen.com (http://www.askmen.com/daily/austin/49b_fashion_style.html), this is definitely not the case.  They explain that thin women earn more in their careers (in fashion and TV), but a recent study (http://www.timothy-judge.com/Judge%20and%20Cable%20%28JAP%202010%29.pdf) reveals that men prefer women with an average weight and healthy body fat.

How could this be? Well, we can refer to biology for the answer. Women with wider hips, bigger boobs, and a normal layer of fat are normally more fertile. It indicates to men that they are healthy, real, able to bear children and not too obsessed with their looks.

It is good that men can stand up and admit this, because the media’s portrayal of the ideal body is already far too powerful and dangerous for so many young girls and women today. So why is the “clothes-hanger” body type so popular in the media/fashion industry?  Is their goal to portray something perfect and unattainable to put everyone else down? No one can answer these questions with definitive answers, but personally I believe they want to make these models and women appear out of reach, perfect, glamorous and larger than life, so that they can motivate people to spend more money.

Throughout this research blog, I have increasingly realized the seriousness of body image issues. Our nation and others have placed far too much importance on physical appearance. After all, many of our physical appearances convey nothing but superficial hints of our personalities. Everyone has so much beneath the surface that no one can see by solely looking at their body, face or clothes.

Female Socialization

Why does it seem like so many more females are worried about their body image than males?  There are certainly pressures on males to look a certain way, but from the moment a newborn is identified as a female, there are infinite expectations on her to be “beautiful” like women are supposed to be.  Boys are told to be independent and tough.  Have you ever noticed that words like “beautiful”, “pretty”and “gorgeous” are normally only used when describing the female sex?  Every girl dreams of hearing her prince charming telling her she’s beautiful.  Sociological studies on heterosexual relationships have in fact proved that men tend to emphasize the importance of physical attractiveness in their partner more than women do (http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/berscheid_attract.html). Women are more inclined to focus more on intelligence, personality, and emotional expressiveness.

The family and the media are two of the biggest agents of socialization in a young child’s life.  If the family is not already subconsciously transmitting gender norms and roles to their children, the media will do so without fail. The following article, along with discussing the differing socialization processes for males and females, analyzes the disproportion of female and male characters in the 101 top rated-G movies (the ones children will be viewing) between the years 1990 and 2005. Only seven of these movies were nearly gender-balanced, meaning that most of the movies’ main characters were males (http://www.feministfatale.com/2008/10/gender-socialization-in-the-media-from-childhood-to-adulthood/). Many girl/women characters in children’s movies exhibit stereotypical female traits, such as being thin, pretty, and seeking a relationship with a man.  What does this convey to our children? Are girls raised to believe that they are less important or in a position of less power than males?  It is things like this, along with body image messages, that can push so many women to extremes to feel beautiful and thin.  How would our world be different if our society did not reinforce these gender stereotypes? No one will ever know this for sure, but attaching stereotypes to any group of people always leads to some sort of negative outcome.  In this case, the subordination of women and the pressures on them to be beautiful can have destructive consequences in many individual lives.

Beauty Pageants for Children?

The hit reality show, Toddlers & Tiaras, first premiered on The Learning Channel (TLC) in 2009.  It features little girls competing in beauty pageants and their – usually – obnoxious mothers taking the whole affair quite seriously.  These moms take many lengths to ensure their daughter’s success in these judgmental competitions.  They spend more money than they can probably afford on outfits, make-up, hair products and training….all for little girls.  When they are dressed up in their pageant wear, I personally think they’re scary to look at.  They look much older than is natural.  Who decided a toddler should wear cosmetics?

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There have been many controversies on the show since it has aired.  The article below lists five of the most talked about scandals, all involving what the mothers of these girls pushed them to do for the sake of winning pageants. One mom thought it would be a “cute” idea to have her daughter fake smoking a candy cigarette during the talent portion while doing a dance from Grease.  Another placed padding in her daughter’s outfit to create the effect of big breasts and a big butt, because she was supposed to be portraying Dolly Parton. The article also speculates whether or not it’s physical abuse to have a child’s eyebrows waxed against their will.  Many toddlers featured on the show cry when it’s time to go through this painful procedure.  It may not be that much to handle for an adult, but I would imagine it would feel more intensified if I was only four years old.

http://www.businessinsider.com/toddlers-and-tiaras-controversies-2012-9

The main question we must ask about this show, even if produced largely for comedic effect, is how it is affecting the children who are raised in such an environment.  These toddlers are given unhealthy, huge self-esteem boosts from a young age, and are taught that looks mean everything.  They are then continuously judged on their looks in these “beauty pageants.”  This is just an additional factor contributing to the instability of female body images.  In my opinion, our society needs to begin putting less emphasis on the importance of appearance, and one of the first steps would be to stop integrating children into this lifestyle at such an early age (and also not make these kind of shows).

“Heroin Chic”

The term “Heroin chic” was coined in the 90s, when the fashion industry liked models that looked drug-addict thin with pale skin and dark circles underneath their eyes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin_chic).  The most famous model that embodied this look was Kate Moss. But is “heroin chic” a passing trend, or is it still a desired look in fashion today? In the following article, Cara Dorris argues that it is. She talks of the ridiculous diets of models, such as Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima. Two weeks before shows, she would only consume liquids. The day before, she wouldn’t even drink anything.  

Dorris also talks about the new trends she sees emerging on college campuses. Many women continue to go for a stick-thin figure that’s unattainable without an unhealthy lifestyle. She brings up how recently,  a young Australian male model, Andrej Pejic, has had a lot of success modeling women’s clothes due to his child-like, thin body. There is something wrong when the desired body for female models can be found in a very young, skinny male model. It’s quite ironic, because it is physically impossible for women to have such a curve-less and thin body without taking extreme and dangerous measures. Since standards are set impossibly high, Dorris argues that the look of being heroin chic has returned. This topic is something that needs to be looked at due to the fact that women will continue to take drastic measures to make their bodies good enough for the fashion industry. We can’t forget that whatever these models do will also influence young girls all around the world.

http://www.browndailyherald.com/2012/04/19/dorris-15-heroin-chic-is-back/

Cocaine for Lunch

It’s been known that many fashion models have used cocaine in order to suppress their appetite and to have enough energy to work all day on a voluntarily empty stomach. This could be considered “old news” due to the fact that this article is from several years ago, but the issue is still occurring today. Cocaine hasn’t been erased from existence, and neither have expectations for models to be exceptionally thin. The use of this addicting drug (and others) has been widely accepted in the fashion industry and in some cases probably encouraged. A British model, Lucy Clarkson, revealed her first-hand experiences with these practices. She confirmed that there was widespread use of cocaine among everyone backstage during photo shoots or runway shows, and even told of a time when it was being served on a silver platter at a London Fashion Week event (http://drugnewsvault.blogspot.com/2005/10/cocaine-catwalk.html). When these women notice that the drug keeps them thin and awake, they probably become quickly addicted to it, mentally and physically.

Many people remember when controversial pictures of the famous English model, Kate Moss, snorting cocaine were publicized in 2005. Many of the contracts she had with major companies, such as Dior, were unaffected by this incident. It seems as if they simply turned a blind eye to the matter, or perhaps they were cocaine users themselves. Dior even had a perfume named “Addict” (http://www.cocaine.org/misc/catwalk.html). What kind of example does this set for other models and young girls? It is so easy for them to start a dangerous habit, although the habit definitely does not come without consequences.  Kate Moss’s frequent partying and clear eating disorder has certainly had a toll on her appearance throughout the years. If you’re curious, the website below features pictures of her from each year during 1991-2011.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1393763/Kate-Moss-The-effect-20-years-drink-drugs-partying.html

Disney Princesses

As a little girl, it is nearly impossible not to look up to the glorified Disney Princesses such as Cinderella and Belle. They were smart, kind, talented, and above all – good looking.  You can’t miss their cute faces, lean bodies, thin arms and legs, tiny waists, and big boobs. The movies sometimes correlate success to attractiveness, like in Beauty and the Beast when Gaston says that Belle is the best girl in the town based on the fact that she’s the most beautiful one (http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/blogs/nurture-shock/2009/12/01/do-disney-princesses-make-young-girls-obsessed-with-thinness.html) .

The author of the article from the previous link, Po Bronson, noticed these trends as well and wondered if they were affecting his young daughter. She had often expressed concerns about her appearance. He describes a study that found that most girls don’t really start correlating body image messages from the media until about age seven, but after that age they become very susceptible. It is easy to see how a child would compare a princess’ body to their own and feel like they need to be skinnier. In the study, 121 girls from the ages of three to six were shown pictures of ballerinas of varying weights and were asked to select which one was the “real princess”. Fifty percent of them chose the thinnest ballerina, and a very small percentage chose the heaviest.

It’s obvious that these cartoon depictions of princesses portray complete perfection. These animated women are flawless. They must have pretty rigid diet and exercise schedules! If the animators knew that these women would be shown to millions of little girls, then why would they draw them all this way? Is this the ideal woman we need our children to one day embody? The animators may not have thought of the unintended consequences of drawing fictional princesses in this manner, but they are definitely present in our society. All women these days hope to be a little thinner, or at least would want to change their appearance in some way. 

How can we live up to fake standards?

It seems to be common knowledge that photos of models in advertisements and magazines are edited, but who decided that creating a perfect, fake, and unattainable body through technology was a good idea? Why would we set impossible standards for everyone? Obviously the women in these images with their flawless skin, hair, and bodies are not real.  The effects of these fake women on real women are definitely something our society needs to look at. The following article describes a study done in the UK that surveyed 517 women from ages 16-54. They found that 53 percent of these women were often concerned that they look heavy.  Even though this survey was done on a small scale, I’m sure many studies like it have been repeated and have found the same results.

http://www.channel4.com/4beauty/wellbeing/body-confidence/why-its-time-to-stop-the-airbrushing

Another disturbing fact is that the former Cosmopolitan editor Leah Hardy has admitted to editing photos of anorexic models to make them look healthier than they actually are. In my opinion, this only enables these women to continue their self-harm, because they’re still technically getting paid for being abnormally thin.  As cleverly stated at the end of this article, “advertisers are selling people insecurity”.