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, this is definitely not the case. They explain that thin women earn more in their careers (in fashion and TV), but a recent study 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 breasts and a normal layer of fat are normally more fertile. It indicates to men that they are healthy, real and able to bear children.
These are important facts to keep in mind, because the media’s portrayal of the ideal body has become 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 industries? Is the goal to portray something perfect and unattainable, or to put everyone else down? To make models appear out of reach, glamorous and larger-than-life to motivate people to spend more money?
No one can answer these questions definitively, and 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 cannot be seen through a body, face or fashionable outfit.
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. Women are more inclined to focus more on intelligence, personality and emotional expressiveness (http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/berscheid_attract.html).
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 (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.
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?
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 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 at only four years old.
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).