Media and Body Image

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How do the media influence females?
Images of female bodies are everywhere. Women, and their bodies, sell everything from food to cars. Women's magazines are full of articles urging women to fit a certain mold. While standing in a grocery store line you can see all different magazines promoting fashion, weight loss, and the latest diet. Although the magazines differ, they all seemingly convey the same idea: if you have the perfect body image you can have it all…the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex, and a rewarding career. The media, whether TV, print, or Internet advertising, seems to play a huge role in influencing women of all ages; from adolescence and teens, to women in their twenties and thirties, as well as menopausal and post-menopausal women. Of course, American females take the information differently depending on age, life experiences, and where they are in their lives. Today we will examine the influence the media (TV, print, the Internet, and advertising) has on the American female's feelings toward her place in society, as well as her sexuality, self-esteem and body image, and physical health.

The media is a pervasive and ever present entity in the lives of Americans. It has a strong influence on females and seems to bring meaning to their everyday lives. Social Comparison Theory posits that "people will (at some point in their lives) compare themselves and significant others to people and images whom they perceive to represent realistic goals to attain" (2005). We look to the media to help us explain the world around us. Without always knowing it, we make automatic comparisons of ourselves and situations in our lives after seeing images either on TV or in magazines. Then we are motivated to attain these goals and expectations the world has now put on us.

The media has been selling what women should look like for many years. In the 1890's the look of the day for women was a plump body and pale complexion, which represented wealth and an abundance of food and a refined indoor lifestyle. Once we hit the 1900's, women's magazines were going for the corseted, hour-glass look. Then in the 1920's, the flat-chested, slim-hipped flapper became vogue. During the 50's and 60's it was the sultry, full-figured shape of Marilyn Monroe that graced the magazines. In the 70's and 80's, the taller, thinner look, with no visible body fat and highly toned muscles were promoted in the media. The early 90's were full of waif-like figures such as Kate Moss, as well as the youthful preteen look in adult women. The late 90's was the time of narrow hips and large breasts, which were a rare combination without the help of breast implants.

Today's mass media presents thousands of images and messages daily that portray the "ideal" body image. This marketing technique not only pushes the "ideal" female body to the forefront of society, but it also identifies and defines this body type. Look at any cover of Cosmopolitan or Shape magazine and you will see a picture of a beautiful woman with an "in-shape" body, flawless complexion, perfectly done make-up, no wrinkles, etc. Why do you think that is? The beauty sector is a multibillion dollar a year industry. Companies such as Revlon, Cover Girl, Maybelline, and L'Oreal are concerned with the bottom line, and to sell their beauty products they imply that females should use these products to improve their looks and enhance their sexuality. These magazines appear to be saying to American females that if they are to be beautiful and appealing, they should emulate the beauty of the airbrushed pictures of models in the magazines and they must use the products that are being featured in the advertisements. This premise is further portrayed or expounded throughout women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Good Housekeeping. These magazines did not contain any articles entitled "Big is Beautiful" or "Flab is Fabulous." Is it possible to be...
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