September 1, 2010
While women have made significant strides in the past decades, the culture at large continues to place a great emphasis on how women look. These beauty standards, largely proliferated through the media, have drastic impacts on young women and their body images. Arielle Cutler ’11, through a Levitt grant, spent the summer evaluating the efficacy of media literacy programs as a remedy to this vicious cycle.
Put simply, the beauty ideal in American culture is: thin. “Large populations of ‘average’ girls do not demonstrate clinically diagnosable eating disorders—pathologies that the culture marks as extreme and unhealthy—but rather an entirely normative obsession with body shape and size,” Cutler said. “This ongoing concern is accepted as a completely normal and even inevitable part of being a modern girl. I think we need to change that.”
Anyone who is familiar with American culture knows that many of these cultural standards are established in the media. “We are constantly surrounded by all sorts of media and we construct our identities in part through media images we see,” Cutler remarked. And the more girls are exposed to thin-ideal kinds of media, the more they are dissatisfied with their bodies and with themselves overall.
The correlation between media image and body image has been proven; in one study, among European American and African American girls ages 7 - 12, greater overall television exposure predicted both a thinner ideal adult body shape and a higher level of disordered eating one year later. Adolescent girls are the most strongly affected demographic; “More and more 12-year-old girls are going on diets because they believe what you weigh determines your worth,” Cutler observed. “When all you see is a body type that only two percent of the population has, it’s difficult to remember what’s real and what’s reasonable to expect of yourself and everyone else.”
As women have...