Women and Body Image

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Eleven million women in the United States suffer from eating disorders- either self-induced semi-starvation (anorexia nervosa) or a cycle of bingeing and purging with laxatives, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise (bulimia nervosa) (Dunn, 1992). Many eating disorder specialists agree that chronic dieting is a direct consequence of the social pressure on American females to achieve a nearly impossible thinness. The media has been denounced for upholding and perhaps even creating the emaciated standard of beauty by which females are taught from childhood to judge the worth of their own bodies (Stephens & Hill, 1994). To explore the broader context of this controversial issue, this paper draws upon several aspects on how the media influences young women's body image. This paper examines an exploration of the prevalence and the source of body dissatisfaction in American females and considers existing research that presents several important aspects regarding the nature of the connection between advertising and body dissatisfaction. From these distinctions, it will be shown that the media has a large impact on women's body image and that the cultural ideal of a thin body is detrimental to the American female's body perception that often results in poor eating pathologies. Body image can be defined as an individual's subjective concept of his or her physical appearance. Body image involves both a perceptual and attitudinal element. The self-perceptual component consists of what an individual sees or thinks in body size, shape, and appearance. A disturbance in the perceptual element of body image is generally reflected in a distorted perception of body size, shape, and appearance. The attitudinal component reflects how we feel about those attributes and how the feelings motivate certain behavior (Shaw & Waller, 1995). Disturbances in the attitudinal element usually result in dissatisfaction with body appearance (Monteath & McCabe, 1997). Perceptions about body images are shaped from a variety of experiences and begin to develop in early childhood. It has been shown that children learn to favor thin body shapes by the time they enter school (Cohn & Adler, 1992). Gustafson, Larsen, and Terry (1992) reported that 60.3 percent of fourth grade girls wanted to be thinner, and the desire for less body fat was significantly associated with an increase occurrence of weight-loss related behaviors. Overall body size and image concerns have been reported to be more prevalent among females than males. Gender related differences in acceptable body size are shaped from a variety of societal definitions of appealing shapes for males and females. Patterns of body dissatisfaction formed in childhood and adolescence persist into adulthood and are most prevalent in females. In their study, Fallon and Rozin (1985) reported that college women perceive their figure to be heavier than the figure they identified as the most attractive to themselves (Lavine, Sweeney, & Wagener, 1999). Females experience a large discrepancy with food. On one hand, food is depicted as a reward or indulgence, or as a way of socializing. On the other hand, women are supposed to be fit and thin, which is difficult to accomplish if females indulge in the large repertoire of food (Stuhldreher & William, 1999). The diet-obsessive mind of advertising in many women's magazines provides a sharp contrast to the hedonistic view toward food. In several magazines, even the food advertisements focus more on dieting than on quality of food. Thus there are clear and quite strict limits on the degree to which American females may attempt to satisfy their hedonistic impulses toward food (Lennon, Lillethun, & Backland, 1999). Societal standards of beauty change dramatically over time. Today the body ideal is to be thin. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century large women were thought of as the image of beauty. The body ideal in the 1920's was similar to that...
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