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The Unrealistic Nature of Media Images and Fighting Back

This guest post is brought to you by the lovely ladies from Beauty Redefined, and represents an extremely important of the body image conversation – media impact. Check these girls out, they are wonderful.

Think back to where you were in the year 2000. Pre-Botox. Pre-”Desperate Housewives.” Pre-Modern Barbie. Pre-”Extreme Makeover.” Pre-”Shedding for the Wedding.” Pre-Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on primetime TV. Even though it might seem like Y2K was just yesterday, our research shows us beauty looks a lot different than it did just a few years ago. Physical attributes that once represented extremes in female appearance are now the norm across all media, from extraordinary thinness and ageless faces to enhanced breasts and hair-free bodies.Across TV, film, print and advertising, images of women have morphed into a standard of beauty further from reality than anything we saw before 2000. When the only women we see in media are those who fit (or are digitally and surgically made to fit) media beauty ideals, that image becomes the standard in our minds. And that unattainable standard has become the norm across all media, from children’s TV to fitness magazines.  Of all the appearance extremes presented as normal, the thin ideal is the most pervasive. Media images of women today are thinner than past media images, much thinner than the actual female population, and often thinner than the criteria for extreme underweight.

If media wasn’t such a major force in our lives, these facts wouldn’t be nearly as scary. But consider this:
average Americans watch roughly a decade of TV by age 70, spend 4-6 hours per day online and see endless images from magazines and billboards, whether they want to or not. No wonder our ideas about beauty and health tend to reflect exactly what profit-driven media has been teaching us all these years.

We see a direct link between what is perceived as mindless entertainment and all-too-real consequences. In the last decade, body hatred has skyrocketed, with 90% of women claiming to be dissatisfied with what they see in the mirror. Think about it: as representations of women’s bodies have shrunk to a level of thinness and altered “perfection” never seen before, eating disorders have reached epidemic proportions. When asked their ideal body weight, 75 percent of women chose a number that was drastically underweight. Startlingly, two-thirds of adolescent girls wish they were thinner, though only 16 percent are actually overweight.When we don’t measure up to the standard of “normal” we see in billions of coherent media images, many of us will do whatever it takes to get there. And as companies conceive of more “flaws” for women to fix (thanks, Dove, for diagnosing my unsightly underarms!), they’re making bank off female insecurity. From “fitness” magazines to beauty and diet industries, major profit is gained by making appearance ideals look normal and attainable with the help of the right solutions. Since 2000, rates of cosmetic surgeries performed in the U.S. increased 446 percent to reach $12 billion in 2010, with 92 percent performed on women. Simultaneously, the weight loss industry is flourishing unlike ever before, with $61 billion spent on the quest for thinness in 2010 – more than twice as much as in 1992.

How do we fight back? By recognizing we’re in a fight, first off. And we truly are.

pink boxing glovesWhen we stop feeling inadequate and undesirable in comparison to unattainable ideals, and when we feel less inclined to obsess over appearance and compare ourselves to other women, we will be free to focus on … well, anything else. Maybe even truly meaningful and productive pursuits to benefit ourselves and the world around us. Self-obsession and preoccupation with beauty – though ideal for the $100 billion beauty and diet industries – are not conducive to real progress as individuals or as a culture.

This is a topic we must not stop talking about. We need to constantly point out the unrealistic nature of media images and talk to loved ones about re-thinking what beauty means. Our project, Beauty Redefined, offers practical strategies for both girls and women and boys and men to recognize and reject harmful messages about bodies. With awareness as a promising first step, we can learn to not only defend ourselves in the battle to define beauty, we can win the fight for girls and women everywhere.

Beauty Redefined is the work of Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite, 25-year-old identical twin sisters working on their PhDs in Communication at the University of Utah, studying representations of female bodies in media. They have a passion for helping females recognize and reject harmful messages about their bodies through continuous discussion about body image and media influence.

10 Comments to The Unrealistic Nature of Media Images and Fighting Back

  1. April 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I love this post. Everything these two write is gold. I just wrote a post last week about how I saw a movie and there were 3 girls in it that weren’t stick skinny. They were portrayed as fat, lazy, and butch. I went into a spiral thinking, “Is this what people think of me?” I got depressed and it took me a full day to come out of my body-hating mode. It makes me sad that the media is allowed to make jokes at a woman’s expense if she isn’t the “right” size. It makes me even sadder that we, as a society, have been trained to laugh at such a thing. My husband showed me Lindsay and Lexie’s work and it’s done such a good job of keeping my head where it should be and I’m really thankful for that.
    Kristie Bringhurst recently posted..Wednesday Pick- Me- UpMy Profile

    • May 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your thoughtful words, Kristie! If you’d like to email us about any of the positive changes you’ve experienced through our website or incorporating any of our strategies, we’d love to post it on our “There is hope!” page. Have a good day :)
      Lexie Kite recently posted..Billboard Beauty Redefined- Our Final 4 Messages!My Profile

  2. April 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    first off: that picture of barbie just blew my mind. not in a good way, but in a “holyshiticannotbelievethat!” kind of way.

    but what i really want to say is this…

    body image and the media are two of my most favorite topics to discuss, especially when paired together, like they are here. the statistics listed here sink my heart into my stomach. 90% of women loathing the image in the mirror? how do we see a number like this and shrug it off, simply accepting it as “a fact of life”? with numbers like that i agree whole heartedly — we CANNOT stop talking about the impact of media on body image.

    personally, i talk about it all the time. i’m pretty sure my friends and family want to shut me up at this point but it’s something i’m incredibly passionate about. about a year ago i stopped reading magazines (gossip magazines, women’s “health” magazines, cosmo, etc.) and turned off my cable. the influx of images stopped. as did the intensity of my self-loathing. with less to compare it to, i grew more comfortable with my image. regardless, i am just one person, and one who still struggles to accept her body.

    this phenomenon is real and it’s only continuing to spread. it’s time we start fighting back — truly!

    (whew, sorry, i just got really worked up for a second there. thanks for this guest post, mara. it was great!)
    zoe (and the beatles) recently posted..i’ll have the bagel with a side of intuition- pleaseMy Profile

  3. April 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I love this! It’s a bit scary though, that picture of Barbie. Part of me thinks that this culture will never change its values, which includes Botox and loads of other skinny crap, but if we all change ourselves on an INDIVIDUAL level, the more things will change. And much of this has to do with where we put our money: un-subscribing to magazines, not buying diet books, not shopping at certain stores. We have to work tirelessly, but in the end, it’s worth it.
    Hannah recently posted..Therapy Homework- Fear- Stomachs- and FriendsMy Profile

  4. April 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post! I also find the Barbie picture really upsetting in the sense that I feel like they tried to make her more realistic, in the sense that few people are simply built like the one at left and right is a way more realistic SHAPE. Not size, mind you, by any means, but shape. And that, I think is where they failed. OR I wish they had all sizes of Barbies. Like a skinny Barbie and a medium Barbie and a plus-size Barbie that all came in a package together.
    Vanessa recently posted..The Quarter Life CrisisMy Profile

  5. April 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I no longer buy magazines and I only watch netflix (no commercials!) so when I’m at someone’s house and consuming the “normal” amount of media I’m still surprised at how messed up with this world.

    I’m pretty happy with my body. I wish my tummy was flatter, but only because I know I’d feel better, not because I hate the way I look.

    I think it’s wonderful that you’re encouraging people to be mindful about media consumption. Especially because so much of our generation was literally raised by TV. But I don’t feel good about FIGHTING anything going on in the media because I really believe that what you resist persists. I’d rather spend my energy loving myself and my body and encouraging other people to do the same than hating the media. I would rather give my attention to the real, beautiful women that are out there, rather than more, negative attention to the fake images that we don’t want to deal with anymore.

    • May 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kylie! Thanks for your comments. I’m the author of this post and am actually on the exact same page as you. We fight against harmful, profit-driven ideals, which keep us from understanding and valuing reality – just like you are trying to do. My sister and I teach practical strategies for recognizing and rejecting harmful ideals so we can move on to anything and everything more important in our lives. If you read them, I think you’ll see that they can all be incorporated into a healthy, happy life in a way that isn’t perpetuating a “what you resist persists” type of event. You can find the strategies for women and a bunch for men to use at the bottom of the guest post. They work! Thanks for reading, commenting, and being committed to valuing real beauty instead of just profit-driven ideals!

  1. By on July 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm

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Welcome! I’m Mara.

I’m Mara Glatzel. I’m an intuitive coach and writer. I guide women home to themselves and teach them to create lives brimming with supreme self-care. read more
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