Beauty is a social construction.

I’ve written about this subject matter before but, as many of you may know by now, I don’t ever consider this to be a valid reason as to not discussing it here again. Body image is an issue that men and women from around the globe deal with on a daily basis.

There are statistics that show that insecurity regarding body image is still, arguably more now than ever before, a burning issue within society. The construction of beauty that is established and distributed by the media is adopted and promoted so easily – too easily – by the society in which we live in. This beauty standard is creating insecurities and leading to low self-esteem and various mental disorders. Yet, we still conform to it.

In a survey of girls between the ages of nine and ten, 40% have admitted to trying to lose weight, according to an ongoing study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. [Source] One study reports that, at age thirteen, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies” and this statistic grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen. [Source]

Victoria Secret's
Victoria Secret’s “The Perfect Body” Campaign // Note the lack of ethnic diversity or variety in body shapes and sizes.

I attribute the majority, if not all, of the damage of these beauty conventions to the media. The media, in particular magazines, are renowned for creating unrealistic beauty expectations. The media depicts to it’s audience what “beautiful” is equivalent to and, more often that not, this standard of beauty requires a woman to be young, slim, and white. Described most popularly within The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, Wolf suggests that images used by the media present a particular beauty ideal which women must aspire to and men must desire.

1017922525_orig_gandyminiBut woman aren’t the only people to feel the pressure of the media in terms of their appearance. For decades, the media has distributed propaganda that leads men into the mindset that they must appear “masculine” (specifically, muscly and tall) in order to fulfill their purpose as a man. It ridicules the man who does meet such expectations and brands them, equally, as not being living up to the beauty ideal.

The most frustrating concept of this beauty construction is that, it’s just that – constructed. Magazines and advertising companies are renowned for airbrushing blemishes and warping bodies to conform to the beauty ideal to the point that it’s so impossible to achieve because it’s fabricated itself.

In 1996 a study found that the amount of time an adolescent watches soaps, movies, and music videos can be associated with their degree of body dissatisfaction and their desire to be thinner. [Source] This alone is adequate evident as to how the media negatively influences people’s perceptions of their own beauty and lowers their self esteem.

One in every three (37%) articles in leading magazines targeted at teenage girls include a focus on appearance, and most of their advertisements (50%) use an appeal to beauty to sell their products. [Source] It is interesting to also note that the majority of models – people widely perceived as being “beautiful” – across media platforms, but specifically in magazines, are white. This sorely under represents other races and disallows people to be able to relate to a figure associated with beauty.

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This issue can, and does, affect people to the lengths of developing mental disorders and eating disorders. This is evidence that the beauty ideal is detrimental to our health. Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that eating disorders affect more than five million Americans each year.
  • It is estimated that one thousand women die each year of anorexia nervosa.
  • One in ten college women suffer from a clinical (or nearly clinical) eating disorder, including the 5.1% who suffer from bulimia nervosa.
  • Approximately 5% of adolescent and adult women and 1% of men have anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.
  • Sudies indicate that, by their first year of college. 4.5 to 18% of women and 0.4% of men have a history of bulimia and that as many as 1 in 100 females between the ages of 12 and 18 have anorexia.
  • Eating disorders usually start in the teens but may begin as early as age eight.
  • Statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics show that “anorexia” or “anorexia nervosa” was the underlying cause of death noted on 101 death certificates in 1995 and was mentioned as one of multiple causes of death on another 2,675 death certificates.

Sources: Teen Health and the Media, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, National Center for Health Statistics

If there’s something as a society that we have to stop doing, it’s listening to the media’s dictation of how we’re “supposed” to look. Please watch the video embedded within this post if you haven’t done so already. It really recognises the corruption of the media and “beauty industry” and the negative affects this has on men and women across the world. Likewise, if you haven’t already given my post “Wearing Your Own Skin” a read, you should take a look to find out more information regarding this issue and causes that aim to solve it.

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SJ

Blogging since '12.

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