The media has clouded women’s perceptions in their body image by demonstrating the ‘ideal bodies’ on TV and magazines through print and film advertising, increasing the pressure for women and young girls to be ‘thin’, further leading to a more complex issue of Eating Disorders. Women who do not live up to societies expectations, and are suffocated with the phoney concept of the ‘ideal’ are treated with disregard and discrimination. For instance, Adrian Furnham and Nicola Greaves (1994) argue that the core of body image dissatisfaction is a discrepancy between a person’s perceived body and their ideal.
They further argue that a failure to match the ‘ideal’ leads to self- criticism, guilt and lowered self worth. This effect is stronger for women than for men due to the cultural pressures on women to conform to an idealised body shape are more powerful and more wide spread than those on men. Psychologists have suggested that the media can affect women’s body esteem by becoming a reference point against which unfavourable body shape comparisons are made (Grogan 1999).
These visions are then propagated through popular culture via television reality make over shows of re shaping the body, “ if films of body transformation provide the vision that inspires women to re- make their bodies, the cosmetic and “aesthetic medicine” industry sell them the equipment” (Fox-Kales, 2011, p. 74. ) Women are objectified by an unrealistic expectation of beauty, put forward by models and actresses who do not reflect the average appearance of women in society. Print advertising, in particular, provides a not only unrealistic, but unhealthy ideal of what it means to be physically attractive.
By these false images being presented, the media has created an ideology of attractiveness. Images have powerful effects on their readers, serving to maintain a ‘cult of femininity’ and supplying definitions of what it means to ‘be a woman’. Marjorie Ferguson (1985) investigated women’s magazines from a sociological perspective. She argued that women’s magazines contribute to the wider cultural process, which helps to shape a woman’s view of herself, and societies views of her.
The media is littered with mages of females who fulfill these unrealistic standards, making it seem as if it is normal for women to live up to this ideal. Dittmar and Howard (2004) made this statement regarding the prevalence of unrealistic media images: Ultra-thin models are so prominent that exposure to them becomes unavoidable and ‘chronic’, constantly reinforcing a discrepancy for most women and girls between their actual size and the ideal body (p. 478). Research has repeatedly shown that constant exposure to thin models and actresses fosters body image concerns and disordered eating in many females.
Eating Disorders are a direct result from the medias influence to look ‘thin’. Eating disorders theorists and feminist scholars have long indicated fashion magazines, movies, television, and advertising for their advocacy of disordered eating (Levine & Smolak, 1998). Media images of women make it difficult for individuals to hold an internalized ideal body that is realistic and attainable. With exposure to repeated images of ultra thin women, an individual’s internalized ideal body often becomes much thinner.
This increases the gap between what a person feels their physical appearance is, and what it should be. Researchers have found that women who have an internalized ideal body that closely resembles the socially represented ideal body are at a particularly high risk to develop body image disturbance and disordered eating patterns (Sands & Wardle, 2003). Naomi Wolf argues that our culture disempowers women by holding them prisoner to an unattainable beauty ideal (Wolf, 1990).
The epidemic proportions of drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction, and unsafe weight control methods among women have led theorists to posit the existence of mechanisms that are capable of reaching a large number of women (Levine & Smolak, 1998). Today’s expectations reveal that looks matter more than personality and intelligence as seen on various dating shows. It is universally agreed upon that people on these shows usually pick the best looking counterpart out of the group of contestants. Both men and women are concerned with appearance than personality on these types of programs.
This phenomenon is transferred into the job market, where people are now more prone to hire the more attractive candidate. Research has found that more attractive workers even receive higher compensation than unattractive counterparts even where they perform the same work and have similar levels of work experience. The media targets young women drilling thinness and having no flaws as the height of being beautiful. Now, with the common use of plastic surgery you can change your overall appearance. Plastic surgery has become a more than 8 billion a year industry” (Hess – Biber, 2005:96). Women feel they need to have the perfect nose, and cheek bones to fit in to the media’s criteria, in order to appear more attractive to the opposite sex. Therefore, it is evident that the media has played a significant role in ‘shaping women’s bodies’ to suit ‘societies expectations’ by showcasing the recurring idea to be ‘thin’. These ideas are brought upon through various television shows and magazines, which further stimulate eating disorders.