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A young man in Hammond, Louisiana, walks down Highway 51, occasionally yanking on his pants to pull them up before they hit the ground. In New York City, a group of people in their thirties with children in Central Park take off their shirts to play some kickball, exposing full sleeves of ink down their arms. Colorado is home to Benjamin Baker, whose face is framed in tattoos and whose ears are gauged with huge holes. Waitresses in small town America come to work in full makeup, complete with contouring and highlighting to accentuate their good features and to play down their bad features.
Men try to pump up with protein powders to look like GI Joe, while women try to swallow that pink drink to look like Barbie. All ages and all over the United States, the same trends surface. The media and societal expectations significantly cause an effect an individual’s view on body image and influence efforts at body enhancement and modification.
The media dictates societal expectations by displaying publicly around the clock the desirable images for body images of skin perfection, piercings and . An individual’s view on body image in general, and his or her body image in particular, is affected. It is impossible for members of society to see these images and to resist comparisons. After reflection, the individual decides to conform to mainstream body images or to conform to nonconformity. Since people rarely measure up to the ideals portrayed on the screen or in the art forms, those who make commitments to duplicate the trending body image begin to work relentlessly at enhancing their perceived attributes or at modifying their perceived flaws into a state of perfection.
Skin, the largest body organ, gets much attention in the media and throughout society to be perfect. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in ‘The Birthmark,’ tackles the disastrous idea of allowing those around you to dictate your body image. Georgiana, in trying to please her scientist husband Aylmer, is willing to go to any lengths to be beautiful in his eyes, as she states, ‘Remove this little mark for the sake of your peace and my own (Hawthorne 2). Back in the society of the 1800s, some people think Georgiana’s birthmark is charming, while others think it is detrimental to her otherwise awesome looks. Georgiana dies in the process of trying to please others in appearance. Today, it is not a physical death, but certainly a kind of emotional death, to follow foolish models with no core of purpose in body image. Aylmer is prepared to ‘make this cheek as perfect as its pair,’ as many plastic surgeons, dentists, tattoo artists, fat doctors, and diet pill salesmen are today. Even eighty year olds are using micro-lasers and pro-fracturing to get their skin back to the suppleness of when they were much younger.
In the article, ‘The Body Piercing Project,’ by Josie Appleton, shares the wide appeal of skin modification as society embraces the body image concept, discussing the no-holds-barred attitude on tattoos and body piercing. Customers – some dressed in suits and some in jeans- simultaneously flip through the accessory catalogs, pondering their next modification. Teens and parents come together in London, as in other places all over the world, claiming individual fashion or mission statement, or membership to a certain society (Appleton 2). The dwindling of society’s values with spiritually-inclined heroes may be resulting in ‘a growing crisis in personal identity’ and a focus back to the body, according to Appleton (3). As Georgiana in ‘The Birthmark’ reminds, this crisis is not new.
Past the skin level, but still a body image issue is the effect of media and the expectations of society on body weight and physical attributes. Looking for peace in measuring up to the expectations of the American media, special diets to control weight, certain exercises to reduce body fat to a minimum, cosmetic surgery to fix features, and geriatric interventions for obesity are becoming the national consciousness. Doctors Jennifer Derenne and Eugene Beresin, in their article entitled ‘Body Image, Media, and Eating Disorders, share their concerns about not only obesity, but other eating disorders, based upon society’s acceptance of a sedentary lifestyle, even for children, and, simultaneously, the need to be thin to be considered attractive (257). This duality is a cause for both physical and mental health issues.
The unceasing media visual depictions of perfection and imploding, and, sometimes, contradictory, societal expectations profoundly affect the view of an individual on his or her own body image, influencing strongly the current body enhancement and modification efforts happening today. An old Mick Jagger song, ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,’ summarizes the follow. Mick croons, ‘And I tried, and I tried, and I tried, and I tried,’ with the same results – dissatisfaction. Peace is found at a place more than skin deep.
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