The Gradual Rebellion: Changing the Media for the Sake of Female Body Image

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In a nation where 80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies and the “ideal” supermodel weighs 23 percent less than the average woman, the media somehow remains unresponsive, refusing to change trends and encourage a healthier female population.

Model Alliance conducted a survey in 2012 that revealed 31 percent of models suffer from eating disorders and 64 percent have been asked by their agencies to lose weight. These statistics become increasingly alarming when you consider NYC Girl’s Project conducted a survey in 2010 that found that 60 percent of girls compare themselves to models in magazines and in the media.

Women striving for the “perfect body” is not a recent development, and the burning desire for chicken legs and prominent collar bones has been decades in the making. The ideal figure shrunk throughout the twentieth century–beginning with a Marilyn Monroe bang in the 1950s, staying strong with a 1970s Farrah Fawcett-toned build, and finishing not-so-strong with Kate Moss’ bony frame in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, the 1990s anti-fat fad has been the most persistent trend. Today, a size 6 is considered plus-size, which is mentally and emotionally jarring for the half of US women who wear size 14 and up.

Younger females, whose sizes are not yet categorized outside the realms of adjectives–‘small,’ ‘medium,’ ‘large’–are equally affected by the thinness of models in the media.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 81 percent of ten-year-old girls are afraid of being ‘fat’ and 42 percent of first to third graders are aiming to lose weight. Teen magazine supports these findings, revealing that 35 percent of 6 to twelve year old girls have been on at least one diet.

Prepubescent girls aren’t the only demographic that is inappropriately influenced.

“As a college athlete,” said Jessica Harris, sophomore school record holder of several track events at the University of Notre Dame, “I’m supposed to be built differently–stronger, more muscular. I need more shape to be powerful enough to run the events that I do. For some reason, women portrayed in the media who are skinnier and leaner than I am are who form my conception of the ‘perfect’ female body–not those women who are fast, strong and fit, as I intend to be.”

The positive correlation between unsatisfactory body perception and the persistence of unnaturally thin models in the media is undeniable. In Harris’ case, she is an elite Division 1 athlete, a member of a group that is arguably the least likely to worry about their general fitness or body type. However, increased media exposure changes the way a person sees the world, no matter their age or body type.

Both human nature and the media are at fault. However, fundamentally changing human nature in a matter of months or years is considerably more difficult than changing a current trend or the front cover of a magazine.

This need for change in the media is only recognized by its victims. NYC Girl’s Project reported that 81 percent of girls want to see realistic pictures of women in magazines, but the sad reality is that 31 percent of girls are also starving themselves in hopes of achieving the frighteningly thin status of current models.

According to a 2013 One Poll survey, 33 percent of women reported that the ideal body type displayed in the media appeared “not possible to achieve.” For the 15 percent of the eighteen to twenty-four year old women surveyed who thought women were untouched in advertisements and media images, the example of perfection seems even more unattainable.

The steps to fix such standards are slowly unfolding.

Photoshop is not only highly prevalent, existing in nearly every magazine image, but is also highly damaging to a woman’s self-esteem. Most magazine publications are not looking to change the faces in their pages, but a few organizations have.

Seventeen Magazine, Modcloth, Aerie and Darling Magazine are four companies with the admirable audacity to brand themselves without digital editing. Models are displayed in their natural glamour, untouched and untainted by CGI.

Britney Spears famously revealed untouched photos of herself back in 2010, followed in suit by other female celebrities.

A 2014 Time Magazine article listed eight major celebrities who advocated for healthy–and honest–body images. From Jamie Lee Curtis, the original heartthrob, to Gisele Bundchen, one of the world’s leading supermodels, the list contains impressive, beautiful women who spoke out and acted personally against the media for the sake of natural beauty.

Kiera Knightley posed topless on the November 2014 issue of Interview magazine to protest her previously photoshopped breasts. Lady Gaga bashed Glamour magazine’s digital edits of her cover photo at the Glamour Woman of the Year Awards. In early November, A-List actress Zendaya posted untouched photos of herself after seeing the edited versions published with unrealistic manipulations of her hips and torso.

Celebrities have taken action against the monopoly of CGI and dishonest editing. The less credibility the media can preserve, the more likely they will be to display healthier images.

Campaigns such as the Dove Self-Esteem Project and NYC Girl’s Issues also strive to solve body image and confidence issues for women on a larger scale, in hopes of showing women how beautiful each individual is. The road to redeemed confidence will most likely be a drawn-out battle, but one worth fighting for.

I am a student, track-athlete and writer originally from Seattle, WA. A sophomore majoring in Business with a minor in Journalism at the University of Notre Dame.

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