The Ideal

The media portrays the ideal woman as being both thin and curvy. She is usually white, and appears to be upper/middle class. She is portrayed as happy, energetic, and carefree. She generally has evenly tanned skin, bright eyes and a white smile. Her hair is shiny and styled perfectly. Each day, Americans are exposed to nearly 247 commercial advertisements. Through these advertisements, women view images which they consider to be perfection. Hayden-Cosmopolitan-Cover.jpg These images of thin, beautiful women are portrayed to women in all different ways: through magazine covers while they are standing in line at the grocery store, through television soap operas they tune in to in the afternoon, and through Victoria's Secret and other clothing commercials that they witness mindlessly while flipping through channels. This "ideal" image is truthfully only held by 5% of women, however this is almost impossible for women to believe because they are exposed to it so much each day. The media makes women believe that if they could just lose that last twenty pounds, they would have it all: the perfect marriage, beautiful, loving children, great sex, and a successful, fulfilling career. When women fail to achieve the ideal 5'9", 100 pounds they are likely to feel sad, disappointed, and ashamed of their bodies. Moreover, women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy beauty products, fashion magazines and have plastic surgery. Clearly, this feeds into the cycle.Eating disorders have become so common with famous dancers and models that they have become glamorized for many. People are starving to death to be thin.

How Does the Media Effect Women's Body Image?

The media sets unrealistic standards for what body weight and appearance is considered “normal.” Girls are indoctrinated at a very young age that Barbie is how a woman is supposed to look. These body ideals are reinforced every day on TV shows, movies, magazine covers, and even video games. And the media’s portrayal of what is “normal” keeps getting thinner and thinner for women. Twenty-five years ago, the average female model weighed 8% less than the average American woman. Currently, the average female model weighs 23% below her average weight.

Why Are Standards of Beauty Being Imposed On Women?

The roots, some analysts say, are economic. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. On the other hand, research indicates that exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls.

Startling Facts

  • A newborn begins immediately to explore what her body feels like and can do. This process continues her whole life.
  • Weight control measures are now being taken by girls as young as 5 and 6.
  • A pre-adolescent becomes increasingly aware of what society's standards are for the "ideal body."
  • Two out of three women would trade three to five years of their life to achieve their weight goals.
  • After viewing images of female fashion models, seven out of ten women felt more depressed and angry.
  • Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.
  • The average US woman is 5'4" and 140 pounds. The average US model is 5'11" and 117 pounds.
  • More than 80% of fourth grade girls have been on a fad diet.
  • One out of four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control--including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting.

Why We Want It, and Why We Can't Have It

Many women expect numerous benefits, as a result of achieving this ideal. They associate a "beautiful" body as one that will bring popularity, success, and a better life in general, as this is the way it is portrayed in the media. What many do not realize, is that often they are struggling to achieve a nonexistent reality. Skinny with just the right amount of curve is simply unattainable without unhealthy and/or unnatural practices. ​Many women attempting to lose weight practice risky diet methods which include fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse and self-induced vomiting. Other methods of trying to acheive "perfection" include botox, liposuction and implants.

marisa_miller_hfs.jpg MADONNA-PHOTOSHOP.jpg

Furthermore, the images women are exposed to are, more often than not, retouched, by use of airbrushing and other post-production techniques. In this digital world, love handles can be erased, eyes enlarged, curves enhanced, and skin tone smoothed. Even animations of the female body, are sometimes clearly distorted, such as in the Steve Madden ad below. This further exhibits the fact that the "right" look is simply an illusion created by the media.


Read about Jessica Alba's body image , as well as other celebrities' views.

Women can be fooled in other ways. For example, a L'Oreal ad for mascara featured Penelope Cruz and promised "up to 60 percent longer lashes." What the advertisement failed to acknowledge was the fact that she was wearing fake lashes.
Advertisers constantly convince women that they need to look younger and thinner, and lure them into buying products or participating in diets that promise these achievments. Often these options are failures, and they can be harmful.

The Neckline Slimmer is a clear example of a product that cannot possibly yield its intended effect. Another product on the market, diet pills, not only falls short of its promise, but can be both addictive and dangerous. They can cause heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia. Research also indicates a link between diet pills and heart disease, raised blood pressure, and in some cases, death. Despite the facts, women, desperate to achieve the ideal, continue to buy the products. Read the story of a young women who, after reading a magazine article acknowledging Britney Spears' use of diet pills, chose to emulate this behavior and nearly died.

Eating disorders are on the rise, largely because of this ideal. Women will go to extremes to try to acheive the "perfect" body. Eating disorders are much more extreme than diets. When anorexia.jpgsomeone has an eating disorder, they are trying to make their life better through food. They are looking to have approval of the way they look from everyone around them. Their entire self esteem is hinged on what they weigh and how their body looks. They are convinced that their lives will not be good until they can lose that weight. Clearly, this correlates with the way the media makes us believe that the women in ads and on televison have the perfect lives because of they way they look. It is easy to see how the media can make women feel insecure and have low self esteem. The media makes women feel that if they are not a size two, they are simply not good enough. It is this feeling that can lead women to extreme dieting and ultimately can lead them to having an eating disorder.

Is the “Ideal Body” Really the Key to Health, Success, Beauty, & Happiness?

Weight isn’t the best indicator of health and fitness. One's eating habits, exercise patterns, and metabolic measures (like blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose levels) are more important indicators of your health. And, your fitness level is better measured by your cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and flexibility--not by your weight and body fat. While body size and shape certainly contribute to physical attractiveness, they are not the only factors, and they certainly are not the most important ones! How one present oneself in social settings also plays a big role. Weight is not the problem, and dieting is not the answer. True happiness comes from within. It comes from nurturing your soul and spirit with healthy relationships, communication, boundary setting, and relaxation.

What can We Do to Fix the Problem, and Improve Our Body Image?

It is extremely important for women of all ages to realize the negative effects of the media, however it is particularly important for young girls to be aware of these issues. Today, girls are growing up in a world where being overweight is simply unacceptable, however the obesity rate continues to rise. It is important for girls to be healthy and take care of their bodies, as well as their minds. Young girls need to be critical of the media, instead of being critical of themselves. They need to be taught that models and actresses do not always acheive their "perfect" bodies by means of healthy dieting. As a society, we need to be more aware of the fact that the images we are fed every single day are idealistic and impossible for the average woman to acheive. By adopting this attitude toward the media, we will become better at educating the youth.
It is important for women to be aware of the every day behaviors they can practice in order to help look and feel their best, for example:

• De-emphasize weight.
• Stop comparing oneself to others.
• Move and enjoy one's body, while maintaining healthy habits, such as:
  1. A full night of sleep is helpful to manage stress.
  2. Staying active and working out can help self esteem and make women feel healthy and good about themselves
  3. A well balanced diet can help hair and skin look its best
• Surround oneself with people who have a healthy relationship with food, weight, and their bodies.
• Stop one's negative thoughts and statements about oneself.
• Broaden one's perspective.

Annotated Bibliography:

"Beauty and Body Image in the Media." Media Awareness Network. Media Awareness Network, Web. 27 Oct 2009.
This website provided information about how the media influences women to lose weight. It centers on the belief that if women can lose the extra weight they have, their lives will be perfect. It also discusses unhealthy dieting methods, which we included in our page.

“Body Image: Loving Your Body Inside and Out.” Women’s Health. 22 Sep 2009.
This website contains basic information about body image. It defines positive and negative body image, and identifies the pressures that lead to the negative side. It includes a list of healthy tips to improving the body in order to improve body image. There are also links to related websites, such as the National Eating Disorders Association, and “Ten ‘Will-Powers’ for Improving Body Image.”

"Body Image." Web. 28 Oct. 2009.
This website provides reveals why so many people feel unhappy with their bodies. It discusses what factors influence our body image, whether or not it's possible to achieve the "ideal body," and it provides some methods that we can do to improve our body image.

Botta, Renee A. "Television images and Adolescent Girls' Body Image Disturbance." Wiley Interscience. Oct. 4,2009.
This article examines individual difference and social factors in moderating the effects of media images on women’s body satisfaction. Results underscored the importance of individual differences. When exposed to ideal images, thinner women more positively evaluated their sexual attractiveness, while heavier women reported more negative self-evaluations. Compared to low self-monitors, high self-monitors who were exposed to ideal images were more positive about their physical condition. The findings demonstrate that media images do not similarly affect all women’s body esteem.

Brooks, Karen. "All a Matter of Image." Courier Mail 08 Oct 2008: 31.
This article mentions the wide range of advertisements used to display the emulated body image for women. It illustrates the existing contradiction that many women are both satisfied with the typical image displayed, but also want to believe every woman has imperfections. It states that the solution to the problem exists not simply in regulation, but deeper in the culture.

Cogan, Judy. “I Wanted to be a Thin Popstar, But ‘Diet’ Pills Nearly Killed Me.” The
Sun. 24 Nov 2008. Web. 26 Oct 2009.
This article indicates that fact that women continue to buy diet pills despite the dangers, in an effort to achieve the thin feminine ideal. It explains that these pills can be addictive, as well as cause heart palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, heart disease, raised blood pressure, and death. It also tells the first-hand story of a woman's near-death experience related to diet pills, and states directly that she was influenced by the media to take the pills.

"Eating Disorder or Diet." Something Fishy. Something Fishy, Web. 27 Oct 2009.
This website provided information about eating disorders. By clarifying what is an eating disorder and what is a diet, this website helped us discuss what eating disorders really are and how they affect women's lives.

"Fact Sheet: Advertising and Health." Love Your Body. National Organization for Women, Web. 27 Oct 2009.
This article also provided us with simple facts and statistics for our page.

Hargreaves, Duane A., and Marika Tiggemann. “Idealized Media Images and Adolescent Body Image: “Comparing” Boys and Girls.” Science Direct. 06 Oct 2004. 4 Oct 2009.
The article aimed to examine the effect of exposure to images of idealized beauty in the media on adolescent girls’ and boys’ body image. The results suggest the immediate impact of the media on body image is both stronger and more normative for girls than for boys, but that some boys may also be affected.

King-Henderson, Earron,and Donna King-Henderson. "Media Effects on Women’s Body Esteem: Social and Individual Difference Factors" Wiley Interscience. May 27, 1997.
The article aimed to examine the effect of exposure to images of idealized beauty in the media on adolescent girls’ and boys’ body image. The results suggest the immediate impact of the media on body image is both stronger and more normative for girls than for boys, but that some boys may also be affected.

Pfanner, Eric. “Lifting the Veil of Mere Pixel Perfection.” New York Times 27 Sep 2009.
This article addresses the issue of retouching photographs. The effects on women are discussed in brief. The focus is on the effort to make people aware of the retouching, and the measures that are being taken to reach this goal.

Walliker, Annalise. "Youth Stressing About Looks; Body Image Blues." Herald Sun
04 Dec 2007, First Edition.: 9.
This article addresses the fact that body image effects youth of both sexes. It contains statistics that illustrate how young people rank body image among their worries. It suggests factors that may have led to this issue, including celebrity worship.

"Wellness - Body Image." University of Colorado at Boulder Student Wellness. Web. 27 Oct 2009.
This article provided us with facts and statistics to include in our page in the "Startling Facts" section.

Websites used for photos and videos: