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American Ideas of Attractiveness Seen in Media


Even as early as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, people have recognized that there is a strong link between the individual’s inner sense The idea that individual identity and external influences, primarily as they are reflected in the popular opinion or media of the age, are intimately linked emerged as early as Plato.

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In his argument against the media of his time, “He [Plato] is asserting, though without filling out the psychological mechanisms in the detail for which one would wish, that from childhood up, mimesis shapes our images and our fantasies, our unconscious or semi-conscious pictures and feelings, and thereby shapes our characters, especially that part of our nature prone to what he thinks of as irrational or non-rational” (Griswold, 2003).

The stories and images people receive from the world around them teach them the measuring stick by which they will judge themselves now and in the future. “For the child is unable to discriminate between what is allegorical and what is not; whatever he receives and believes at that early age is apt to become permanent and indelible” (Plato, p. 36, 378). Other philosophers such as Charles Cooley have said, “Our sense of ourselves…is formed by our imagination of the way we appear in the eyes of others. Other people are a looking glass in which we see not merely our own reflection but a judgment about the value of that reflection.” Most people today tend to judge themselves based on what they see in the film media.

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This world of the film media depends to a great degree on advertisement money, but these advertisers will only continue to invest in that media channel for as long as they are selling their products. One very effective means of selling a product is to make sure that there will always be a need for that product. The cosmetics industries have done this by encouraging media outlets to idealize an impossible standard of beauty for most women, thus setting a standard that ensures they will always have a market for their product.

“Women are sold to the diet industry by the magazines we read and the television programs we watch, almost all of which make us feel anxious about our weight” (Jean Kilbourne, media activist, cited in “Beauty and Body Image”, 2009). This begins when the media projects images of women as “impossibly thin models [which] overwhelm today’s teenage girls. Unbelievably, most models are thinner than 98 percent of American girls and women” (Bartell, 2008).

These images that give girls their idea of what they’re supposed to look like also feeds the rest of society’s ideas of what they should look like and if they don’t, they are encouraged to do whatever it takes to get them there. “Women’s magazines have ten and one-half times more ads and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines do, and over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance – by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery” (“Beauty and Body Image”, 2009). The problem with the standards being set is that the 98% of girls and women who do not meet the ideals often develop serious, sometimes life-threatening physical and psychological effects.

The studies that have been conducted regarding the reasons why so many young girls have fallen victim to eating disorders and other dangerous conditions have revealed a definitive link between the images they see in the media and how they view themselves. “Research indicates that exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked with depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls” (“Beauty and Body Image”, 2009).

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Further study has revealed that these girls often had mothers who contributed, usually unknowingly, to the problem. “Many mothers have their own unresolved issues about weight and body image that inadvertently interfere with their ability to help their daughters create a healthy sense of their own bodies” (Bartell, 2008). Issues of women attempting to live up to impossible standards as they are established in the media have been tracked through every living age group, appearing as early as kindergarten and progressing well into adulthood.

“One out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control – including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. The pressure to be thin is also affecting young girls: the Canadian Women’s Health Network warns that weight control measures are now being taken by girls as young as 5 and 6” (“Beauty and Body Image”, 2009). The depth and breadth of this proven cause for numerous female disorders proves that it is the media, not the women, defining the look of beauty.

Media affects the way we see the world by defining our social standards. This was recognized as early as Plato in his warnings regarding the dangers of the media. More recently, the link has been recognized as a mirror, supposedly reflecting back to us our opinions of ourselves. However, this is an image seen through dark glass at best. The images depicted in the media are influenced more by those who pay the light bills than those who merely enjoy the scenery and thus the images projected are closer to the ideals of these producers rather than the consumers. But this distinction is rarely made, as is seen in the case of the media’s influence on women.

Not only are women defining themselves according to the standards set by the media, but their attempt to meet these ideals is highly detrimental to their health and the health of their daughters. This is true regardless of the age group or education level.


Thus, even though we may not recognize ourselves in the images we see on TV, we want to be able to identify with what we understand is the social ideal and will do anything to achieve that. This proves that most people today tend to judge themselves based on what they see in the film media.

Works Cited

Bartell, Dr. Susan S. “Help Your Daughter Create a Healthy Body Image.” Focus Adolescent Services. (2008). Web.

“Beauty and Body Image in the Media.” Media Awareness Network. (2009). Web.

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Griswold, Charles. “Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2003). Web.

Plato. The Republic. A.D. Lindsay (Trans.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 360 BC (1992).

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"American Ideas of Attractiveness Seen in Media." StudyCorgi, 29 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "American Ideas of Attractiveness Seen in Media." October 29, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "American Ideas of Attractiveness Seen in Media." October 29, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "American Ideas of Attractiveness Seen in Media." October 29, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'American Ideas of Attractiveness Seen in Media'. 29 October.

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