Body image issues have emerged as an important problem facing many women all over the world. Swami and Joanne-Marie document that women’s anxiety about their appearance has become a global phenomenon (152). This body issues have been caused by the society’s judgmental attitude towards women’s bodies. Young women are either criticized or praised for having a certain body type. The media has made the matter worse by presenting an image of the “perfect body”. Women, especially those in their youth, are made to believe that they have to achieve a certain body type in order to be considered beautiful. Fitness magazines, clothing lines and dietary supplements push women to the edge when it comes to achieving the ideal size for their body, not taking into account the costs at hand. This paper sets out to show that poor body image has a deleterious effect on a woman since it causes health issues, stops them from exploring their full potential and leads to dissatisfaction in life.
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In today’s society, the ideal woman is presented as being thin and having perfect skin. The famous Victoria Secret models, who exemplify the ideal body image portrayed by media, all have a waist of size 24inches. The models are required to have less than 18% of body fat in order to be considered ideal. While height is not as crucial as waist size and body fat, models often have a height of 5ft 9in. This is the ideal image that the media pushes on the general public and young girls are expected to strive to achieve it. Choate states, “All girls and women are exposed, to some extent, to sociocultural pressures for thinness and beauty” (321-322). The body image issue is not restricted to women in Western nations. Wykes and Gunter state that “despite the early observations of cross-cultural differences in body shape ideals, evidence has begun to emerge that Western-style concerns about shape occur in non-Western populations” (7). This means that the impact of the media has been so tremendous that it also affects people in other countries. Women in most regions of the world feel like they are forced to look like magazine models by modern society (Kaili 1247).
Young women are at risk of developing eating disorders due to poor body image. Human beings need to eat adequate portions of a well-balanced diet in order to remain healthy. Poor body image causes young girls to desire to change their body types. A common method for reducing weight is through dieting or avoiding meals. Halliwell notes that adolescent girls who had been exposed to media images of the ideal woman demonstrated restrained eating since they considered themselves too fat (397). This restrained eating at times degenerates into anorexic tendencies as the girls attempt to be as skinny as the models. Research reveals that most people suffering from anorexia nervosa have perfectly normal appetites but their body image issues cause them to deny themselves food. All this is done to reduce body weight to a certain ideal. The development of diet disorders and overall unhealthy eating behaviour are especially dangerous and questionable for teenage girls, and may lead to severe health problems.
Poor body image issues predispose women to developing mental health problems including stress, depression, and low self-esteem. A report by Gees attributes the increase in mental health problems facing young girls in Britain to body image issues (par.2). The report notes that young women have become obsessed with weight due to pervasive exposure to images of unrealistically thin models. This has an adverse effect on women who lack confidence in their looks. According to Gees, the image of models makes young girls “more self-conscious, lowering their self-esteem and affecting their mental health” (par. 5). Women with body issues experience social anxiety as they assume that people are looking at them and disapproving of what they see. Kaili asserts that women who have issues with their body types demonstrate low confidence when dealing with others in public (1241). The young women blame their issues on their body weight and struggle to change it.
Poor body image causes women to have high levels of dissatisfaction about their bodies. Most young women measure themselves up against the ideal image and almost all of them fail to live up to this standard. The dissatisfaction is not likely to disappear since the ideal image presented by the media cannot be achieved naturally. The ideal body image promoted by the media is often artificial beauty since it is almost impossible to reach without strenuous training regimes and intense dieting. This artificial beauty fails to consider the genetic realities that every person faces. Halliwell reveals that the genetic realities explain that most women are biologically predisposed to be heavier than the models shown in the media (397). Most women are therefore prevented by biological factors from achieving the thin model body size even if they dedicated all their efforts to this. For the few whose genetics enable them to achieve the ideal body image, it will require a lot of effort.
Even models admit that attaining the ideal image that the media praises takes significant effort. The Victoria Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio acknowledges that the models have to work out as intensely as athletes do in order to achieve the ideal image (Cross par. 3). The models have a personal trainer who puts them on intense programs to reduce their body fat and tone their bodies. Cross notes that the models engage in strenuous exercises such as dead-lifting more than they weigh, more than 50 press-ups each day, running and aerobics (par7). These physically challenging exercises have to be done every day and they leave the models physically and mentally exhausted. Cross declares that the dedication required to have the body of a model is “impossible to maintain if you have a job and family or want a social life” (par. 22). Young women therefore end up developing dissatisfactions with their bodies due to the body image issues created by comparing themselves to an unachievable ideal.
Considering the adverse effects of poor body image, it would be useful to find ways to solve the issue. One solution is to educate people about ideologies such as feminism and size acceptance. This will promote what is truly significant for women and cause young women to have dramatically different views about their physical appearances. A recent research has indicated that women who were introduced to principles of feminism are now satisfied with their physical appearance much more than they used to be (Peterson, Tantleff-Dunn, and Bedwell 245). In addition to this, the government can play a part in ensuring that the public is not unduly influenced by the media image of the ideal body.
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Policies can be implemented to regulate advertisements that promote unhealthy eating disorders like bulimia. Furman and Shomaker found that “exposure to conversational interactions that provide positive encouragement about body image increased body image satisfaction and positive emotions” (886). The media can also be used as a tool for tacking this problem. Numerous advertisements and documentaries address this issue, and some of them are very inspirational and thought- provoking (Conway 30). Implementing these solutions can have a positive impact in promoting the development of positive body image among young girls.
This paper set out to show that negative body image can have adverse effects on young women. It began by describing what the media presents to us as the “ideal image”. This presentation causes many women to develop poor body image issues. They are dissatisfied with their bodies and this can leads to unhappiness. It can also result in psychological problems such as depression and low self-esteem. It is imperative that there are some attempts to address and solve this situation. The paper has highlighted some solutions that can help tackle the issue. It may take a while for the solutions to yield positive results for all women but with dedication, this can be achieved. Eradicating poor body image issues would have the desirable outcome of promoting the mental and physical wellbeing of women all over the world.
Choate, Laura. “Toward a Theoretical Model of Women’s Body Image Resilience.” Journal of Counseling & Development 83.3 (2005): 320-330. Print.
Conway, Celeste. Body Image and the Media. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Pub., 2013. Print.
Cross, Poppy. The 4-month hell of being turned into a Victoria’s Secret angel. 2015. Web.
Furman, Wyndol, and Lauren B. Shomaker. “Same-Sex Peers’ Influence on Young Women’s Body Image: An Experimental Manipulation.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26.8 (2007): 871-895. Print.
Gees, Emma. Britain’s girls are at crisis point: The truth about teen mental health. 2015. Web.
Halliwell, Emma. “Body dissatisfaction: Can a short media literacy message reduce negative media exposure effects amongst adolescent girls?” British Journal of Health Psychology 16.2 (2011): 396-403. Print.
Kaili, Zhang. “What I Look Like: College Women, Body Image, and Spirituality.” Journal of Religion and Health 52.4 (2013): 1240-1252. Print.
Peterson, Rachel D., Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, and Jeffrey S. Bedwell. “The effects of exposure to feminist ideology on women’s body image.” Body Image 3.3 (2006): 237-246. Print.
Swami, Viren and Smith Joanne-Marie. “How Not to Feel Good Naked? The Effects of Television Programs that Use ‘Real Women’ on Female Viewers’ Body Image and Mood.” Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 31.2 (2012): 151-168. Print.
Wykes, Maggie, and Barrie Gunter. The Media and Body Image: If Looks Could Kill. London, United Kingdom: Sage Pub., 2005. Print.