“Real” Women, Body Image, and the Media

I was talking to a friend recently and we were discussing how we had both put on weight since high school (when we met) and one remark that she made really stood out for me: “I know that I should feel really bad about how I look and I should want to lose weight but I like having curves and being bigger, but I know that guys and society don’t like me like this.”

Body image and dieting is an inescapable topic with women and I am sure that we all get tired of hearing about it, but when everywhere you look there are images and products that are selling you this ‘ideal’ beauty, how do you escape it? Everything you see starts to make you feel like you should look a different way or you should wear this style of clothing or you should lose weight or you should emulate the model in the magazine if you want someone to like you.

Whether it’s clothing brands that sell certain “ideal” people in their ad campaigns or the massive amount of diets and magazines geared at telling you how to get the “perfect” body or TV and movies that the majority of the time only cast people who exemplify a stereotypical, and unattainable beauty, images of society’s “ideal beauty” are all around. It’s no wonder that when a plus size company, Lane Bryant, tries to air a lingerie commercial in the same time slot that a Victoria’s Secret ad gets aired, only the plus size one is turned away as showing too much cleavage.  It’s because of this constant choice that media and society makes that only promotes one type of body as being acceptable or one skin color or sexual orientation. And in cases that a different choice is made, say casting a ‘plus-size’ actress, the person is usually shown in a stereotypical way — the ‘butch’ lesbian, the overweight best friend/side-kick, or the array of racial stereotypes in the media.  Somehow these choices have become accepted in the media, but these choices to show only one “ideal” for a beautiful woman, mainly a tall, skinny, white woman, has lasting and negative effects on all women, but especially young women.

I came across the above video on Jezebel.com that was made at Santa Monica College that briefly shows some staggering and sad statistics, like 1 in 4 women in college have an eating disorder.  It also goes on to interview some “real” women about how they feel about the images they see in society and the media.  Some of the women talk about their own struggles with body image because of what they see or don’t see in the media as well as some of the extreme measures they have gone through to mold themselves to those images.  The video talks about how all of the images we see in the media can really affect our self-worth and how we see ourselves, when really shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t our media reflect us?

The video ends with all the students who participated in the project standing in front of the camera and saying “This is what a real woman looks like”. None of the women look the same or fit one ideal of beauty; some say it in other languages, showing that we all are different, from different backgrounds, and all women are beautiful. Now if only the media could catch up to us.

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