Let’s have a serious conversation about body image.
According to one study, 91 percent of women aren’t satisfied with how they look. Why is that? Because we have a culture of mass media that makes us feel inadequate about our bodies. As it turns out, only about 5 percent of women have the body type that’s portrayed in mass media — we’re sprinting after an unattainable ideal and getting burnt out in the process. We need to do something to change that. We need to promote active, healthy lifestyles that empower women. We need to value women as leaders and role models and not sex objects. We need to teach women that they have value.
There’s plenty to complain about in the mass media when it comes to women’s body image, but here are five examples of what’s leading us to feel bad about ourselves.
1. We don’t value healthy, active bodies
Everyone, whether they are a man or a woman, should feel inspired to live a healthy, active lifestyle. Unfortunately, often the female ideal for what is the perfect body has nothing to do with health. Harper’s Bazaar recently highlighted this issue when it ran an article titled “Is Spinning Making You Fat?” It turns out that some women are quitting spin classes because it doesn’t give them the body they want; apparently bigger quads, thighs and butt aren’t the cultural sign of being in shape, they just make you fat. A celebrity trainer quoted in the article actually said that he forbids spin classes for his clients that are fashion models.
Apparently muscular women is not the waifish look the fashion industry wants to have, which in turn can easily give the rest of us women a complex about what we look like, even if we intellectually know that we’re working out and taking care of our bodies.
2. Everything is styled, well-lit and Photoshopped
The images that we see of women in the media are tweaked to portray a certain look, and sometimes, they can veer quite far from reality. Just look at Lady Gaga’s Versace ads without Photoshop. And it’s not just mass media — think about all those carefully thought out selfies. Those are having a negative effect as well.
Professional runner Lauren Fleshman pointed this out in an article that struck a chord with a lot of people, titled “Keeping it Real,” where she reminded us that even professional athletes don’t always look amazing and that’s totally normal. We should celebrate the body that we have, not the one we are told we should have.
3. Beauty marketing’s purpose is to make us feel bad about our natural state
Take a look at your average beauty ad. While there are a few out there that are trying to go against the norm, most follow a fairly similar formula: show women why they aren’t perfect without [insert beauty product here]. You see a glamorous, happy woman and the message is that without said product she would be neither. Instead of teaching us to value our natural state, we’re told to cover it up, told to improve it. Unfortunately, it’s not just the occasional times that we use beauty products to give ourselves a little lift. It’s every single day, which just goes to show that most women think that they need these products to look good.
4. We have a dichotomous relationship to health
You are either fat or skinny. In fact, there’s a common term used to describe someone that looks svelte but is actually unhealthy: skinny fat. We should be promoting healthy lifestyles for all body types. Not everyone drops 10 pounds when they start working out, and not everyone does well on the same diet. Some women are very active and still find themselves in the big busted and big boned category. We have to broaden our vocabulary that we use for talking about women’s bodies, because there are many shades of gray.
5. There is a severe gender disparity in the media
It’s no news that there is a serious gender gap when it comes to the media, and that under representation doesn’t just affect the women who work in that field. An under representation of women has a much wider impact, affecting our social norms and perspective on gender as a whole. If we want more media that focuses on women as leaders and role models instead of sex objects, then we need to have more women in powerful media roles.
If you want an in-depth look at this issue, check out the 2011 documentary Miss Representation.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Astrid