Beauty, Refined: How to Change Your Perception
This post is courtesy of Lexie from Beauty Redefined
If you’ve glanced at a magazine or turned on the TV in the last decade, you’ve got a good idea of what media’s definition of an attractive woman looks like: she’s tall, has long, flowing hair, is surgically and digitally enhanced, blemish-free, and very thin. In fact, academic research tells it like we see it: studies show the women we see in media these days are thinner than ever, much thinner than the real world, and very often thin enough to be considered anorexic by world health standards. And in a world where a constant – and we mean constant – flow of media images far exceeds the number of women we could ever see face to face, this abnormally thin and digitally enhanced feminine ideal has become the norm in our minds. A counterfeit, dangerous, unattainable norm.
This one constant image of what it looks like to be a woman is so powerful! When we only see a certain type of woman presented positively in media, from teen magazines to family sitcoms, it’s no wonder media contributes to women’s painfully low self-esteem and focus on appearance. We know all too well the pressure girls and women feel to achieve the unrealistic weight, size or shape represented as normal and attainable in media. We are identical twins working on our PhDs in media studies, and we are committed to helping females everywhere recognize and reject harmful ideals so we can move on to everything more important!
When Thin is Way Too In
In the last 15 years of our lives, media’s images of women have morphed into a standard of beauty further from reality than ever before. At the same time, women’s body hatred has skyrocketed. Here, we see a direct link between what we perceive as media entertainment and all-too-real consequences. Think about it: eating disorders have reached scary proportions, obesity doubled from 1980 to 2004, and cosmetic plastic surgery increased 70 percent in the last decade . We see the startling rise in obesity AND eating disorders as reactions to the same issue: the unrealistic, ideal bodies SO prevalent throughout media. Some women and girls who can picture themselves living up to media ideals may choose an extreme, like disordered eating, in order to reach a hazardously low weight those ideals require. At the opposite extreme, women who think of themselves as being way too far from these unattainable ideals may be driven toward body hatred and bad health choices like a lazy lifestyle.
Though it would be easier to call this a media conspiracy and pin the blame on a scheming mastermind, the truth is that one simple motive is behind it all: money! The beauty product and weight loss industries are thriving at our expense — at around $100 billion per year. Entertainment media is totally profit-driven. That means almost all media we see is funded by advertising dollars. From children’s programming to reality TV, ads almost always target females and are dominated by beauty and weight loss products. Since the advertising depends on beauty ideals appearing necessary and attainable, the TV show, movie, or magazine you are reading has to feature women and girls that look like the advertiser’s lies.
The Battle to Take Back Beauty
Though it wasn’t conceived by one mastermind, this profit-driven plan truly is a dangerous one because it completely relies on us believing a lie. The lie tells us these beauty ideals are actually quite normal and that we, who look much different than what we see in media, are the abnormal ones. The lie tells us that beauty comes in one form, and that form is found with enough money, time and effort – whether in the gym, the salon, the mall or the operating table. The lie tells us that women who don’t fit the ideal are doomed to be undesirable, unhappy and unsuccessful. This sinister plan to us that female worth is dependent upon appearance is incredibly successful. But now that we recognize we’re in a battle, we can actually start to defend ourselves!
What To Remember so You Can Recognize & Reject Harmful Ideals:
1. Remember: Every image of women in media has been digitally manipulated. That means she has been Photoshopped to appear thinner, taller, tanner, more curvy, etc. Even on TV and movies, soft, flattering lighting and filtered lenses to remove “imperfections” like pores or wrinkles are nearly standard. Check out Keira Knightley:
2. If everyone feels bad about the way they look, it must be the standard that needs changing – not us! An awesome study from 2007 showed that girls who don’t like their bodies become more lazy over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. And that makes sense. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself?
3. The flipside of this same study is the reason our message is SO important! The researchers found that girls who feel good about themselves, regardless of their weight, are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are less likely to gain unnecessary weight and they make healthy lifestyle choices way into the future. REMEMBER: What we THINK about our bodies has a strong connection to how we TREAT our bodies. So take Operation Beautiful’s advice and say nice things about yourself and others!
4. Sometimes the best way to improve our self-esteem is to forget about ourselves for a while. Visit someone who has stories to share of a time when media consisted of radio melodramas and newspapers, or use your body to shovel the driveway of a friend whose health restricts them from that kind of movement. Service fills us with love and light that radiate from within.
5. Since we’ll see more images of women in one week of media viewing than we’ll probably ever see face to face, it’s important to give ourselves a reality check! When we look eye to eye with the women we know and love, we can remind ourselves what real women and real beauty look like. This real definition of beauty is so much more than just looks! It is the look on your friend’s face when she wins her basketball game, complimenting your sister on her awesome test grade, it is the wrinkles on your mom’s face from years of smiling and laughing, etc.
6. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching TV and movies, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you!
- Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media?
- Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads and commercials and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
- Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game, or website you are viewing? (Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice)
- Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time?
- How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like you and the women in your life?