Everyone knows that advertisements are almost everywhere we look. Would you guess that the number of ads you see a day is actually about 2,000? We spend significant parts of our lives looking at images in the media through magazines, newspapers, television, and more. American society is so focused on what is aesthetically attractive that women in the media are almost exclusively portrayed as such. Television and magazines often depict images of women that are over-sexualized, unrealistic and even photoshopped. Because of this, young womens’ expectations of their bodies and their appearances become unrealistically high, and they’re likely to develop negative body images.
Everyday, we see the same kind of women in magazines -- the same thin body type, the same flawless skin, and the same perfect bone structure. Because this beauty culture is constantly portrayed in magazines, it is easy to forget that most women don’t actually look like that; in fact, not even the models in the magazines look like that naturally. Magazine images of women are largely a product of airbrushing and digital altering. For example, in 2011 L’Oreal signed Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington on to do print ad campaigns for their makeup lines Lancôme and Maybelline. The pictures of them were altered to make their skin appear flawless, which is dramatization and false advertising. Ads like these create so many problems for young women, because not only will they become dependent on wearing certain makeup brands to feel beautiful, but they will also lose confidence every time they see a blemish on their own skin. When young women see other young women with flawless skin, they believe it’s attainable, a goal which is unrealistic. Therefore these women will inherently be unhappy with themselves because it is impossible for their natural skin, even with makeup, to look like that of the women in the airbrushed, digitized images they are exposed to.
This same problem also exists within the television industry. Commercials often sell products by pairing them with a scantily-dressed, young, beautiful woman. Even though these women aren’t necessarily airbrushed or digitally altered, they still create unrealistic expectations about what women should look like because the ads depict only one type of woman: one with a perfect body. Television and magazines are two of the most popular mediums of pop culture among women. Prime-time television shows portray relationships that are orientated around the couple’s appearance and attractiveness and in which attractive females often exist under a “male gaze,” meaning that the women use their looks, especially their bodies, to attract men. For example, Gossip Girl teaches its viewers that girls like Serena who dress provocatively and are seductively will get more boys than a girl like Blair, who dresses sophisticatedly. Kacy Greening of Capital University also mentions a point that does not receive the attention it deserves in regard to the subject: the dismemberment of women in the media leads other women to focus too heavily on individual parts of their bodies. Dismemberment often occurs in advertisements and is defined by separating the parts of the female body such as the breasts, face or legs, for the purpose of selling a product. When young women see these advertisements, they learn to divide their bodies into pieces and scrutinize each piece individually, and if one piece is less than the beauty ideal, beauty as a whole cannot be achieved. This puts more pressure on women to focus too heavily on every aspect of their bodies and try to perfect the individually. Essentially, these images make women more self-conscious of little imperfections.
Many studies have been conducted to gauge the way young girls feel about their bodies and what factors affect their body images. The results of one study say that anywhere between 20% to 40% of girls feel overweight by middle school, even if they are in a normal weight range. Similar studies show that feeling overweight is correlated with the desire to lose weight, which can lead to a variety of problems such as eating disorders, excessive dieting, over-exercising, general unhappiness, and other mental problems related to body surveillance. It is estimated that seven to eight million Americans have an eating disorder: one in 200 American women suffer from anorexia and two or three in 100 American women suffer from bulimia. Although admittedly many other factors also affect body image, the media is one of the most important. In a study, approximately 60% of girls aged 15 to 18 admitted to reading magazines such as Seventeen and Teen Vogue daily. Women who idealize the appearances of the women depicted in these magazines often have body mass indexes below normal. Television shows also depict idealized images of beauty. Content analyses of programming have shown that 33% of women on TV are underweight, 60% are considered an average weight and only 7% are overweight.
The media and popular culture continue to become more prevalent in our daily lives. Because of this, young women in homes all over the country can hardly escape from images of women that increase their own body dissatisfaction. There is no way to stop these women from reading magazines, watching TV, and becoming otherwise exposed to these images. Instead, the images must stop. Magazines need to stop digitally altering their models and need to start including a wider variety of body types and looks, not just the ones of idealized beauty. Television shows need to portray women in a different roles, not just the generic role of a woman seeking a man by living up to his standards of beauty, as well as use actresses with different body types. Commercials and ads must stop giving women unrealistic expectation of their products and must stop teaching them that beauty only comes from using those products. Women will begin to feel better about themselves once they see more women who look like them in the media, not just the ones who live up to society’s beauty ideals.