I am sure if you focus on your qualities and the beauty around you for long enough you will be inspired. – Faith Ogunkoya
The issue of media painting a picture of the ideal body is an old issue and I don’t want to give it a lot more energy because I am about changing it. I think it is important to know the origins, just for the sake of understanding. The ideal standard of beauty has been a social implant for a long time not only in the USA but around the world.
I know people have thought about this and written about it a lot, yet I still feel it is impacting women on a regular basis, especially with all the technology that can change the way someone looks. During my career as a therapist I saw it all the time in the teenage girls I worked with. I don’t remember one out of hundreds that felt beautiful. I talk to women all the time who say they don’t see their beauty and never have.
Women tend to carry the burden of a negative body image, which can lead to depression, addictive exercising, self abusive behavior, and disordered eating in an effort to fit the norm portrayed by fashion magazines, movie stars, and television programs. Eating disorders are more common than you would imagine in teens. It isn’t just women and girls that have distorted body images, many women do. We aren’t sure if we are fat but we are always worried that we are.
I chose the title of Beauty Control with the idea that maybe creating a standard of beauty is a way to control women. This may be a bold statement but when you think about the fact that women were just starting to speak out for equal rights in the 60’s it could have been quite threatening to the dominant gender and much of the media programming about body image came at the same time. Coincidence? Maybe.
I was curious to see if there was anything written about my theory and found a number of articles. My thought was “What the media has done around a perception of beauty is a form of mind control”. I first looked up the words conditioning and mind control and found it described as:
Mind control (also known as brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform) refers to a process in which a group or individual “systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person being manipulated”. The term has been applied to any tactic, psychological or otherwise, which can be seen as subverting an individual’s sense of control over their own thinking, behavior, emotions or decision-making.
Women of all ages are being programmed to think they are not beautiful unless they look like magazine covers, we need to help them realize that only through the use of make-up, lighting, air brushing and staging, is why these women look that way. Is this a way to keep women distracted so they don’t speak up, because it works that way.
Images of female bodies are everywhere and women and their body parts have been used to sell everything from jeans, cola, food and cars. Advertising communicates the codes of proper appearance through meta-images, which means if you are watching television you are being programmed subliminally. Women’s magazines are full of articles urging that if women can just lose those last twenty pounds, they’ll have it all from the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex, and a rewarding career. Many men still pick their mates based on the image of the ideal women.
This made me wonder if body image and superficial beauty was a way of controlling women subconsciously. I found an article that supported this idea and here is an excerpt from it:
“What crosscuts the variety of female physiques is the linkage of beauty with femininity. Historically, Western somatic and sartorial ideals articulate with a culture of beauty. The history of women’s bodies in the U.S. is indeed a history of beauty” (Bolin 1992:81). A culture of beauty helps keep women passive by defining them in terms of how they look rather than what they do. It is also directly tied to capitalism. When beauty images change, bodies are expected to change with them and women spend massive amounts of time and money to live up to these ever-changing ideals. Women’s bodies now require a multiplicity of looks they are expected to attain effortlessly: a multifunctional body responsive to the whims of fashion and the postmodern aesthetic. Dress reform is indeed body reform and societal reform.”
This push for women to conform to current dress and appearance standards has a way of taking originality away and making everyone more the same. Removing imagination. Those that dress outside of the standard stand out and often feel uncomfortable. Those are the young girls that get bullied, teased and left out.
Researchers report that women’s magazines have ten and one-half times more ads and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines do, and over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery.
We know that the more time we spend with anything, the more influence it has on us. The best way to teach is repetition and women are inundated with repetitive images of what we should look like all of the time. Without even thinking about it these repetitive images go into our psyches and program our beliefs. Even those some of the research is from the 80-90 this kind of programming takes a long time to unravel, especially when we continue to be surrounded by the same kind of images. Subconscious programming is the most difficult to discover, let alone shift.
When I was a kid the role models for the ideal body were Twiggy and Barbie. Twiggy was rail thin with, big eyes and giant eye lashes. Barbie has been a cultural icon of female image since the 60’s. On one has she is a good role model for being an independent woman who can do anything, it is her body that is the problem. Young girls played with Barbie dolls and look to her as an idol, and an image of attractive, success and leave girls craving lives a life of gloss and glamour. We had relationships with these dolls, we talked for them and animated them, and they were an extension of who we were. We wanted to have the best outfits for our Barbie so we could out do our girlfriends and that followed us into real life as teens. Adolescent girls try to out do each other in the clothing department, and it is about who looks the best. When I was a teen we didn’t have much money and I only had three outfits that I rotated. I went to a school where fashion was the thing and a lot of the girls came from wealthy families. I always felt like I couldn’t compete or measure up because I couldn’t keep up with the current style.
Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition. I remember wanted to be 36-26-36 which at the time was the ideal proportions for a women’s body, no matter who tall you were.
Mattel received many criticisms about Barbie and the impact she has on young girls around the world. In the summer of 2000, they decided to change Barbie to a more modern look. “The new Barbie will have a more natural body shape – less busty with wider hips.”
Here is another interesting statement I found in an article by Barbara A Cohen PhD about the psychology of body image:
‘The achievement and maintenance of thinness and beauty is a major female pastime, as reflected by all of the magazines, newspaper articles, T.V. shows, commercials, idealized role models, and books that are aimed at the female audience. This endeavor consumes an enormous portion of the females’ time, energy and money, leaving her little time for other activities and/or important life issues. But, we as women play a major role in perpetuating our culture’s ridiculous ideals by buying into the image with the purchase of the magazines, diet books, beauty books and designer clothes thrust upon us, rather than developing an acceptable, personal idealized image of our own. By refusing to take that responsibility, we indeed perpetuate our own lives of dissatisfaction and self-hatred, and this need not be so.‘
The task for women of our time is to take back our beauty and stop buying into the cultural ideals. We are taking it back for our children, grand children and their children so they don’t have to try to live up to an artificial standard and so they can embrace their unique beauty from the beginning. The beauty that is beyond the superficial standard and is unique to each of us. It is time to stand in our authenticity as women and defy the old standard by replacing it with the power that comes from being who we truly are. We can do that by finding and embracing our beautifulness, finding our personal style and expressing our uniqueness.