Media Influence on the Female Form

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The American definition of beauty is visible in any one of our forms
of popular culture, whether it’s TV, movies, music videos, magazines,
and advertisements, even billboards. “Women’s bodies sell products
that have nothing to do with women, like tires, cars, liquor, and
guns” (Pipher, Reviving Ophelia 42). As if using women’s bodies to
sell completely unrelated products weren’t harmful enough, the women
used to sell these products are a far cry from what most women in
America look like. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140
pounds, whereas the average professional model in this country is
5’9’’ and weighs roughly 110 pounds (Barnhill 49). Consistently, women
are diminished by advertisers to pretty body parts used to sell
products, a practice that perpetuates the glorification of this
unreasonable ideal of beauty.

Women’s bodies have not only become a huge money-maker for
advertisers, businesses have picked up on women’s insecurities about
their bodies and have capilatized on these insecurities. On one hand,
advertisers heavily market weight-reduction programs and present young
anorexic models as the paradigm of ideal beauty; on the other hand,
the media floods the airwaves and magazine pages with ads for junk
food. In 1996, the diet industry (as in diet foods, diet programs,
diet drugs) took in over $40 billion dollars, and that number is still
climbing (Facts and Figures 1).

Young women seem to be especially affected by our culture’s obsession
with weight and beauty. America today is a girl-destroying place where
young women are encouraged to sacrifice their true selves in exchange
for false selves that are more culturally acceptable. “More than any
other group in the population, girls and their bodies have borne the
brunt of twentieth-century social change and we ignore that fact at
our peril.” (Brumberg 21).

There is no doubt that the media, mainly TV, movies, magazines, and
advertising, is an extremely powerful force in shaping who we are as a
culture, and as individuals.

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MLA Citation:
"Media Influence on the Female Form." 20 Mar 2018
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“For many, television has become like a
surrogate parent” “It socializes them, entertains them, comforts them,
disciplines them, and tells them what they can and cannot
do.”(Friedman, 75). Everyday we are bombarded by images of thinness,
youth, and beauty; these things falsely promise many things, such as
success, fame, fortune, love, self-confidence, power, and an overall
sense of control over one’s life. And it is no mystery why we buy into
these empty promises, particularly when it comes to adolescents, the
biggest consumers of mass media. Most of us probably don’t realize how
much media we consume on a daily basis. In essence, it is the
wallpaper of our lives. “The average teen watches 21 hours of TV each
week, compared to 5.8 hours a week on homework, and 1.8 hours reading”
(Pipher, Reviving Ophelia 82). Furthermore, the average person sees
between 400 and 600 ads per day, ads filled with thin, young beautiful
women, fatty foods to make you gain weight, and diet products to help
you lose it again. “By the time a woman is 17 years old, she has
received over 250,000 commercial messages through the media”

It is obvious that most American corporate executives care little
about the well-being of their consumers, and care a great deal for
revenues. We often forget that advertisers ultimately want us to buy
their product, so they are going to portray a perception of reality
they want us to buy into. No matter what kind of promises these ads
make or even hint at, believing they will come true because you buy or
use the product does not make it so.

Today’s teens aged 11-17 are a huge money making resource for
businesses and advertisers. The media’s goal for adolescents is to
seduce and lure them to spend money, while the goal of parents is to
raise happy, well-adjusted, mature, responsible young adults. These
goals are conflicting, and more than likely, the goals of the media
have a better chance of coming out victorious. Unfortunately, parents
are not the primary influence on teenage girls; friends and ideas from
pop culture and the mass media are much stronger influences on the
average adolescent. The media communicates that adulthood implies
drinking, spending money, and being sexually active (Reviving Ophelia
82). “Girls are caught in the crossfire of our culture’s mixed sexual
messages. Sex is considered both a sacred act between two people
united by God and the best way to sell suntan lotion” (73). This
environment of slick images and quick seductions shapes their desires,
and their sense of self, even if they try to resist (Brumberg 209).
Our media does very little to portray the realities of adulthood that
adolescents should be learning about, such as responsibility, juggling
a family and a career, raising children, health issues, dealing with
loss and failure, and keeping a marriage working. This has more to do
with the everyday life of an American adult.

The debate between those that believe that media plays a significant
role in the development of eating disorders and those that don’t is a
heated battle in which we will probably never know the true answer.
However, one very recent study conducted by Harvard anthropologist
Anne Becker may have found some proof that the media does indeed have
a significant impact. In December 1999, Becker reported her findings
after a four-year study conducted in the Fiji Islands (Getting the
Skinny on TV” 34). Just four years prior to the report, television
arrived for the first time on the islands. The shows provided to them
were of western origin; mainly the U.S. Becker wanted to examine how
the country reacted to and changed after the advent of television,
what she found was disturbing.

Fijians have traditionally idealized larger proportioned women as
beautiful, which is why even though more than four-fifths of Fijian
women are overweight (by American measurements), it didn’t seem to
bother them, until recently that is. Thirty-eight months after western
television shows to Fiji via satellite, Becker found that the number
of teenage girls who vomited to control their weigh increased
five-fold, along with a general rise in abnormal attitudes toward
eating (34). Surveys of teenage girls in Fiji revealed that the ones
that spent the most time watching TV were half again more likely to
feel fat and third more likely to be on a diet than their peers (34).
The most popular shows on the island are Melrose Place and Beverly
Hills 90210. “They (the teenage Fijian girls) see that they are much
bigger in size than these rich, successful American women…add to that
a culture attuned to weight changes, and the result are disastrous,”
say Becker (34). This is just one other example of the damaging
effects of the media. With emerging technology, the producers of
American television shows can get more bangs for their buck;
satellites enable us to send our television shows thousands of miles
to new lands. The companies make more money, and more girls feel
ashamed of their bodies. These Fijian teen perceive these television
shows as American reality, and they attempt to mimic its appearance
because they buy into the false promises we do. In only four years,
American television is changing the ideal of beauty in Fiji, as well
as other countries, to resemble our own impossible ideals, and it is
doing so at the cost of young women everywhere.

It is important that we recognize and are aware of the underlying
power the media has over all of us. Young girls are particularly
susceptible, and advertisers know it, which is hwy teenage girls are
such an important target market. Chances are they will not recognize
these negative affects the media is having on them, so it is important
that adults point it our for them. “Given what we know about the deep
commercial investment in girls’ bodies, and also the tenor of our
contemporary culture, it seems unrealistic to think that young girls
can operate independently, without parental or adult assistance, or
that they should be expected to (Brumberg 209). As with many things
parents harp on their daughters about, it may not seem like they are
listening, but usually they are. If someone plants the seed in their
heads that they don’t have to buy into this unrealistic image of
beauty, that they are worth so much more than a pretty face, they are
valued for their ideas, and loved for who they are, the seed may
flourish. If we can find a way for girls to understand the effects our
culture is having on their lives, they can and will fight back.

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