I recently wrote this essay for an English course and was rather quite proud of it. I thought I would share.
Have you ever noticed what a negative body image our society has? In Western society we are bombarded with images of what ideal beauty “should” look like. It seems the main focus these days is that we should fit a specific mold it’s considered the social norm. As a result, we have a horrible problem on our hands that affects young and old alike; we have a very negative body image. We see it everywhere, in line at the supermarket, on our televisions while our children watch their favorite shows and even in those very shows. We are swamped by images that society tells us is true beauty and the “mold’ we should aspire to; and if we want to be accepted, then we must comply with this. How are we not to be persuaded by these images, which tell us that we are not good enough? It’s human nature to want to be a part of the group, but at what cost are we willing to fit in? Body image is something I have dealt with my entire life. I was bullied in school because I was always the “bigger girl.” I was bullied constantly and hated school because of it. I suffered from horrible self-esteem, had no confidence, and hated my body. Now, as an adult, I have a huge passion for the Body Image movement and breaking those stereotypes and negative connotations that are associated with being fat or not measuring up to the social standard of “beauty”. With the adage that the youth are our future, why are we teaching them to see outward beauty or being a certain size as the most important thing? Images of beauty in Western society are harmful because they lower one’s self-esteem, present an ideal image that young and old feel forced to replicate, and lead way to prejudice and stigma towards anyone not fitting the “mold.”
These beauty standards in Western society are harmful in such a way that they create low self-esteem in people of all races, ages, and genders. Self-esteem is crucial to one’s very being; it helps people be the best possible version of themselves they can be. These ideal images we see in our society are at the root of the issue. In an essay by Shari Graydon, author of In Your Face, Graydon writes,
Yesteryear’s magazine racks sported exponentially fewer publications devoted to fame voyeurism and advising women on the finer points of dressing up, dressing down or sculpting our bodies in pursuit of a profile that we’d be happy to avoid dressing altogether. Cosmopolitan and Vogue are now buried under a deluge of other fashion and ‘fitness’ magazines, while a host of new titles supplement the print lessons available to male readers regarding what’s ‘desirable’ and ‘ideal’ when it comes to the sizes and shapes of women’s body parts. ( Gerdes 41)
This is an example of what causes self-esteem issues for people all over our country. These images displayed make people feel like they are not good enough as they are and since this is the epitome of beauty, they should replicate it by whatever means necessary. In an article, Kristen Anderburg who is a contributor to Off Our Backs, the longest running feminist newspaper in the US states a revelation former supermodel Ann Simonton had when she saw what these ideal images were doing first hand; “And it hit Ann that these models were the pinnacle of beauty that society was holding up as every woman’s ideal, yet it still wasn’t good enough” (Anderburg). In the same article, Anderburg goes on to imply that Simonton took a hit to her self-esteem when she realized that, even though she was in a group of people considered the epitome of beauty, she still wasn’t good enough as she was. Like Ann Simonton, women of all ages and races take a direct hit to their self-esteem when faced with this mass amount of images telling them to look like “this” or “that” and that men won’t find them attractive if they don’t fit the 36-24-36 measurements. As a result, this causes a doubt of one’s self that wouldn’t have been there previously. This doubt cripples women in so many areas of our lives.
Just as self-esteem plays a huge role in the body image issue, so does the way these images of beauty make young and old feel like they must replicate them. This is such a huge loss to our society, as it basically implies that we must all be carbon copies of one another. This diminishes our diversity. Lynda Wiechinik, a contributor to The Oyen Echo reports on a study that states “one-third of college age women would trade an entire year of their life for the perfect body” (Wiechnik). An entire year! A year of one’s precious, amazing, crazy life just to have that ideal body. That very idea has been developed by copious amounts of information that says your body is not right the way it is. Media seems to portray one type of image that is considered ideal, this image happens to change over time and is always represented in various publications. An essay by Deborah Rhode says, “In 1984 the US average female model was five feet four inches and one hundred and forty pounds. Now the average is five feet ten inches and one hundred and ten pounds” (Rhode). Only five percent of women fall into this category. These standards make people feel forced to alter themselves to fit that ideal. These images presented have such a monumental effect on our society, as Rita Freedman, clinical psychologist says, “It can enhance and protect you as well as torment you… it echoes with the sound of your mother’s voice and the faces of a thousand cover girls who left a mark on your memory” (Valentino). This statement is an accurate representation of how these images affect us all.
As we have seen, people tend to be stereotyped if they do not fit in with these ideal images of beauty. We see it all the time; when one doesn’t look like the models, actors and actresses, and other celebrities who our culture dictates as the personification of beauty, there is a certain prejudice and stigma that follows. In an essay, Natasha Walter states that “the emphasis on presenting oneself as physically perfect has an impact on women throughout society” (Walter) and when women do not meet that standard they are subjected to cruel and senseless remarks that follow them throughout their lives. These people who happen to make up the majority of our society are labeled weird, ugly, and lame; just to name a few, are all based on the outward appearance and never given a chance to show what they’re really like or what they have to offer because they are already labeled and categorized by our society. Often, they are assumed un-valuable and tossed aside. There is a stigma that comes along with the prejudice that say if they have this assigned label then there must be something wrong with them because they don’t fit into the “mold” that has been assigned as ideal and pleasing. These prejudices and stigmas that are cast upon people follow them for the rest of their lives and more often than not affect how they see themselves.
As we’ve seen, these ideal images of beauty that Western society places on people are harmful to us all in many ways; they lower one’s self-esteem, make both young and old feel pressured to replicate these ideals, and lead way to prejudice and stigma that follows many for the rest of their lives. When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, does it really matter so much to fit in with society when it has such a high cost? In the iconic words of Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”