Monday, November 21, 2016

The pressure to be thin

It is no secret that many women have unhealthy relationships with their bodies and, as a result, with the food they choose to eat. An estimated 80% of females in the United States are “dissatisfied with their appearance” and women, as a whole, are ten times more likely to develop an eating disorder than their male counterparts. The question must be asked: why are we so susceptible to these negative thoughts and ideas about ourselves?

The strong and, at times, overwhelming presence of the media in our lives puts enormous pressure on people to look and dress a certain way. The influential power it can have on society was outlined very clearly in ‘MissRepresentation’, and my eyes were opened to the considerable effect it has on my life and the lives of my peers. Having been introduced to this film I am now acutely aware of my reactions to certain images and concepts conveyed to me by the media and social media alike.

Fashion and body image have evolved over the years, and society has followed suit. Women aspire, sometimes unfortunately, to be like those portrayed by the media as “beautiful” and “sexy”.  It is unfortunate that we are swayed so dramatically by what we see when there is so much more to beauty. This video accurately depicts the varying definitions of the word throughout the ages. It would appear that we are just living in a time where our perception of the “perfect” body requires a great deal of discipline.

While the “old-school” forms of media are teaching us to aspire to look like celebrities, new forms of social media, such as Instagram, are influencing us to look better than our peers. . People are finding fame on this medium purely by being thin and attractive and having the "perfect bikini body". One girl tells the story of how Instagram negatively impacted her perceptions of her own body and worsened her eating disorder. The website has become a breeding ground for competition amongst women to such an extent that they feel the need to alter images of themselves. The burden has become so great that people edit and photoshop photos, transforming themselves into entirely different people.

This begs me to ask the question: have women been striving all these years to look a certain way so that they appear more sexually attractive, or are they merely doing so in order to outdo other women? On more than one occasion have I seen a fridge magnet or the likes brandishing the phrase:
“Dear God, if you won’t make me skinny then please make my friends fat”.
This suggests that women care less about their own appearance and more about how they are perceived relative to other women.

Women are often thought to be in constant competition with one another. It is rare that they are portrayed celebrating their peers. They are more commonly considered to be envious of others’ achievements. So, is it the case that, in relation to body image, the concern is not about gaining admirers but merely about outshining the rest of the competition?

Regardless of the motivation, the epidemic still exists and requires action. Perhaps if more attention were given to things other than one’s appearance, the issue would become less. Alternatively, if the focus shifted from loathing one’s body to adoring it and providing it with the nutrients it requires, then a healthier body image would be accepted.  

4 comments:

Joan Maya said...

Julie,

Thank you for writing a blog on such an important topic. It reminded me of the new fad of being a "fit mommy", where women are praised for staying (and looking) fit during their pregnancy. The phenomenon is discussed well in this Slate article (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/06/03/welcome_to_the_world_of_fitmoms_where_women_are_praised_for_their_tiny_baby.html). The article points out how the intense exercise craze we find ourselves in combined with social media has created an environment where pregnant mothers are rewarded for staying extremely fit while pregnant. While I do believe being healthy is important during a pregnancy, this new phenomenon places pressure on pregnant women to act and look a certain way during a time (which to my knowledge) had been sort of a reprieve from society's expectations on looks in the past. You mentioned in your blog how new forms of media such as instagram reinforce body ideals, and I see the "fit mommy" trend being propagated on instagram frequently. I wonder what trends like these say about where we as a society are going when it comes to the expectations we place on women?

Flamingo said...

Julie,

The questions you ask in your post really made me think about the perspectives we have about body image and competitiveness among women. It would be interesting to know if women in other cultures have the same quasi-adversarial approach.
It also made me think of Amy Schumer's shiny legs. When she was a guest on a couple talk shows, she displayed her extra shiny legs, thus making a point about female guests' general physical appearance. What bugged me is that I did not notice it at first, which means that I was used to seeing over-moisturized and shiny legs on TV without even knowing it. Apparently, shiny oily legs appear skinnier on TV.

Here is a video in which Amy Schumer makes fun of the whole talk-show interview process : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNfBbJ0pzbA
And here is an image of her appearance on the British Graham Norton Show : https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/shiny-legs-2.png?w=748&h=418&crop=1

Josie Zimmermann said...

Julie,

This is such a complicated topic. There have absolutely been times in my life where I have felt very self-conscious about my weight and size, and sought out women who were bigger than me to make myself feel better. "Well at least I'm thinner than her." And that's horrible! I'm so deeply ashamed that I not only care about whether I conform to this arbitrary standard of thinness and beauty, but also rank other women based on that same stupid standard. In general, our society hates overweight people. About a year ago Reddit shut down /r/fatpeoplehate and it had over 150,000 subscribers eager and willing to mock people for their weight. (Fun read about that here http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/10/8761763/reddit-harassment-ban-fat-people-hate-subreddit). Add on to that the misogyny of women needing to be attractive at any given time, and it's just such a hard view to change. I think being aware of it and catching ourselves is the best first step, so thank you for the reminder that people, and women in particular, are so much more than their appearance and their body fat.

Earnest Femingway said...

Julie,

I commend you for bringing up such a complex topic. Health concerns vs. body shaming, double standards for gender, how economics affects lifestyle choices, there are so many issues to discuss. It is also one of those issues where because body-image issues also affect men, detractors tend to jump on the false equivalence between how this issue plays out between genders. We have touched on this in class before, but it bears repeating that this is a gendered issue. The facts you begin your post with really reinforce that framing. Though I do think that like so many other aspects of feminism, the whole of society stands to benefit if we can address cultural body shaming. A shift to a health-based focus on the body could help us all in so many ways.