Body Love & The Beauty Industry
Loving Yourself Can Be Hard…
As the above video shows, the media sells us not only products, but images of the people we are supposed to be. And though this can be especially tough on young girls and women, it can be just as tough on men. Media often plays on the typical gender roles we are supposed to have: the strength of men that leads to obsession over biceps, abs, a strong jaw, and a tall stature…the frailty and softness of women as seen in a tiny waist, full breasts and butt, slim, long legs, and big, docile eyes. These concepts of the ideal man and women are sold to us from the time we are four or five, and contribute to self-scrutiny which usually manifests itself in your teen years and throughout adulthood. Even in Disney movies, we see examples of these images in our heroes and heroines.
These images can also send messages of sexism and objectification to young people, which lead to the ads you see in magazines, in commercials, online, etc. These messages can also show themselves in movies, music videos, and regular TV….basically everywhere around you, leaving images of regular people in only one place: real life. But as we all know, some people in real life look closer to these images than others, and can receive special attention for it making the rest of us feel kinda… CRAPPY. Here are some examples, just in case you need a visual:
Music Video: (WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT)
A lot of the time the argument in favor of these ads is that sex sells. Which is true, but leaves out an important part: normal people are also considered sexy to consumers, because normal people are the ones that consumers actually have sex with! While it is a biological fact that we like to look at attractive people, it is also a fact that we like to look at people who look like us, and most of the population isn’t white, skinny, toned/buff, with fat in only the “right” places….we are lots of different sizes, shapes, and colors, and should celebrate that, because that is what our country is actually made up of! Furthermore, advertisements use plenty of Photoshop to alter what their models look like, so sometimes the ad actually doesn’t look much like the model in real life anyway…
But it’s not just about what type of person we see in this media, it’s also about how we see these people. Objectification is when we see people as body parts, as objects we can possess rather than people. If you look back up to the magazine example, you see that Cameron Diaz is pictured in a way where her rear end is the focal point in the photograph. It also shows her legs in the very center of the cover, followed by her arms. “Where is her actual face?” someone might ask. Oh, it’s in the top right-hand corner of the page, halfway covered with her hair, so you might almost not even know it’s her if it weren’t for her name on the cover….(notice that her name is followed by “drops everything” which goes back to the fact that her butt is in the air). Now, if you look at the male magazine example, you can see that it does a bit better of a job showing his face. Did you even notice the salad dressing, though? The photo does a great job of showing off his biceps, his abs, and just about everything else but the actual thing they are trying to sell. Why? Because it’s salad dressing. No one really wants to take time to look at and read about salad dressing, but a hunky guy? Well, all those moms making the grocery list might like that… And that’s how it works. This guy isn’t even a person, but a pawn for women to ogle so they will buy that particular product.
“Now, what about all the ads for women that feature women in the pictures?” you may ask. Most of the time, the women in these ads are the ones you are supposed to want to be. They are the ones who look the best with the product, that make you think, “Well, maybe I could try something like that with my makeup…” And then, after you buy that eyeshadow and try it on you realize it looks all wrong with your skin tone and goes with none of the clothes in your closet. Because you weren’t really thinking about you when you bought it, but how it looked on that model in the picture. This all leads back to the messages that there is something wrong with us, that the reason these products don’t work with us is because of how we look. It makes more money to have consumers unhappy with how they look naturally, and that’s what most ads cater to. Think about if women liked their faces without makeup…no mascara sales, no eyeshadow, eyeliner, highlighters, bronzer, foundation, blush, cover-up, lip liner, lip stick, lip gloss, lip plumper….what about if women liked their hair after shampooing it and conditioning it? No curling irons, straighteners, crimpers, hair dye, mousse, gel, hair spray, heat protectors, smoothing cream, shine-enhancers, split-end fixers, leave-in conditioners, volume-enhancers, curl-enhancers, wave-enhancers, straightening agents…. Think of all the different brands, the different products that would no longer exist if women were satisfied with how they genuinely look when they wake up each morning? And men are starting to get a taste of what it’s like as well, with all the new hair gels and body sprays geared toward them.
Our society is one that struggles with acceptance. The media tells us what traits to find appealing in the opposite sex (or whoever you’re attracted to) and we tend to follow that, which also involves excluding people who don’t fit those specific traits. At one point in all of our lives, we have ran into fat-shaming. Fat has turned into the ultimate insult in our culture, what with all the diet pills, the “light” alternative foods and “diet” drinks, the programs like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Nutri-System, etc., the supplements, the creams, the books, the videos, the exercise regiments sold to us promising to make us thin. The media tells us we will never be desirable, or even liked, if we are not a certain size. So that’s why we strive to be skinny, and to exclude anyone who isn’t “trying hard enough” or “fat”. All of this is nonsense, of course, because biology tells us a different story, one where EVERYONE has and needs fat to be healthy. And yes, obesity does exist and cause many health problems, but just because a person has fat, does not mean they are obese. The fact is, our metabolisms are all different and determine how much fat we store as well as other factors like age, the amount the exercise we have, the types of foods we consume, and our genes. That’s why two people can be healthy but look completely different. And there’s no magic number that everyone should weigh or jean size we should all have…the line between how much fat is healthy and how much is unhealthy is determined by your height and body type. Bottom line: this message of thinness being the only “right” body type is WRONG. WRONG. WRONG!
That’s where the Body Love movement comes in. These messages the media sends are wrong, and can provoke lots of harmful behaviors like bullying, eating disorders, depression, & low self-esteem. To counter these ideas, many feminists and non-feminists now are trying to spread positive images and ideas of beauty. Many universities around the country even have programs that celebrate a month of Body Love (during February), where they set up performances, meetings, and other activities devoted to spreading positivity. Some of the things they talk about are how to deal with the pressures to be thin, how to help and recognize the signs of eating disorders, things to celebrate about your body, and confidence boosters.
One other important issue to mention is skinny-shaming. While trying to be positive, some women have gone too far with endorsing more full-figured body types. A lot of comments like, “Real women have curves” and “You need to go eat something” can cause more hurt than help to women out there with naturally slim figures. It’s important to remember that Body Love is about celebrating ALL body types, and that not everyone who is thin has an eating disorder, just like not everyone who is fuller is obese.
With all of that being said, I hope you join in the Body Love movement and help promote a kinder society to people of all shapes and sizes! Hopefully one day we will see women in the media who look like everyday people around us, and are being represented as individuals rather than objects! I know I’ve talked a lot about women in this entry, but keep in mind that men undergo a lot of pressures as well and struggle with many of the same negative effects of objectification and fat-shaming. Only with support, understanding, and positivity can we make a change!