General knowledge dictates that the perfected physical/visual imagery of men is one of a muscular bronze-toned body, preferably with a lot of cash on the side – as he poses in front of an expensive car – oh yes, that he owns. While it may be true that men are just as ‘at-risk’ as targets of image culture expectations as women, the ready literature on body-image culture is quite prevalent on its commentary on females. What do women, particularly in Westernized culture, worry about? Aging drives anxiety. Flabby waistlines, added pounds, and thinning hair – all normal signs of naturally moving into another stage of life – terrifies most women. It perhaps would not be so bad if all the commercially perpetuated pressure to conform to an impossibly static youth would disappear. The propaganda of fitting into the image culture advocates the concept of age idealism. Youth is elevated as more valuable, and images of the aged devise reasons to devalue anything associated with living long, including the wisdom and insight older people have to offer. Many have heard of the rising numbers of so-called ‘baby-boomers’ in America. Eriksen (2012) states “Every 7 seconds someone in the United States turns 50” and that “not surprisingly, cosmetic surgery is on the rise, with its usage shaped by both age and gender” (p. 2). Oakley has posited that “women have historically been the target group” for reaching out for medical interventions, taking grand opportunities to do so in terms of their aging bodies (p. 2). From a general perusal of everyday media, fashion models and music celebrities appear to be getting younger and younger.
Image culture mirrors the demands for idealism in terms of ethnicity, size figure, age defiance, and great fashion sense. This writer recalls the cover of one Vogue Magazine sporting the image of what looked like a twelve-year-old prepubescent girl, scantily clad in sexy clothing, and attired in full-face make-up. Despite the fact that youth, sex, and violence are the desirable, image, reality is something quite different. Skin coloration idealized protocol also silently screams its messages to the masses daily. Nevertheless cosmetic surgery has become the attainable magic pill to solve individuals’ woes in a collective effort to bleach skin, straighten hair, slather on wrinkle creams, and obsessively go on dangerous fad diets. Unless there is a medical condition, such as a skin disease or skin disfigurement, getting cosmetic surgery for vanity is unnecessary.
Music videos and Hollywood movies initiate the process of image culture lessons being dictated to us, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Advertisers foster deep psychological reactions in people’s behavior and self-images. Otherwise, why spend billions on the process? According to Jean Kilbourne (2012) advertisers are constantly searching for new ways to “get our attention” using “ever more graphic depictions of sex and violence” (“Women’s Bodies in Advertising,” 2012). She observes that marketing is literally everywhere, in each sphere of societal activities: finance, politics, labor, religion, and more. Remember how annoyingly humorous it was the first time a talking-video ad appeared in your face while you were pumping gas? See the problem? Dr. Shelley Eriksen of California State University, Long Beach recorded a study in a journal article aimed at aging. The researcher (Eriksen, 2012) wanted to discover how cosmetic surgery by women fit into “normative developmental processes and outcomes” (p. 2). She revealed that one key concern for women was the loss of beauty due to social pressures to “maintain an attractive appearance,” in connection with sexuality and desirability (p. 3). Also, the pressure on women and associated stress to comply with image culture standards was far greater for females than for men.
In terms of body image, researchers Sansone, Chu, and Weiderman connected body image to the psychiatric disorders of borderline personality dysfunctions. Sansone et al. (2010) stated in their borderline personality findings that results show, that although Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) was not exclusively assigned to body images, evaluations of subjects’ “own appearance” played a negative role in imbalanced behavior patterns (p. 579). Most are cognizant and acutely aware that women are expected to be thin, young, and beautiful. But some would argue that advertisers have taken things too far, in terms of image culture depictions and assignments. Kilbourne (2012) states that an ad running in several “upscale women’s magazines featured a woman whose pubic hair had been shaved into the Gucci logo” thereby concluding that “we are encouraged to feel passion for our products rather than our partners” (“Women’s Bodies in Advertising,” 2012). In “To Cut or Not to Cut: Cosmetic Surgery Usage and Women’s Age-Related Experiences,” Eriksen discusses the implication of plastic surgery and its relation to body image. Eriksen (2012) insists that “The relationship between cosmetic surgery usage and the multidimensional body image construct is a central concern in cosmetic surgery research” (p. 4). Research on the subject over the last two decades indicates that women using cosmetic surgery to improve their expected alignment with ‘image culture’ was, obviously, mainly because they were dissatisfied with weight or body size. One interesting point revealed from a myriad of researchers found that the level of dissatisfaction (with their bodies) of women getting cosmetic surgery was fairly consistently over the entire age gamut – from young to older. However the studies, with a view on the global situation, showed that women’s preoccupation with living up to such beauty standards significantly declined after age 60.
People have a right to look however they would care to present themselves physically, and the yearning to portray a good public image is quite understandable. Yet there comes a point when the quest for thinness can become dangerous to one’s health. Leddy, Jones, Morgan, and Schulkin (2009) discuss the issue in connection with eating disorders and obstetric-gynecologic care. The chief point of the researchers’ study was to investigate disordered eating patterns in terms of outcomes for pregnant mothers and babies at the fetus stages. Leddy et al. (2009) stated that less than half of obstetric physicians screen their patients for “body image concerns, weight-related cosmetic surgery, binging, and purging” (p. 1395). Weight loss plays a dangerous role in terms of women trying to reach an impossible standard of thinness. If the decision to get cosmetic surgery is driven by vanity, then the activity represents an effort to fit into the popularity of image culture. If self-image clashes with the media’s standard of beauty, a person can become psychologically imbalanced. For example, if a woman is anorexic, her self-perception is wrong. Therefore, the false view in trying to fit into advertised images of thinness can make a person unhealthy. It is particularly unsettling when pregnant women may be more concerned about their looks and weight in terms of not wanting to get fat – rather than attending their energies towards the health of their in utero child. Eating disorders and unnecessary cosmetic surgery have two things in common: unhealthy body images, and an obsessive drive to correct something that is not broken.
The Leddy research team used the creation of questionnaires developed by experts, as the basis for mailings sent to nearly one thousand physician recipients in the United States. The survey covered fourteen questions and (Leddy, et al. (2009) “52 subquestions” gathering both practices and opinions (p. 1396). Over fifty percent of obstetricians disagree that eating disorder assessments fell within their range of duties. While at the same time, according to Leddy et al. (2009) obstetricians are fully aware that eating disorders can have “negative maternal and fetal effects” evidenced by potentially bad outcomes in terms of “low birth weight (91%) and postpartum depression (90%)” (p. 1398). Rewinding back to the issue of advertising pressures of body image conformity to the mass-digitally glamorized models, Kilbourne believes that there is not much improvement to report on.
In conclusion, one odd fact points out that women who receive cosmetic surgery do not necessarily have higher self-esteem than their counterparts who do not. Eriksen (2012) states that so far the research indicates “women who obtained cosmetic surgery exhibited similar levels of self-esteem and general body satisfaction when compared to controls” (p. 5). The image culture does not appear to be relinquishing its intensity at any point soon. It appears as though the level of self-respect independent of dictated or advertised images, is up to the individual. A healthy realistic balance in life when one is surrounded by a loving family support, and realization that life is more than what a person look like on the outside can go a long way. Continued study and awareness is also important for students, lay persons, and professionals who can help most when needed. Eriksen (2012) interestingly found, too, that the younger women in her study who had participated in cosmetic surgery (under age 50) had “lower family incomes than both middle and older adults” (p. 10).
Eriksen, S.J. (2012). To cut or not to cut: Cosmetic surgery usage and women’s age-related
experiences. International Journal Of Aging & Human Development, 74(1), 1-24.
Kilbourne, J. (2012, February 13). Women’s bodies in advertising. Our Bodies Our Selves.
Retrieved from http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/womens-bodies-in-advertising/
Leddy, M., Jones, C., Morgan, M., & Schulkin, J. (2009). Eating disorders and obstetric-
gynecologic care. Journal Of Women’s Health (15409996), 18(9), 1395-1401. doi:10.1089/jwh.2008.1183
Sansone, R.A., Chu, J.W., & Weiderman, M.W. (2010). Body image and borderline personality
Disorder among psychiatric inpatients. [Abstract]. Comprehensive Psychiatry 51(6),
579-584. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2010.04.001