What are the implications?
During adolescence it’s usual for young people to think a lot about how their bodies look. During the teen years their bodies and appearance go through lots of changes and youngsters often compare their bodies with others. Meanwhile a positive attitude to your body is an important part of a healthy self-esteem.
The standards of beauty are very wobble and change from decade to decade. If we look through the pages of history, we see that for insance in Western Europe in the Middle Ages the main attributes of beauty and femininity were considered to be small height, blond hair, blue eyes, paleness and general weakness, small breasts and narrow shoulders, and thin lips. Later during the period of Renaissance the standards of beauty switched to the opposite. Current “90-60-90” standard sizes for a model would be considered ugly about 50 years ago. This pendulum of fashion and beauty standards features the history of humankind. What is fashionable and beautiful today can become ugly and wrong tomorrow. Public opinion and beauty standards creates the image of how we should look, impacts on our self-esteem and finally changes our way of life.
Mass media, fashion industry, Hollywood and social media actively fuel this “perfect body image”. Glamour magazines, TV, cinema constantly show images of beautiful women and men, who look like they live in beauty salons and never walk the streets, just catwalks. They never look like that in real life but Photoshop tools and professional makeup create literally “gods of beauty” on the covers of popular fashion magazines.
Contemporary beauty standards dictate a person to be extremely skinny, tall, long-legged, tanned and physically fit, with perfect makeup and hair style. This standard also tells women that they have to appear young, with adolescent body shape at any age, and that aging is to be feared. “Most of the women we see in the media are young and white. Hollywood movies rarely feature women over forty, and the older women we do see represented in the media, from movie stars to news anchors and even politicians, look much younger, thanks to plastic surgery”. (The Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 2005).
Standards of beauty have in fact become harder and harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population. Also, studies show that attractive people don't benefit from the 'bias for beauty' in terms of self-esteem. They often don't trust praise of their work or talents, believing positive evaluations to be influenced by their appearance. (Fox, 1997).
Young people are especially vulnerable to the influence of mass media and public opinion as their life experience is scarce and personalities are immature. Trying to reach impossible standards they starve themselves, go for plastic surgery and suffer from low self-esteem which may result in serious health problems and psychological and eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa to name just a few.
Among the key factors which cause anorexia nervosa and bulimia are lack of self-esteem, and social cultural factors as emphasis on thinness as the ideal for beauty and role of the media fuelling this image (ANAD, 2014).
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by immoderate food restriction, obsession with idea of being thin, and an irrational fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted body self-perception. It usually involves excessive weight loss. Individuals with anorexia often suffer from headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and a lack of energy. People with anorexia often view themselves as overweight or "big" even when they are already underweight.
This disorder most often has its onset in adolescence. It often leads to serious psychiatric problems. It is a serious health condition with a high mortality rate. People with anorexia feel hunger however, that hunger call is being suppressed or ignored. Sufferers may commonly engage in self-harm behaviors in order to override their feelings of hunger.
Another related eating disorder is bulimia. A person with Bulimia has an intense fear of becoming fat or gaining weight. Someone with Bulimia may eat large amounts of food in a short period of time and then eliminate the food and calories by making themselves vomit. One may exercise excessively or use diet pills to purge weight or calories.
One of the recent tragic accidents illustrates the possible consequences of teenage obsessions with appearence. At the beginning of this year a teenager committed a suicide in Hampstead, UK. “A ‘beautiful’ teenage ballerina Tallulah Wilson’s repeatedly scrawled ‘fat’, ‘ugly’ and ‘worthless’ in her diary before throwing herself in front of a train. Tallulah Wilson’s obsession with her appearance – and her mistaken belief that she was overweight – was fuelled through people she met on social networking websites, a jury was told”. (Kelly, 2014)
DS Adrian Naylor, of the British Transport Police, who investigated the death,said there were a number of issues rather than one ‘specific trigger’ that may have led to her death. “He said: ‘It could be a combination of what appears to be relationship breakdowns with people on the internet, concern about self-appearance and basically engaging with like-minded people who seem to feed that obsession. It appeared from the diary that Tallulah sadly had very low self-esteem.’ I am fat and ugly: What tragic ballerina wrote repeatedly in diary as net fuelled self-harm obsession”. (Kelly, 2014)
Unfortunately this is not a single accident which took life of a gifted, beautiful and promising young girl, but rather a threatening trend. The statistics speaks for itself:
The body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females. (The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, 2003, cited in ANAD, 2014).47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures. (Levine, 1998, cited in ANAD, 2014).
69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body (ANAD, 2014).
42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991, cited in ANAD, 2014).81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991, cited in ANAD, 2014).
According to a study done by the American Journal of Psychiatry (2009, cited in ANAD, 2014), crude mortality rates were:
• 4% for anorexia nervosa
• 3.9% for bulimia nervosa
• 5.2% for eating disorder not otherwise specified.
Positive image of our body is an essential part of our self- esteem. Changeable perception of what is human beauty today transmitted by television, popular fashion magazines and internet, in part, social media, set almost unattainable body standards with emphasis on thinness as the ideal. Young people often are too concerned about their appearances. This causes a number of serious health problems, including physical and psychological disorders, characterized by high rates of mortality.
One of the ways to decrease the horrible statistics is to transmit through mass media other messages, promoting different values like individuality, healthy lifestyle, personal achievements, praise of work and talents etc. Beauty is in diversity, and it should not have any standards set by some fashion trends, mass media, public opinion or other social - cultural factors.
- The Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 2005. Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era. Peter Smith Publisher, Incorporated, p.125
- Fox, K.; 1997. Mirror, mirror. A summary of research findings on body image. Social Issues Research Center, 2014. Available at: http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html [Accessed 21 March, 2014].
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 2014. General Information, 2014. [online] Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/general-information [Accessed 21 March 2014].
- Kelly, T. I am fat and ugly: What tragic ballerina wrote repeatedly in diary as net fuelled self-harm obsession. 2014. Daily Mail, [online] (Last updated: 09:38 GMT, 15 January 2014). Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2539355/I-fat-ugly-worthless-I-Diary-reveals-bleak-thoughts-15-year-old-ballet-dancer-threw-train.html
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 2014. Etaing Disorders Statistics, 2014 [online] Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/