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Young Women’s Body Image

Young women’s body image in the 21st century is largely influenced by mass media. In today’s world, advertisements can be seen almost everywhere you look. Young women see advertisements on billboards as they drive or walk by places, on buses that are passing by, on benches they may sit on, in magazines that they pick up to read and on the TV they watch to escape from a long day. The cell phones that are glued to their hand 24/7 also subject them to seeing advertisements on the internet and social media.

A lot of the advertisements that you see in these places are typically photos or videos of beautiful women that use a certain product or wear certain clothes. Just by seeing these advertisements, young women are being influenced on what products to buy or what beauty looks like based off the women they see in ads. What is the sociological imagination? During the first week of class it was taught that C Wright Mills was the man responsible for giving a name to a new sociological way of thinking. This way of thinking was called the sociological imagination.

The sociological imagination calls for one to take a step back and look at their problems from a larger frame. When one does this, they are able to see the bigger picture and realize that their personal problem is not just a problem for them but is also a problem for others in society. The reason that their problem also affects others is because the problem stems from cultural or social “norms” and one feels as if they need to conform to them. A lot of young women in today’s world struggle with their body image.

This is because they see advertisements, pictures and videos of flawless women and all of these influence younger girls by setting a standard of what is considered to be beautiful. Majority of the young women in the 21st century do not have the same body type or the same features that these “ideal” women have so they are not able conform and do not see themselves as being as beautiful. I, myself, am among the many young women in this century that struggle with accepting their body image. At a young age I was exposed to the media and started seeing the advertisements of beautiful women in magazines and on the TV.

I may not have realized then that I was being influenced and was subconsciously forming an idea of what “beautiful” looked like, but it is evident to me now that my problem with my body image started taking root a long time ago. My issue with my body/appearance did not really show up until middle school. This is when all the other girls in my classes started buying and wearing certain clothes that were considered cool. When all the other girls started wearing these name brand clothes, I started to feel pressured into wearing it too. I wanted to be cool and I wanted the boys to think I was pretty also.

I cared a lot about what brand of clothes I wore. Who could show up to school not wearing name brand clothes? Where did the idea that wearing certain clothes made you prettier and more popular? The answer is the media. As 12 and 13 year olds I saw the ads for Aeropostale, American Eagle and Hollister and saw how beautiful and popular the models were and wanted to be just like them. As I progressively got older other things about my body began to bother me even more too. At this point in the media the “ideal” woman has a big chest and a big butt with a slim waist.

By the time I reached high school all the other girls in my grade had bigger busts than I did. I was very small chested compared to everyone else and this made me feel very self-conscious about my appearance. I felt like no boy was ever going to want to date me because I was not as sexually attractive as the other girls in my grade or the women in they saw in the media. Even now that I know that the media is the driving force behind the “idealist” body and that the standards are impossible to live up too, I still have issues seeing my body and appearance as good enough.

Do I still feel the need to buy name brand clothing? Yes. Do I still feel insecure about my body features? Most definitely. This just proves how deeply my ideas of beauty are rooted and how strong the effect of the media can be to young women. When looking at how one’s perception of their body is formed in the 21st century it is important to look at how social forces and historical context affect it. Society as a whole has standards for what a person should look like. This standard that has been set comes from the media and the photos and videos that they advertise nationally.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal body is only naturally possessed by only 5% of Americans. On top of that, they also conducted a study that revealed that 69% of girls in 5th – 12th grade admitted that magazine pictures influenced their idea of the body shape (“Self Image…”). The media and society both hold impossibly high standards that can never be met by myself or others. When looking at this body imagine from a historical stand point it can be noted that women have influenced by media for a long time.

The media did not just start influencing what the ideal body type is in the 21st century. The media affected my mother’s view of her body and it also affected her mother’s body image. This shows that negative body image has been a problem that women have had for generations. The media does not just hold power over me and my family, it also influences other women and young girls body image all across the nation. This is because women feel the need to conform to societies standard of beauty. Some women will try to conform to these standards by dieting and some will even develop eating disorders.

With the increasing pressure of being thin it is no surprise that research has found that many bulimics have learned to purge as a way to lose weight by the media (Stice). Controlled experiments also show that the emphasis on dieting placed by the media has been linked to binge eating (Stice). The National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders also states that over half of teenage girls resort to unhealthy eating habits such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives as a means for weight control (“Self Image…”).

The reason the media has such a large effect on society and their body imagine is because of socialization. Socialization is the way that people learn the culture of their society. It also includes norms, which is what is considered to be normal in your society. In the century we live in today, mass media is easily accessible. You can just pick up the phone and search the internet or you can grab a magazine and read it while waiting in line at the grocery store. With all the different sources of media that are available within the reach of our fingertips, it makes sense that mass media plays a large role in socialization.

The norms in today’s society in regards to the standards of body image are set impossibly high. Who does this affect the most though? Research reveals that women are much more critical of their body and 8 out of 10 women will be dissatisfied with what they see when looking in the mirror (Fox). Research has also shown that men have a much more positive outlook on their body women and tend to either be pleased with what they see on the mirror or are indifferent (Fox). Women tend to be more subconscious of their body image because they are put under more pressure and scrutiny than men.

Women are exposed to the media at a young age and this is when they start developing ideas on what one’s body appearance should look like. Research conducted by Duke University discovered that 40% of all 9 and 10-year-old girls have already been on a diet (“Self Image…”). Another study conducted by the National Eating Disorder Association revealed 70% of 6 through 12-year-olds want to be thinner (“Self Image…”). As they grow into an adolescent and then into a young adult the pressure to conform to society’s ideal body type only grows stronger.

The negative affect that this has on young women also carries on with them into adulthood. Research on the body image of adults shows that 80% of women are unhappy with what they see and they often see themselves as being larger than they actually are (“Self Image…”). The negative outlook that the media creates on women’s body image starts at a young and stays with them and throughout their lives. In the 21st century young women’s body image is majorly influenced by the mass media.

The media sets standards that could never be met by most average women. Women will try dieting and some will even develop eating disorders in order to try and obtain the ideal slim figure. Although body image is a personal problem for me it is also a bigger problem for society. Using the sociological imagination, one can take a step back and view the bigger picture to see that the reason they have a negative body image is because one feels a strong need to conform to the norms set in place by society.

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