By Renee Mascaro
Have you ever felt exhausted by struggling to keep up with society’s standards of beauty? What are society’s standards of beauty anyways and who determines these outcomes? Many women can relate on comparing themselves to models they see on television, the internet, or in magazines. According to the Health Research Funding Organization, nearly 80% of women in the United States say that the images of women in movies, fashion magazines and advertising makes them feel insecure. And on top of these already unrealistic standards, when the media lacks real representation for minority women or women of color, there can be an even larger consequence on negative body image. This may lead to affects in mental health, physical health, and can contribute to self- destructive thoughts and behaviors, such as eating disorders. The media must take responsibility in the power they possess in influencing young girls and women of color.
The media has played a huge influence in showing us what beauty standards “are” and contributes to a negative body image within many individuals, specifically minority women. Body image is what we perceive our body to be on the levels of attractiveness and comfort. I remember suffering with heavy acne growing up and the struggle to find beauty in my darker complexion. I would glance at the models on Cosmopolitan magazines, feeling envious as to how “perfectly” clear and white their skin would seem. Only later did I realize that models are touched up through editing software to look so clear and airbrushed, and that these magazines lacked any real diversity.
Advertising plays a huge role within the media of contributing to a negative body image within minority women. We see advertisements practically everywhere from TV, magazines, and now more frequently within our cellphone apps. It is obvious that advertisements and the media have a history of intentionally using flawless, tall, skinny, and porcelain skinned models as a portrayal of “beauty”. This affects the mental and physical well-being of women and young girls of color, that are never used to seeing their own complexions shown in the media as a norm.
While battling with not having white skin, women are also having to compare “ideal” body types by worrying about having a not-so perfectly flat tummy, stretch marks, or cellulite. Minority women are especially targeted because minority families have a great disadvantage financially throughout our country, and those who are at a financial disadvantage often times suffer with their health as well. In a research article done by the Urban Institute, findings show that, “…white family wealth was seven times greater than black family wealth and five times greater than Hispanic family wealth in 2016.” (McKernan et al) And in another article by the American Diabetes Association, evidence links poverty to sedentariness (due to various reasons such as violent crime risk in such neighborhoods or lack of available jobs) and obesity. Author James Levine says that, “Overall, the poorest counties have the greatest sedentariness and obesity.” (Levine)
There were times when I was younger that I would feel jealous as to how skinny the women were throughout the different media platforms, and I told my mother that I felt fat because I was 125 pounds. There is no good reason that I should’ve allowed myself to believe that I wasn’t beautiful enough. I was a healthy teenager, who regularly played sports and exercised, however I still did not see the right image when I looked in a mirror. You can’t even grab groceries and checkout without the tabloids screaming at you to “Get your BEACH BODY”, “Get THIN”, or to “Get ROCK HARD ABS”. I would fall for these malicious schemes, and even one time ordered one of the “magic weight loss pills” because the ad targeted the feelings I had been dealing with and convinced me that taking it would solve my insecurities. There is a huge issue within the media controlling what society deems as beautiful and this misconception impacts the health of females all over the world.
Image manipulations within the media are continuously putting pressure on females to strive to have the unrealistic perfectly shaped body to feel content with themselves. As Jean Kilbourne, advertising critic, said in 2015 about the effects of modern advertising campaigns linking with eating disorders, “Women and girls compare themselves to these images every day. The failure to live up to them is inevitable because they are based on a flawlessness that doesn’t exist” (Suggett, 2017).
The media subliminally reminds us that beauty has a skin tone, specific weight, and height. Only since this decade have we been seeing more diversity within beauty industries from makeup, modeling, to fashion. Women of color have been neglected through media portrayals and are chosen last when compared to white women. All women, of all colors, are beautiful. It is cruel that the media only tends to shine the spotlight on one group of attractive women while leaving the rest in the dark to feel unworthy of media attention. The self-perception of minority women including African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians can be negatively affected due to these circumstances.
African American women here in the United States have been judged on their physical appearances since slavery. Black was never associated with beauty during the evolution of our country being formed; Many African American women suffer with body image due to these results. European white women were always favored and deemed as the standard of beauty.
“Given the history of slavery, racism and colorism in the U.S., American beauty standards are based on idealized depictions of White women’s physical features (e.g., fair skin, long straight hair, thin lips, small nose) which can be difficult and almost impossible to attain for many Black women” (Walker, 2014).
According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services,
“Similar to the effects on African-Americans, the media has perpetuated stereotypes about Latin-Americans, those of which differ from the typical non-Hispanic woman. These images are shown on television, which is heavily consumed by Latin-American women. Latin-American women on average watch four more hours of television daily than women in other ethnic groups. Due to this increase in exposure, Latin-American women are more susceptible to negative images, making comparisons to the media ideal more detrimental. As a result, Latin-Americans have a heavy loyalty to the health and beauty industry. The support that they give to this industry may be associated with the dissatisfaction felt when media ideals are used for comparison” (Baugh & Martin).
Asian women are not to be left out as they suffer heavily with trying to keep up with the standards of beauty. Modern Asian beauty standards reveal a certain fascination and influence of ideal Western beauty. Big and round eyes are most favorable and cause many Asian women to resort to cosmetic surgery to create double-fold eyelids (2016).
Due to the consequences of the lack of diverse representation of natural women within the media, many women of color suffer with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and have low self-esteem that could all possibly lead to suicide. Physical effects on women of color result in anorexia, bulimia, and unsafe rapid weight loss. There is no denying that the media plays a significant role in portraying unrealistic standards that are far reached for women of color. What all women, of every color, should be working towards is self-love, awareness, and acceptance.
Is it fair to say that white women are being targeted in the process of lifting women of color up? I would hope that white women would not feel targeted but feel inspired to join all other women to use their voices and their strong platforms to help bring awareness to the lack of representation of colored women within the media. Also, that women of color would join white women, who face some of the same discriminations, to stand together against the real issues. Who to truly blame is not only the media, beauty, and fashion industries but overall our society for having a history of favoring one side of the beauty spectrum and misrepresenting women. We need to be sending positive messages through mass communications that all women are beautiful and that we all must love ourselves for who we are and what we look like. Beauty comes in many forms and women, of all colors, must not let the media tell them otherwise.
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