Media’s Influence on Beauty Standards
Media has had an influence on beauty standards throughout the world; therefore, it affects women of all races. Television and print ads are major methods of spreading the toxic ideas of: “you’re too big, your hair is not straight enough, you are not skinny enough.” Most media examples use Euro American women to further the agenda they sets forth. African American woman were not specifically targeted (try and be smaller, when they are naturally curvy; straigth hair, when they usually have wavy hair) because they were not represented in the media – but little did people realize that it influenced all who were exposed to it. “Dove Real Beauty Campaign,” “Confidence Coalition,” and “17 Body Peace Project” are several movements that are using the tactic of forms of media verse forms of media. These campaigns are encouraging natural beauty, body peace, and high self-esteem. Society fueled the media and holds responsibility for letting the media create a lack of confidence and desire to change in women; although, the media today is hard at work to create a solution.
Tracey Patton, author of “Hey Girl, Am I More than My Hair?” states that there are different “definitions of beauty that vary amoung cultures” (Patton 25). While this is true, it should be understood that musicians, athletes, and other celebrities help define the beauty standards. Celebrities, as a whole, have a fan base that can easily be manipulated. It is a common occurrence that when a celebrity, like Taylor Swift, is wearing Covergirl makeup instead of Maybelline, her fan base is most likely willing to try out Covergirl; or when Tyra Banks is straightening her hair and getting a weave, her fan base is going to set put appointments at the salon to try the look out. Society is moldable and whoever is the top celebrity will be extremely influencial.
(A fan comment on a Youtube.com Video in regards to Covergirl’s latest “IT-GIRL” Taylor Swift.)
In the past, media coverage on African American women and beauty have not been the most abundant. When African American beauty was covered it was “wrought with stereotypes” of “the oversexed jezebel, the tragic mulatto, and the mammy figure” (Patton 26). These cliches lead to women attempting to alter their appearance, resulting in low self-esteem and conforming to the beauty ideals that were set into society. “Televison and motion pictures did not fail to make the African American woman aware that she was not included in America’s standard of beauty” (Patton 26). Allowing people to let the media be dominated by racist, powerhungry people causes an uneven beauty ideal in the world. It helps create the idea that African American women should conform to the white definition of beauty – the only projected ideal of beauty – which has been toxic for years for all races.
The media’s standards on beauty have changed throughout the years. A noticeable shift in beauty standards occurred beginning in the 1920s, where “appearing ‘young and boyish’” was all the rage (Patton 31). The idea of beauty in the United States progressed, and in the 1940s to the 1950s the voluptuous woman, Pin-Up Girl, was in vogue. The standard eventually changed and in the 60s, the media was able to introduce a woman who had “thin body with long, straight hair” (Patton 31), and made another drastic change to a “tanned and toned physique” to the most extreme beauty image in the 1990s (Patton 31). Being as thin as possbile with either a large or small chest was the beauty image that the media projected onto people (Patton 31). Kate Moss is a celebrity who has played a role in making this a popular look that young girls and college women are trying to achieve.
An example of media being influencial in earlier times would be when American television made its way over to Fiji and “the rates of anorexia and bulimia increased exponentially” (Patton 25). This is a distrubing fact to read in an article on beauty of White women and African American Women because it shows that White an African American women are not the only women susceptible to media influences on the ideas of beauty.
No matter what a culture says about body types, the media has confident in their own skin. It has gotten to the point where there the media has brainwashed women’s subconscienous into telling them they should feel bad about themselves. It is a constant struggle for women, celebrities included, to feel one-hundred percent comfortable with who they are. As seen in Zadie Smith’s novel, On Beauty, Kiki Belsey, the main character, struggles with her weight gain and how her husband, Howard, struggles to remain loyal to her. After returning to an empty house after yoga one afternoon, Kiki undresses and stands “in front of her closet and making some astute descisions regarding her weight” (Smith 42). It is seen in movies, when young waif actresses stand in front of the mirror and pull at their bony hips and elbows. This act has become second nature to most people; to stand fully free without all of the tricks to hold you in (the tricks that are supported through television ads) and feel free. Most girls and women has been conditioned to feel that when they are in their own skin, at a healthy weight, that they feel the least beautiful.
Women also feel less beautiful when they are viewed through a stereotype. Since African American women have not been equally represented in the media, there is this notion that full figure and healthy African American women are motherly. Dia Sekayi, author of “Aesthetic Resistance to Commercial Influences: The Impact of the Eurocentric Beauty Standard on Black College Women,” quotes a source, Fordham, who states that “…African American women are not seen as the archtypal symbol of womanhood…” (Sekayi 486). In Zadie Smith’s novel, On Beauty, the main female character, Kiki, is seen as the head of the Belsey household. This position of power is not considered womanly, in fact it is seen as a woman taking on a man’s job and losing her sense of womanhood. While out at the fair with Jerome, Kiki runs into Warren Crane, whom she thinks is very handsome, but does not become shy around him because “once you get too old or too big, you are no longer thought of in a sexual way” (Smith 51). This rule only applied to Kiki; Warren was still considered a handsome man and a fine bachelor. Kiki also notes that “White boys find her and other African American women funny” because they are brought up to think of fuller figure women as “Aunt Jemima” (Smith 51). This makes Kiki self-conscious and think about how she was looked at in the White world when she weighed much less. It is difficult for a reader to interpret this and not feel a pang in their heart for Kiki. The reader will also feel for the author, Zadie Smith, because On Beauty uses examples from Smith’s life.
In a recent interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio (NPR), Smith describes how her upbringing is reflected in her characters such as Kiki and how she wished to be thin and well liked, which was her character Victoria Kipps. Smith admits that as a young girl she often times wondered what it would be like to be thin (Gross – Interview). “When I became thin and found out all those things [dreams of being thin and how people treated you] were true, I became even more infuriated” (Gross – Interview). While looking back, Smith realizes that her desire to fit in with all of the thin white girls made her into a different person. When she was bigger (and her mother was a model), she was able to be invisible to the world (Gross – Interview). Smith declares that that was the best thing because she was “able to read a lot” (Gross – Interview). This invisibility in her early years created a stepping stone for her love of education rather than looks. Smith says that “the main stream media ignored African American women” (Gross – Interview). The author of On Beauty was thankful for this oversight because when she reads women’s magazines she feels “depressed, alienated, and very sad” (Gross – Interview). Smith gets these feelings from knowing that no matter how hard anyone tries to live up to the media’s absurd demand of being thin, one will never be able to feel whole. Constantly chasing these beauty ideals will only lead to unfulfillment.
In most of the articles, there seems to be a trend: that media focuses on Euro American White women and the beauty ideals they have. This not only affects White women, but all other races and minorities. The primary figure in most television and motion pictures are White women or men. It begins to create the concept that only White, skinny, long haired women are the normal person walking down the street. Patton writes “these beauty standards are ‘maintained by society’s elite’” who would include celebrities and media moguls. Sekayi supports the claim that the social elite, reigning from their throne on Madison Avenue and Hollywood, are “the epitome of commercialism and culture” (Sekayi 469). With people from both coasts of the United States, producing magazine covers with women, whom they have chosen and who resemble one another, gives a sublte, yet obvious standard of beauty. Models and or celebrities are not chosen at random when makeup, clothing, shoe, etc, companies a looking for a person to be the face of their product: These women are hand-picked for specific reasons.
When women of color eventually broke the stereotype of “mammie and jezebel” there are still restrictions on who will have the opportunity to be an example for the African American women’s community (Patton 26, 39). African American women with lighter skin and wavy hair are more likely to be the figures in the spotlight (Patton 39). The music industry also has created a platform for what is an “acceptable size” model for music videos and awards shows (Belgrave 22). When young girls watch rap videos, they are going to think that they have to alter their body to fit what the director desires. It is a new way to influence the way girls are viewing themselves and their bodies. India Aire is an African American who is breaking all of society’s “rules.” Aire is a two time Grammy winner and a seventeen Grammy nominee who will not let the media influence the way she writes music, walks, talks or dresses (Aire). Aire is a breath of fresh air; she is an African American woman, who is in the spotlight, but she does not give into the beauty standard to have straight hair or dress in the hottest labels (Aire).. Aire’s stylist is her mother and when she performs, she wears outfits and accessories that reflect more of her music and culture. Without knowledge of Aire, one might think that she is from South Africa, but she was born in Denver, Colorado and raised in Atlanta, Georgia when her parents divorced (Aire). Aire is also a supporter of the natural hair movement for African American women. She exudes confidence, beautiful, and acceptance of who she is as a whole. Aire is a great person in the music industry for young girls looking for someone to model their life after.
There are some exceptions, such as Tyra Banks, whose resume begins at being a highend fashion model to a talk show host. Banks is an example of how African American women are susceptible to the negative media regarding weight, looks, and overall body appeal. Banks is a gorgeous, voluptuous woman who has fallen prey to the Euro American look that the media has deemed an unrival by any other image. She has conformed to the media’s beauty standards. Banks is an example of how the Euro American advertisments affected her, and how it can affect women of all races.
An important quote from Patton that helps explain why White and African American women are equally affected by the media, whether or not it is directly directed at a specific race is:
“We are socially constructed through language and mediated images to believe that what makes a woman beautiful is not her intelligence or her inner beauty but her outer beauty” (Patton 39).
It is hard as a young woman to see your favorite actress in skinny jeans with a tight shirt on and a boyfriend on her arm. It makes you wonder, “Why can’t I have that lifestyle? Is it hard to get? It is possible to get?” This all leads to eating disorders, excessive workouts and obsessive thoughts. The media learned that it can manipulate people’s thoughts, which will make it easier to sell diet pills, workout gear, supplements, and other “quick fixes.”
In a 1993 interview with People Magazine, another media outlet, young Kate Moss tells the magazine that “She smokes and has never worked out. She doesn’t diet either. ‘I try to eat so I won’t be so waiflike,’ she says…” (People.com 2). Moss continued on to model for Calvin Klein and Levi Jeans, but because of her small frame, there was a major backlash as to how small is too small. In 2008, Moss shocked the world by admitting that the fashion industry as caused her to fall underweight . She claims that on flights and photo shoots, the food was atrocious and uneatable (Guardian.co.uk Paper 1). Moss believes that the fashion industry is to blame for her waif-like appearance. She recalls “standing up in the bath one day and [thinking] … I was so thin! I was never anorexic … I remember thinking, I don’t want to be this skinny.” The two articles juxaposed to eachother corroborates the theory that the media’s messages have serious repercussions. The 1993 article is when Moss was a 17 year old just starting out in the business; the 2008 article interviews a mature 32 year old who has become “bored” just being a model. Moss is not the only model in the fashion industry who has admitted to using extreme measures to keep their weight down. Karen Elson admitted to a 2008 edition of Vogue that she “took laxatives to stay skinny” after a stylist commented on her waistline (Guardian.co.uk 1). Elson warns that fashion industry looks for vulnerable girls and once they hit puberty and get hips they will be dropped. This kind of extreme thinking and actions are “dangerous and can potentially harm the girls mentally and physically” (Guardian.co.uk 1).
It has reached a point where women have stopped to think about the beauty standards they have been trying to achieve for years. The media has turned on itself and saying “enough is enough.” Campaigns, such as Seveteen Magazine’s“17 Body Peace Project,” the Dove “Real Beauty Campaign,” and “Confidence Coalition,” are working against the negative ideas that the destructive media have been implanting into young girls’ and women’s heads.
Though several media outlets tell women that they are not good enough, there are lights shining at the end of the tunnel. One company that has used media to influence better self-esteem and self-acceptance is, Seventeen Magazine. The magazine has created a print and social media movement called “17 Body Peace Project.” It is a new media campaign that targets young girls who read the magazine. The pages of the magazines are filled with how-tos on dating, boys, and sex. But in addition to those tips, Seventeen has stepped up and proclaimed that the body you have is beautiful.
Since the print version of Seventeen is released only once a month and usually planned two to three months in advance, the creators of the “17 Body Peace Project” needed another way to keep up with a generation hungry for a knowledge, acceptance, and confidence. With social media on the rise, young people are more likely to log into Facebook or Twitter everyday and receive updated stories and ways to improve yourself esteem. On Twitter, Seventeen declared April 13, 2011, “17 Beauty Peace Day.” Girls were encouraged by celebrities, magazine editors, and their fellow readers to go a day without makeup. Seventeen‘s Twitter feed is inundated with pictures, inspiring quotes, and stories from experience. It is a great way to see that social media is being used to encourage confidence, healthy eating, and care for one’s body. There were several Reply Tweets and mentions of #17BeautyPeace Day on April 13th. The movement appears to be successful. Girls sent in pictures of themselves rocking a makeup-less look to school, work, and sports practice. Seventeen Magazine also has a pledge that they encourage girls to sign. By signing this pledge, girls can see the many other girls who are also going through a time in their life when they are iffy about their body. It is a good support system and way to see that normal girls and celebrities are connect on a more personal basis.
(Seventeen Magazine’s Tweets from Twitter.com/#!/seventeenmag).
In a world of stick thin models, diet pills, and excessive exercise regiments, having a force like Seventeen is no match for the other media outlets that subconsciously promote eating disorders, insecurities, poor eating habits. A celebrity who has taken the 17 Body Peace Pledge is Brittany Snow, who battled an eating disorder while she was a teenager. Amber Riley, a major voice and phenomenal actress on Glee, also took the 17 Body Peace Pledge. She is a bigger girl by the media’s standards, but she has been maintaining a positive outlook on her body and whom she is as a person. She declares on Seventeen‘s website, “I love my breasts, my face, my butt,” but most importantly, ‘I love myself’” (Seventeen.com) This is most important at the end of the day, loving yourself.
Another influencial movement, but more relatable for the average woman, is the “Dove: Movement for Self-Esteem.” There is an entire webpage reserved for tip on talking to your daughter about natural body developments, self-esteem boosters, and a pledge to join the movement. This campaign differs from Seventeen’s because the magazine utilizes celebrities and has them share their struggle to gain body peace. While Dove remains relatable for young women and mothers because the women and girls in the video and ads are just normal people. They do not deal, on a regular basis, with the pressures to be thin for fashion shows or movie roles that they are competing for against other thin, waif-like girls.
In the opening scene for Dove’s “Movement for Self-Esteem” video, the first woman is African American. She is speaking to her two daughters; her youngest daughter, Carol, admits that she is sensitive about her dimples because she has been teased for having them. The oldest daughter, one whom younger sisters look up to, tells Carol that her dimples “make you [her] look pretty” (Dove.us). Simple compliments, rather than body bashing, will create stronger and more confident women.
National Kappa Delta Sorority has teamed up with Dove to support this movement. Kappa Delta took the pledge to end body bashing one step further by creating a movement of its own: the “Confidence Coalition.” By teaching girls in college to be kind to their body and to accept who they are, these women will graduate college with an impressive degree, high self-esteem, and confidence. The Ladies of Kappa Delta Sorority also work with the Girl Scouts of America with which they will instill the lessons they learned in younger generations. This partnership between Dove (mothers), “Confidence Coalition” (college-age women), and Girls Scouts of America (young girls) will fashion a new generation of women who are ignoring the negativity from the media and embracing the body that they have.
With all of this positive media trying to counteract the negative media, one will wonder which vice will prevail. With the number of girls and women being diagnosed with eating disorders and asking “does this dress make look fat?” many will agrue that it will take years to remedy the problem. Although this problem will not be solved overnight, it is clear that women in the fashion, music, and print journalism industry are seeing the negative effects that the media has and are working to find a solution.
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