It is not the secret that the desire to fit the definition of the “ideal figure”, especially among women, appeared long ago. This desire has always existed, and every historical period had its own patterns, standards of beauty, and idols. In the last decades, the mass-media constantly tries to form a phobic fear of fatness among people (mainly among women). It causes the willing of people to correspond the main stereotypes of beauty limiting them in food. The aim of this essay is to evaluate the media influence on the development of the main eating disorders (both anorexia and bulimia) as well as analyze the standards of beauty that were imposed by the society and media.
The media constantly shows thin models that are inflated with silicone and thus form the ideals of perfection and beauty. Moreover, many women (especially adolescents) find them as role models to imitate their images and style of life. However, the fashion and beauty are relative terms. What seemed more attractive in the beginning of the century, today seems ordinary or inappropriate. Therefore, every period in the world history had its own beauty standards and stereotypes. For example, according to the beauty vision of ancient Egypt, the truly beautiful women were supposed to have narrow shoulders, high waist, and slender body. In ancient Greece, beauty stereotypes popularized snow-white skin women with a round belly. In the Renaissance period, curvy shapes, plump hips, and large breasts were considered appealing. In the 20s of the last century, it was popular to have a boyish figure, complete lack of magnificent forms, and small breasts among females. In the 1950s, women wanted to be like Marilyn Monroe, but in the mid-1960s, all notions of female beauty were replaced by the model Twiggy (Lesley Hornby), who promoted the cult of angular, boyish figure. Twiggy is considered as the progenitor of the era of especially thin models, however, at the same time, she became one of the first victims of bulimia. Tall women with thin and athletic body and large breasts were the standard of beauty in the 1980s. The surge of anorexia was one of the main characteristics of that time. Some experts associated it with the sudden interest in the exercise and the desire to lose weight. As well, there are a number of special requirements to the women beauty nowadays (large breasts and buttocks, a flat stomach, and a skinny body). The standards of beauty are highly popularized by the mass-media through the movies, TV shows, Internet, magazine and newspaper articles. More and more women are forced to make plastic surgeries or limit themselves in food. This limitation causes the eating disorders (both anorexia and bulimia) that can easily harm the health of the person or even lead to death.
Eating disorders usually affect physically and intellectually healthy people who are emotionally and psychologically unstable. These disorders usually affect young people, who tend to be the best in everything that conforms to a certain ideal. In this situation, they seek to achieve the “golden standard” of 90-60-90 that is imposed by mass-media. However, only some women match this “golden standard”, while for others it is simply not reachable due to the nature of their genetic structure. Therefore, many girls and women follow a rigid diet, practice fitness or do not eat anything at all to achieve fast results. In general, the number of “thinspiration” web-sites grows every year, but they are dangerous. They conduct their negative mission by glamorising anorexia, providing information about the harmful diets, and promoting thin models and starvation.
As in the old days, the fashion and beauty industry continues to set and promote its own standards, which many people take at face value. The multi-billion-dollar beauty industry depends on the humans’ attitude to the standards of beauty. Therefore, they try to promote and stimulate the consumption-based culture to sell more and more cosmetic products that are aimed at improving the appearance of the person. Today, people live in a society surrounded and defined by various media that have the regular impact on their lives. Mass-media plays one of the most significant roles in the creation of the social attitude that contributes to body dissatisfaction among people. For example, the amount of advertisements and various diets promotions increased significantly in the magazines in the last years. For example, according to the statistics, there are 10.5 times more advertisements and diet promotions in women’s magazines compared to men’s. Moreover, the entertainment industry constantly lowers the standards of the figures size of the famous people. For example, the body sizes of Miss America contestants, Playboy centrefolds, as well as different fashion models and female actresses decreased significantly during the last decades. At the same time, the average weight of the ordinary American women increased, and the global promotion of the thin figure caused a number of psychological and eating disorders among them. The mass-media influence led to the situation when for many young girls in the age of 11-17, the main wish is “to lose weight and keep it off”. It is very disturbing information as “body dissatisfaction is associated with high levels of subjective distress, unhealthy weight control behaviours and extreme methods of altering appearance, such as cosmetic surgery and steroid use”. According to the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System survey, more than 11% of high school girls and 7% of boys in the U.S. took diet pills and liquids to lose their weight. Moreover, 8% of girls and nearly 4% of boys said that they were vomiting or taking laxatives not to get extra weight. The influence of the mass-media is perfectly visible on the example of Fiji. This country was isolated from the influence of Western standards of the beauty for a long time; during that period, the Fijian adolescent girls were influenced only by the local television and there were no eating problems among them. With the increasing influence of the Western culture, more people developed body dissatisfaction, and a number of eating disorders significantly increased. As it is visible from the Figure 1, the body dissatisfaction often leads to the eating disorders. Also, the latter are less common in non-Western countries due to the other cultural and social standards.
Figure 1. Correlation between Media Exposure and Eating Disorders.
It is very difficult to popularize the healthy lifestyle and reduce the number of eating disorders among both men and women, while the popular mass-media creates the atmosphere that emphasizes the thinness in the human bodies. In general, mass media has already created certain biases that influence the perception of the human body. For example, it is emphasized that the thinness of a woman is a synonym to the notion of success in the personal and professional life. Also, mass-media tries to convince adolescents that thinness can actually be attained easily and fast without the harm to the health. As a result of such unrealistic attitude and negative consequences that it causes, the standard of the “ideal” woman figure became thinner over the past years, while the real woman’s weight became heavier.
In these conditions, it is necessary to provide and promote the politics of the media education among the adolescents to decrease the level of its influence on their minds. Furthermore, co-watching media with the parents and teachers encourages critical thinking and helps to understand the situation from both sides. It is crucially important to provide the easy and free (or at a competitive price) access to the healthy media that would cover important and valuable issues of teenagers (for example, teaching them to love the body they have). The mass-media should not only promote the thin models, but also engage the people with different weights and stress on the importance of not weight but health. Moreover, pediatricians, teachers, and parents should continue to prevent, recognize, and help treating eating disorders of the people who suffered from them.
To conclude, it is necessary to state that the relation between the eating disorders and media become more and more important today. The unrealistic beauty standards started threatening the health of people all over the world. Therefore, there is an urgent need to pay more attention to this problem now to have the chance to limit the cases of eating disorders in the short-term and long-term perspectives. It is important to remember that treatment of the eating disorders is possible only at the first stages of the disease; therefore, the prevention and propaganda of healthy lifestyle and free from fake beauty role models can save hundreds of lives.