Thursday, February 13, 2014

Has the media screwed up our perception of beauty?

A friend of mine is writing a paper for school and the topic is about how the media has changed women's perception of beauty. She was asking if we thought the standards of beauty were unrealistic. After typing out a wordy response, it occurred to me that this topic deserves its own post.

One of the reasons I'm thrilled that we're starting our family out with a baby boy is that the self-esteem issues that plague teen girls seem so damn complicated and scary (plus, they put up shrines to Justin Bieber and that makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Sure, we had Justin Timberlake and he's kind of a tool, but I thought 'NSync wasn't too bad overall. I mean, one of them had dreads. C'mon). 

And I say teen girls, but I think women feel the effects of the "beauty standard" at any age. The teen girls worry about their thigh gap and if it's big enough (this must be an age-related concern because at 30, it doesn't bother me that my thigh gap is non-existent), women closer to my age are starting to realize they can't eat like they used to (it sucks) and older women are looking into surgical procedures to reverse the hands of time (although, I've heard this is happening more and more in the early 20's). So yes, we all feel the effects, we just feel it differently.

And yes, I think the media has set the standard for a long time. Actresses, models, singers - most of them are crazy thin wearing a size zero or two. It's terrible because such a small percentage of women can actually attain those standards (while being healthy) and the other large percentage winds up being disappointed with themselves or wishing for something they genetically can't attain. And that's not even going into the excessive Photoshopping and make-up applications that are done. Sometimes people forget that while we take care of ourselves each morning (and probably several others), these women have teams - yes, TEAMS - that amplify their looks and that's before Photoshop even comes into play.

But while I think the media sets the standard, I don't think they're the only ones enforcing it. I think it's time to take a hard look at how women treat other women or girls treat other girls. I've heard grown women make comments about how, "she'd be so pretty if she could drop a few pounds." Why do we do this to ourselves? Is it to make ourselves feel better? I may have bad skin, but at least I'm not overweight? How is this healthy for anyone?

I probably don't have to mention that teens are so much worse. Or maybe even young women in general. I can think of a few instances when I said something in my early 20's that I'm now utterly ashamed of - ugh, it still makes me sick to my stomach. I think we've all probably been there (I tell myself that anyway). And thank God Facebook didn't come into play until my senior year of college. High school was hard enough without the possibility of people bullying me online. Can you imagine people passing your sophomore photo around pointing out your lack of thigh gap? Because high school isn't hard enough, right?

Of course, there's the other elephant in the room - men. Men who want their women to look like they belong in a Victoria's Secret catalogue (sorry fellas, the only I know of that's living that life is Leonardo DiCaprio and he's already got too many people hanging on his coattails *coughjonahhillcough*). But more and more I'm starting to think that it's actually a very small percentage of the male population who cares that much (probably frat guys and J. Timberlake). Sure, maybe they'd all like to live the fantasy, but most of the men I know are happily married to women of all different shapes, sizes and colors. So if they aren't the ones vocally complaining about the lack of models in their lives, then who is? 

And we're back to the women.

There are so many questions I want to ask. Do you want to look a certain way to be famous? To be loved? To be accepted by others? To find a man? To find a soul mate? To love yourself? So people won't bully you? So many questions, so many answers. I think each individual needs to take some time to reflect on WHY they let themselves be influenced by the industry standard and once they have a reason, they can work on fighting the urge to compare themselves to people who aren't real (never forget about Photoshop).

Then maybe if we collectively took a step back and refused to accept the industry standard, we wouldn't have so many self-esteem issues. They won't sell it if we aren't buying it. What's more, maybe we should change the message. Instead of encouraging girls/women to be thin, why don't we encourage them to be healthy? To eat the right things and exercise three times a week? You know, heart disease is the leading killer of women. Why don't we focus on that instead?

Now let's get to a bigger problem.

How do we get rid of Justin Bieber?


PS - Have you noticed that this question isn't aimed at men? I'd like to know if they feel the pressure to have washboard abs and big calf muscles. Somehow, I doubt it. 

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