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Does It Shape Society's View of Femininity?
The question answers itself. Yes, the media definitely influences today's society via
messages through the television, radio, magazines, and billboards. It seems that in today's
day and age to even be “noticed” as a woman one must be tall, skinny, blonde, and countless other
things that the “average woman” could only hope for. Today, if one is not comfortable
with who or what they are, they may encounter many dilemmas. I found three convincing
reasons to support my claim: the rise of eating disorders throughout history, percentages
and statistics, and my own personal experience.
The Rise of Eating Disorders Throughout History
As far back as the 18th century, women began dieting. They submitted themselves to
food deprivation, enemas, and purging. In order to achieve that “hourglass” figure, some
women went as far as having their lower ribs surgically removed.(Collins 199) In the 1940s and '50s,
full figure females were popularized by movie stars like Ava Gardner, Jane Russell, and
Marlyn Monroe, but they were, however, short lived. With the introduction of Playboy®,
Vogue®, and Cosmopolitan®, eating disorders have quickly taken over our society. The
great majority of American women are culturally conditioned to strive for a slender figure.
Advertising, television, films, and the fashion industry relentlessly drive home the
message, and women who don't “ naturally” fit the mold often respond by dieting or even
Percentages and Statistics
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “ Media images that help to
create a cultural definition of beauty and attractiveness are often acknowledged as being
among those factors contributing to the rise of eating disorders”(165). Media messages
screaming “thin is in” may not cause eating disorders but help to create a context in which
people learn to put a value on their body.
The media's power over our development of self-esteem and body image can be incredibly
strong. According to a recent survey of adolescent girls, the media is their main source on
women's health issues ( Common Wealth Fund 348) , and researchers estimate that 60% of
middle school girls read at least one fashion magazine regularly (Levine 1997). Another
study of mass media magazines discovered that Women's magazines had 10.5 times more
advertisements and articles promoting weight loss than men's magazines did (ctd. in Guillen
& Barr 465). There was a study of 4,294 network television commercials which revealed that
one out of every 3.8 commercials send some sort of “attractiveness” message, telling
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viewers what is or is not attractive ( Myers 114). These researchers estimate that the average
adolescent sees over 5,260 attractiveness messages per year, through television alone.
My Own Personal Experience
In the past two years, I myself have noticed a change in the way society views me, as I
now am an overweight person. Just a mere couple of years ago, I weighed only 120 pounds.
What I have noticed is that before I nearly gained 100 extra pounds, wherever I went, men
would go out of their way to say “ Hello,” or even drop things in front of me so they could
“pick me up” or pick it up, pardon the pun. However, it seems that now-a-day's I have to go
out of my way to say “ Hello” and shudder from embarrassment at the looks of disgust
coming from these individuals. I no longer even try to speak or even look at “good looking”
All signs point to yes when it comes to the media's influence on femininity. From
magazines to Barbie dolls, more and more influence is being based on what “good-looking”
people think, and in order to be “good-looking,” one must do a variety of things to reach this
goal. But, who's to say that when they reach their goal, society will accept them? What does
the future hold for our “average looking” children? I shudder to think about it but must
Aufreiter, N., Elzinga, D. & Gordon, J. (2003) Better Branding. The McKinsey Quarterly, 4.
Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.
Commonwealth Fund, The. (1997). In Their Own Words: Adolescent Girls Discuss Health and Health Care Issues,322-349.
Guillen & Barr. (1994). Journal of Adolescsent Health, 15, 464-472.
Levine. (1997). Plenary Presentation at the Third Annual Eating Disorders on Campus Conference, Penn State University.
Myers et al. (1992). Journal of Communication, 42, 108-133.