by Tracy Brown
Have you ever heard the saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? It is a popular saying that everyone has probably heard at one time or another in their life. Although this is a popular phrase, there are several social factors that alter the beholders eye to what it perceives beauty is. Beauty is all around us, on television, everyday encounters with everyday people, and several other places. Women are born into the world without a bias as to what is beautiful and what is perceived as ugly. Once that girl has matured into a woman, it is the world that shapes that young mind into what it perceives is beautiful and what it perceives is ugly. Once this occurs girls and women are then placed into categories of beautiful and what society believes it is not. Once women are exposed to the perception of beauty this is when stereotyping and body shaming begins. This then causes a spiral affect that could lead to serious issues in the future. The way in which a woman sees beauty could be altered if there were changes to, the media, the toy industry, and the clothing industry.
The first environmental factor that alters a young girl’s mind to beauty is the toy industry. A popular girls toy plays a big part in shaping the perception of beauty to a young girl; that toy is Barbie. The author from International Business Times states, “If she was a real person, she would stand 5′ 9″ tall and weigh 110 lb which is 35 lbs lesser than the healthy weight for a woman given that height” (Barbie Doll Body Is Something That Girls Literally Have to Die For). This toy being a symbol for a young girl gives her the perception that she is supposed to be that thin. Barbie also has long hair and makeup. This puts in a young girl’s mind that she is supposed to look this way to feel beautiful. The authors of the book, Developmental Psychology states, “early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling” (Dittmar, Halliwell, Ive). This image also, excludes a majority of girls, girls that for example, are thicker in the waist, who have short or no hair, and girls who choose not to wear makeup or may be allergic to it. Barbie also only comes in two colors black and white and shows no type of disability. Barbie only being in two colors and without any “flaws” excludes several groups of girls. This doll being a main symbol to young girls at an early age alters their perception of beauty in such a way that they begin to doubt their looks and try to change their selves in such a way to mirror the image of that popular toy. This also creates image stereotypes and leads toward the judging of others potentially causing bullying and body shaming of other girls.
A way in which the toy industry can alter their merchandise to appeal to each little girl may seem difficult but it is quite simple. An example of an alternative is, special order Barbie’s. Offering a website in which mothers or fathers can go online and order a Barbie that matches the appearance of their daughter. Another option would also to market Barbie dolls in stores of multiple different colors so that a girl of any race can walk into a store and pick a Barbie that matches their skin tone. Barbie should also be made to match the likeness of what an average girl actually looks like, to change the proportion of the doll to be more accurate. Another option would also be to have some dolls with disabilities. Every girl is not the same; some may have had cancer and lost their hair, some may me midgets, and some may not have any arms or legs. Creating dolls that are different and with some sort of disability will showcase that every girl is different. Just because you have a disability does not affect their beauty.
Some of the changes are already in effect in one type of toy doll and that is the American girl doll. The company has a website in which the parent can go online and custom make a doll to mimic the way in which their daughter looks. On this website, the customer can customize the doll to have different hair colors, eye colors and skin colors. Also on this website the customer can create the doll to have different disabilities, such as a removeable prosthetic leg and can also purchase and accessory such as a wheelchair. If more toy companies jumped on board with this type of customization it would greatly decrease the bullying that can occur from having a disability and look different than other girls.
A second factor that contributes to a poor body image among women is, the media. One type of media where beauty is classified is television. The media that affects young girls are Disney movies. A movie in particular is, The Little Mermaid. In this movie Ariel the princess is thin, with long hair, and marries the handsome prince Eric. The villain on the other hand Ursula is fat, loud, and alone. This movie portrays to a little girl that if she looks like Ursula she is ugly and will be alone. On the other hand, if she looks like Ariel she is considered beautiful and will get the prince. Television ads are another thing that can affect a way in which a woman views beauty. Some of the television commercials are that of plastic surgeons. In these commercials, it shows what the woman looks like before and after surgery. This type of advertising displays to the woman viewer that to be beautiful she must undergo surgery to alter her body.
Another type of media that has grown in popularity is the social media. Facebook and reality shows have grown in popularity over the years creating a whole new way in which beauty can be altered. The Kardashian’s are a popular family involved with social media and reality television. They also contribute quite a bit to the ads that make a woman question their beauty. They endorse quite a bit of beauty products, fashion clothing and weight loss products. One produce in which they endorse is the waist trainer, the waist trainer is a fabric product which resembles a girdle that used to be worn in the 60’s. A girdle was worn by women to make them have an hourglass figure. A girdle is extremely dangerous for women to wear constantly due to the fact that all it is essentially doing is rearranging a person’s organs in such a that is unnatural and dangerous to a woman’s health.
Another type of media that appeals to young women and older women alike is, magazines. The images in a magazine appeal to women and the women look to these images as an idea of what beauty is and what they must look like. What most readers of magazines do not realize is that most if not all the images in the magazine are photoshopped. This is discussed by Bavica Sheldon of the Southern Communication Journal, she discusses photoshopping in magazines, “Because comparisons to models in fashion magazines negatively influence women’s body image, women should be encouraged to examine the possibility that the bodies of magazine models are just photoshopped images with unreal body measurements” (Sheldon). Another example of body images in magazines is discussed by the authors of the book Adolescence, they conducted an experiment in which they researched the impact of the media to a college students body image. In this experiment they state, “The emergence of the slender body type as a beauty standard for women is especially salient in the mass media, and several researchers have demonstrated how the female body depicted in the media has become increasingly thin (Turner &Hamilton, 603)”. This is basically stating that the images of women in magazines are getting thinner and thinner over time.
Another issue involved with magazines are the ads. Most ads that are displayed in magazines are either displaying skinny photoshopped models, ads displaying makeup to cover up a woman’s face, and ads for plastic surgeons. These ads are made to get rid of issues that the public perceives as a problem. Some of the ads include makeup used to cover up the face and to conceal any blemishes. This shows women that their face must be flawless. Another example of a flawless skin ad is a pimple removing cream. This also shows women that their skin must be flawless and “perfect”. This type of marketing excludes many types of women such as, women who are allergic to makeup, and women with eczema. Both problems cause women to not be able to apply certain things to their skin. The companies behind some of these ads are Cover Girl and Maybelline. The reader of these ads only sees the perceived “beautiful” woman, while all the makeup companies see are money signs. These companies do not consider the reader and how this ad could potentially impact their life in a negative way. Another ad that is displayed frequently in magazines are plastic surgery ads. They offer women the possibility of having the “perfect” body. In these ads, it typically displays a before and after picture. These ads will make the reader who may relate with the before pictures will be made to feel as though they need to have plastic surgery to match the woman in the after picture. An example of one of these ads is Cool Sculpting. Cool Sculpting is a “fat-freezing procedure is the only FDA-cleared, * non-surgical fat-reduction treatment that uses controlled cooling to eliminate stubborn fat” ( What Is CoolSculpting). The website states that the fat is frozen and then eventually is eliminated. “The typical cost for CoolSculpting ranges from $500 – $4,300 with an average cost of $2,325” (CoolSculpting Cost – View Average Price with Pricing Map). The average working woman would not be able to afford such a procedure. The before and after photos also do not show a drastic change in the before and after pictures. The photos display and image that could be obtained through hard work at the gym and watching what you eat, it would also cost a lot less money. Ultimately these ads are just there to make the doctors money and to cause stereotyping and body shaming among women.
Another way in which the media can be altered to end the body shaming and stereotypes in terms of the Disney movies is to have a role reversal from time to time when making the movies. An example of this would be for the “beautiful” princess to turn into the villain and for the villain to be the princess. If this were to take place the girl viewer would see that not every “beautiful” girl is good and not every “ugly” girl is bad. A way in which the commercials could be altered is to have just as many positive body image commercials as they do body altering commercials. A way in which the magazine companies could appeal to every woman would be for them to no longer photoshop the pictures; or if they do photoshop the pictures make the reader aware of it. This simple change can make a huge difference in the way in which a young adolescent female and women view beauty. The viewer would see that not everyone is perfect, that everyone has flaws. Also having models of every size portrayed in the magazine can appeal to every woman. There could also be bigger women in the ads of the magazine. Most models who are in advertisements are skinny and are wearing makeup. How about they display a woman wearing no makeup at all to sell their product. This would make the ad more relatable to women. Not ever ad has to be this way but some variety would make it less focused on one type of woman. Changing the ads regarding plastic surgery to make a website women can go to and see the before and after pictures if they choose to. This change would show that every woman is beautiful in their own way.
Lastly the fashion industry plays a large role in the impact of body image among women. The CEO of the clothing brand Abercrombie and Fitch openly admitted that he chooses not to make clothing for larger people. “According to this popular teen clothing retailer, fat chicks will never be a part of the “in” crowd” (Livingston). The clothing brand only goes up to a size ten, which excludes a vast majority of women who are larger than size ten. It is stated on the Today Show that, “According to Women`s Wear Daily, the average woman in America is a size fourteen, yet the average mannequin is a small four or six.” (Guthrie). This statement alone shows that the fashion industry does not appeal to the average woman. Evidence of the lack of clothing for bigger women is expressed in the article in the Christian Science Monitor, “In recent years, designers and retailers have been waking up to the fact that the larger-sized woman – generally considered size 14 and up – is underserved” (Conover). Another issue in the fashion industry is, the sizing. Most clothing industry’s label their clothing from extra extra small to extra extra large. These types of labeling categorize women based upon what the clothing designer decides is appropriate for a particular group of women.
Quite a bit of changes can be made in the clothing industry to appeal to every woman and to not segregate a woman based upon size. One way would be for women to write a petition against Abercrombie & Fitch and to get women to simply stop shopping there. The loss of sales and the hit on the CEO’s pocket will greatly affect the way in which he conducts business and will affect the way in which he sees people. Also, the store can display clothing of all sizes to appeal to every shopper not just that of a skinny person. Clothing companies can also label their clothing by number size and not by category size. Lastly the department stores themselves should get rid of the “plus Size” section in their store. This alone is humiliating to a woman with more weight than an “average” woman. There could also be more “plus size” models. Most if not all of the models on television and on the runway, are super skinny and unable to be relatable to the audience in which they are displaying their clothes. Clothing companies could also make more money if they made clothes in larger sizes but the same type of clothing. A lot of times clothing for bigger women is way different than clothes made for women of a smaller size. Women who are bigger than other women still want to feel beautiful and sexy.
If changes are not made now to change the way in which things are done to appeal to all woman a great catastrophe could occur. The pressure for a woman to be thing has greatly progressed over the years. Women strive every day to “keep up with the Jones’”, as the fashion industry changes so do the wants and desires of women to follow the trend. If the clothing industry continues to go the way they are with the models getting skinner and not matching the average women it will just continue to contribute to the already active eating disorder epidemic. The author of European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states, “The concept of body image is thought to consist of two components: body size perception and attitudes towards the body” (Skrzypek,215).
Another issue that could occur among girls is the issue of bullying. Bullying has progressively gotten worse over the years. Part of the bullying problem is the segregation of young girls based upon the way that they look. The toy industry, media and clothing industry do not help with the issue either. They portray what they believe is beauty and then young girls strive to look as those portrayed in the media, toy industry and clothing industry. Girls then stereotype and classify girls based upon these three things. If a girl does not fit into the mold that is out there as a popular girl she is then unpopular and uncool because she does not look the way that other girls see fellow girls in the limelight. Girls are so naïve when they are younger and do not realize that everyone is their own person and not everyone is the same looks wise. Once the girls are classified and stereotyped based upon the way that they look, if they do not look like girls that are on television they are then bullied. Once the bullying becomes so severe some girls may even commit suicide to escape the torment and torture. It is not until the girls are older and start to realize that every girl is different and what you see in the media toy shelves and in the window of the clothing store is not the way that all girls should look. Another issue that could get worse is the drug epidemic in society. Girls and women may begin to use drugs to curve their appetite to lose weight and resemble other women. They could use drugs to fit into the super skinny world that is portrayed around them. Another issue that is linked to image issues is cutting. Cutting is done as a form of release of depression. It is used as a way to cope with the feelings that they are feeling inside. It is then used as a way of displaying those feelings on the outside. Once the cutting no longer releases their feelings they could just go to committing suicide. More women could begin to commit suicide as a way of escaping from the world in which they can not fit into. If the bullying and stereotyping women as ugly does not begin to decrease women may take their life to solve the issues that the world sees of their body all together. The woman could sink so far into depression and hatred for their bodies that they may feel as though this is the only way out.
In conclusion the toy industry, the media, and the clothing industry all play a part in the altering of the idea of beauty in women. The toy industry particularly the Barbie doll is made in such a way that it is humanly impossible to ever resemble. None the less young girls still see this as an ideal and what beautiful is. They will then try to alter themselves in such a way to reflect that of the Barbie doll. The media plays its party in affecting the way in which an adolescent and women see themselves. The resemblance of “beauty” and “ugly” in the Disney movie The Little Mermaid shows a girl that if they do not look like Ariel they are not beautiful. The other side to that is if they are heavier and considered “ugly” they will be like Ursula. The magazine media affects the way a woman sees beauty in the sense that the photos in the magazine are photoshopped and the reader is unaware of this. The clothing industry has its part in the image issue as well. The labeling based upon size and categorizing a woman as “plus size” has a lasting effect on a woman. Also, a CEO completely cutting off a whole group of women is completely heartless and is just insane. Women are all beautiful in their own way. They are hard on themselves about their looks on their own without the help of outside influences as well.