We must stop glorifying physical beauty

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (U-Wire) — We all want to be beautiful. For more and more women, however, this quest for beauty has become a quest for thinness. For a long time, we have celebrated the emaciation of women and, by doing so, we have created a nation of starving, self-obsessed women dying to be thin. This trend can be witnessed in those as young as 9 years old.
Eighty percent of all fourth-grade girls are already dieting, according to the National Organization for Women’s Redefining Liberation Campaign. These girls are only 8 or 9 years old. Furthermore, NOW statistics indicate these girls will continue to diet throughout their lifetimes, and four out of every 100 will develop bulimia by the time they enter college. Another third will develop binge-eating disorders and gain more than 20 percent above their normal, healthy body weight.
Our society continuously encourages its young women to focus on the superficial rather than the profound. Media images consistently portray desirable women as thin. Even as real women grow heavier, models and “beautiful” women are being portrayed as thinner. While 20 years ago the average model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman, today the difference is 23 percent. In 1959, the White Rock mineral water girl was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. Today she is 5 feet 10 inches and weighs 110 pounds.
It’s true that numerous other factors work along with the media to eternalize a cult of thinness. I’m not denying this. But because the media is such a strong force in our society, I think it deserves the bulk of consideration. After all, according to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders Inc., the average person sees between 400 and 600 ads per day — that equals 40 million to 50 million by the time she or he is 60 years old. One out of every 11 of these ads has a direct message about beauty. This doesn’t even count the indirect ones. ANRED also found that women’s magazines contain 10.5 times more articles related to dieting and weight loss than do men’s magazines.
I don’t raise these statistics to demonize the media or to blame advertising for all cases of anorexia or bulimia or every occurrence of binge eating. Magazines and other media products are only a reflection of the trends society holds during a period of time.
Magazines, movies, commercials and music videos don’t cause low self-esteem or eating disorders, but they absolutely reflect a society that does — a society that, as I said before, continuously encourages its young women to focus on the superficial rather than the profound.
If we are going to end the emaciation of women, we need to realize our responsibility as members of society. We often throw the word “society” around as if it were something “other” — something beyond ourselves. The word often serves as a safety net or a scapegoat for problems. If something’s wrong, it’s easy to blame society. But if the problem of expecting women to reach an unattainable body standard is to be solved — if any problem is to be solved — we’re going to have to stop seeing society as something beyond ourselves. We’re going to have to realize that when someone says “society encourages young women to focus on the superficial,” he or she means that we do this — each of us, personally, as individuals. We are society.
It’s important that we question the motives of the media. Remember, the main objective of the fashion, cosmetic, diet, fitness and plastic surgery industries is to make money — not to make people the best they can be. They promote the most effective image that will sell. The ultrathin ideal is working for them; they’re making money. It doesn’t have to work for us.
It’s also important that we value our dollars. Our money is in high demand, and this gives us power. We can decide where we spend and what we buy. We need to look at our budgets and make sure the money we spend reflects the people we are, not the people the media wants us to be. We don’t have to define ourselves by what popular culture dictates.
Above all this, however, it’s most important to remember our position and potential in society. Society influences media, and if enough people rebel against the cultural ideal that women should focus on the superficial rather than the profound, the ideal will change. The media has no choice but to reflect what society advocates.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead expressed it best: “Never underestimate that the power of a small group of people can change the world, for indeed this is the only thing that ever has.”
Angela Bole’s column originally appeared in Tuesday’s Indiana University paper, the Indiana Daily Student.