Be Happy, Feel Beautiful
The worlds of fashion, cosmetics and advertising sell us the same version of beauty over and over at an ever-increasing pace. Deathly skinny, doe-eyed and airbrushed beauties pout at us from every outlet, sweeping regular girls with the tide to pose suggestively online. Recently, there has been backlash against this cultural force-feeding in the form of bans and protests.
In 2006, “overly thin” models were banned from fashion shows in Madrid in a first-ever attempt to control the ever-plummeting weights of fashion models, CNN reported.
While some, like Elite modeling agency’s North American director Cathy Gould, complained that the ban was “outrageous” and “discrimination” against naturally thin models, the ban was instated after protests that barely-there models affected the body image of girls and women, contributing to eating disorders.
Despite the ban, skeletal models have remained on the fashion scene. In November 2010, French model and actress Isabelle Caro died of anorexia at 28.
According to The New York Times, David Bonnouvrier, chief executive of DNA Models, said that models who are encouraged to be extremely thin refuse to seek medical attention for their probable eating disorders.
Despite the efforts, the preferred female body type in the mainstream media clearly remains the emaciated, unhealthy one. In an interview, actress Rosario Dawson said she received compliments after losing weight for her role as an HIV-positive drug addict, CNN reported.
On another front in the battle against the media machine that creates unhealthy expectations for women and girls, U.K. politician Jo Swinson’s campaign against “unrealistic images” succeeded in forcing L’Oréal to pull their ads featuring “overly airbrushed” models, The Guardian reported.
“Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don’t reflect reality,” Swinson said in the CNN article.
“There’s a big picture here – which is half of young women between 16 and 21 say they would consider cosmetic surgery and we’ve seen eating disorders more than double in the last 15 years. There’s a problem out there with body image and confidence. The way excessive retouching has become pervasive in our society is contributing to that problem,” Swinson told reporters according to Hello Beautiful.
In the world of fashion, beauty and advertising, it’s practically impossible to find pictures of non-airbrushed women in their natural state. Even women widely considered some of the most beautiful in the world aren’t spared the “improvements.” Cindy Crawford famously quipped, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”
The “perfecting” of women in the media goes beyond simply erasing a pimple or smoothing down an errant lock of hair. In her documentary series entitled “Killing Us Softly,” Jean Kilbourne says that the media portrayal of women as sex objects tells girls what they should be like, creating unattainable definitions of beauty and feelings of inadequacy when they inevitably fail to reach that ideal.
While it would be unrealistic to claim that skinny models and airbrushed ads alone lead to eating disorders and poor self-image, it is equally unrealistic to propose we are unaffected by the ubiquitous and constantly increasing
onslaught of idealized female models in the media. The single acceptable body type and beauty ideal of the media shapes the way society views ordinary females, even ones who want nothing to do with the media’s creation. While banning the use of extremely skinny models and over-the-top airbrushed ads is a step in the right direction, we as a society remain far from a world where beauty is defined in terms of the diverse, unique forms of human individuality that it manifests in.
And while we as individuals and consumers don’t have much say, we can vote with our wallets and stop supporting publications and companies that claim to cater to women while serving only to diminish our self-esteem and confidence.