Guest Blogger: Claire Criniti

Why is it that appearance has become such a central focus in America’s society? Across the world beauty is not defined by one look or one body type or one generation. The United States has a rigid definition of what constitutes as beautiful for both men and women, and that definition has tight boundaries that exclude diversity. The media, and superficial ideals of have drastically shaped our culture to be centered on looks. Celebrities are the new standards Americans use to compare and critique themselves.

Magazines are a huge media source that plays up this idea of beauty in America. Almost every pop magazine has articles on loosing weight, keeping healthy skin, tools to looking younger and top 10 ways to be better in bed. I just read a women’s health magazine that promotes healthy ways to loose weight, healthy exercise tools to tone your body, and healthy recipes to satisfy you without “packing on the pounds”. Yet in this magazine there were at least five advertisements for diet pills, plans, and supplements. What kind of message is this sending? A magazine that promotes healthy lifestyle is also feeding into this beauty industry that excludes 90 % of Americans. In addition, the models used in these diet advertisements are skinny and toned, which thus supports this standard of beauty America has.

There are severe consequences that are coming from these ideals. I looked specifically at weight issues and the diet world. It is estimated that 8 million Americans have a form of an eating disorder, and furthermore eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is also estimated that roughly 140,000 weight loss surgeries occurred in 2004 and 3.5 billion dollars were spent on weight loss surgeries. I would say we our idea of beauty is pretty distorted when the diet industry in America is estimated to be between 40 and 100 billion dollars.

What is beauty and how we define it does not need to hold one definition. I feel that beauty is an all-encompassing idea that doesn’t have boundaries or standards. The consequence that our socially constructed definition of beauty is having on our society is outrageous. What ever happened to the saying, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”?

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17 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Claire Criniti

  1. I’m not one to go as far as to blame the media. I read a study that asked women what they look at the most when at the mall. The answer? Other women! They said they compared body types, etc.

    There’s never a “right” way to look. Women are told that men love curves, but fed ads about the latest diet trend. We have coined the phrases “bootylicious” and “scary skinny.” What I feel is unfair is the victimization we do on some people. There are naturally skinny people, and I feel that we’re calling them ugly by saying ‘people need curves!’ It seems to me that we are told to ’embrace ourselves’ when we’re not naturally thin. But then when a woman does get curves she’s scrutinized. As long as the person is heathy then I don’t really care.

    What upsets me is how many people ignore the amount of eating disorders in men. There was a speaker at HWS last year who basically said the only men who get eating disorders are wrestlers. I wanted to say, ‘like all women who get them are dancers?’ Eating disorders have very much become a gendered disease. It’s not “manly” to be so skinny. This is where I tend to call some girls out on hypocrisy–I’ve heard dozens of girls describe what a “real man” should look like and haven’t heard one cohesive answer. We’re either big and burly, soft and sensitive, etc. Neither sex is happy with themselves because we all have to fit a mold.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is it strikes me as odd that the biggest judge of each sex is the same sex. Also, we can’t help but make judgments based on appearance. Studies have shown where women actually do it faster than men–but both sexes do it immediately. But, I’ve found, as cheesy as it sounds, that the inside really does count. In my post about the Rolling Stone covers, I wanted to put a Marie Claire cover with Fergie on it next to her RS cover. On MC she was wearing a silk(?) gray dress, no cleavage, with a smile and cool attitude. It was the sexiest I had seen her.

    I would just like to see a balance between sexes. All men can’t look like the Abercrombie model for one person or a lumberjack for another person. Just like one girl can’t morph from Beyonce to Paris figure-wise.

  2. Ashley Yang says:

    I have to agree with Stephen. While I think the media is definitely a source of SOME of the problems we see today with unrealistic ideals of thinness and the rise in eating disorders, it’s not entirely to blame. I also saw the same study as he did which showed that women look at other, regular, non-celebrity women more than they compare themselves to stars. As someone who has personally experienced an eating disorder, I know that my mindset always was, “Well, of course I can’t look like Mary-Kate Olson, she’s famous. But that girl I see in the gym all the time…well, who’s to say I can’t be just as ‘good’ as her??”

    One way in which I DO think the media (rather, technology as a whole) plays a big role in the spread of the skinny-hype, though, is in the “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” communities that pop up online. There have been huge controversies in the news about pro-suicide groups which have encouraged individuals to kill themselves, but there has been very little said about the pro-eating-disorder sites that basically do the exact same thing, just in a longer, drawn-out process–and more often, to younger teenagers.

  3. Alex Cragg says:

    I honestly believe that the media and celebrities set trends and it’s only natural for the general population to follow them. It’s true that women do compare themselves to other women that they interact with daily but the person you compare yourself to compares themselves to someone else, who compares themselves to someone else, who could compare themselves to a celebrity.
    A woman sees an article that reads, “How to shape your butt like Kim Kardashian” and follows the exercises portrayed in the article because she wants a butt like Kim’s. (Assuming that it actually works.) Another woman compares her butt to the woman who followed the Kim Kardashian workout and wants her butt to look the same way. It’s not just about weight either, it could be, “How to get hair like Taylor Swift’s” or “How to get your lips looking full like Angelina Jolie’s”. Those articles are in almost every magazine because using the image of a celebrity to compare to the results of a product or workout is more effective than saying “How to achieve long, curly, healthy hair” or “How to make your lips look fuller”.
    “NutriSystem worked for Tori Spelling and my cousin so I think I’m going to try it too.” It’s a combination of both the media and natural competitiveness that exists in people.

  4. Cory Andrews says:

    The media may or may not generate the standards for beauty in our culture, but it definitely reinforces them. Why would women automatically notice other women around them and compare body types? It’s not like that was something they were born doing, so where does that behavior come from? If the media promoted a different message, or didn’t pay attention to beauty/body types/etc. at all, would women still act the same way?

  5. Grace Hennigan says:

    In my opinion, the invention of the Internet and blogging has skyrocketed celebrity exposure to the world. Celebrities are being photographed constantly, whether by red-carpet cameras or swarms of paparazzi. They are famous, and being in the public eye 24/7 I think that they want to always look good. My favorite example of this is model Tyra Banks. Tyra, known for being a beautiful, slender model, was photographed on a beach looking very “thick”. The media scrutinized her, and this photo was plastered on every tabloid cover. Now, I expected Tyra to go on her show and say “This is my body, it is not perfect, and we don’t all have to be stick-thin to be beautiful”. That would have been a moral and respectable approach, and would’ve made women everywhere feel more comfortable with their average size 12 bodies. But no. Tyra went on her show in the same bathing suit and stood next to a life-size cut out of the photograph. She looked like a different woman, and that is because she decided to lose 30 pounds after seeing the picture.

    She claimed that the photograph, shown under the headline “America’s Next Top Waddle”, was a bad angle. Hmm.. Tyra conformed to the “super skinny” ideal of sexy women instead of embracing her healthy 30 pounds. Without the media blasting this image across the country, I believe that Tyra would have not felt insulted and insecure, and she would’ve happily kept the weight on. So blame US Weekly for all the women who saw Tyra’s transformation, and followed in her footsteps to lose the healthy weight and become stick figures as well.

  6. Maggie Bernay says:

    I find this topic of what beauty is and who defines to be extremely important to women’ studies. While I want to believe that I should be comfortable in my skin and confident in myself, I just like most women, am constantly buying the new beauty products and reading the magazines that are aimed to help me “look and feel healthy.” If we all didn’t give into these ideas and stopped reading the magazines and stopped buying the beauty magazines, would women and men feel at ease to really be who they are and feel beautiful? What keeps us buying?
    I am taking a class this semester called food and society and we talk a lot about anorexia and obesity. We talk about this concept known as the “thin ideal” which is considered the epitome of beauty and sexual attractiveness and has been linked to social status, health and even moral health. We also talk about the “muscular ideal” which indicates strength and masculinity. Sociologists claim that there is no one factor that makes men and women conform to these ideals. It is media, fashion, music and other external factors such as what we see other men and woman. For example, mothers who pressure their daughters to stay thin end up with daughters who have eating issues. Young boys grow up feeling the need to play sports and be tall and muscular. While the media may influence certain trends, the public are the people who obsess over them.

  7. Bre Nasypany says:

    I find it interesting how what we are taught to be the “right” body has changed and altered with time. Remember when pale and plump was sexy? Of course we don’t. Most of us would only double take to a pale plump person to point out their flaws to our buddy walking next to us. Tanned and tone is the only way to be deemed sexy in today’s society.

    In the 1400s women were celebrated for their natural bodies… the bigger the better and pale skin was a must. Sounds gross to us.

    Then came the introduction of corsets, some wound so tightly that sitting was not an option. The smaller the waist looked the bigger the ass.

    Clothing began to shrink when the 20s rolled around. Women tried there best to achieve a boyish look, something most men would not find attractive today. Bold makeup that was considered trashy was now considered sexy and pale skin was still the way to go.

    Women became more body conscious as Hollywood’s golden age came into existence. Hairstyles changed depending on which actress was making it big. Fashion accented arms and legs so women began to tone their muscles but definitely not build them.

    The hour glass figure was next. Women would not be caught dead in a pair of sweatpants or sneakers… hard to fathom for some of us.

    An obsession to be thin came into full force when all the popular models looked like toothpicks.

    And then came the Farrah Fawcett hair. Hairspray, aerobics suits, and bushy eyebrows followed.

    Thinness is still the craze for body shape but there is not one big trend when it comes fashion and style. We are free to express ourselves through style as long as we don’t tip the scale.

  8. Becky says:

    I think that sometimes people now put an emphasis on self acceptance even when those who are being reassured of their “self” are unhealthy. Accepting who you are is one thing, but when you are underweight or overweight, thats a different issue. There is a range of what is healthy and that is what people should be striving for.

    I know that there are so many issues discussed about weight in the media and how many women are unhealthy, but SOME of those women being portrayed as unhealthy are actually quite normal, and that although they are thin, they fit perfectly into the spectrum of healthy weight. Those women who really do have an eating disorder of some kind should not be promoted on t.v. in magazines as the ideal, but at the same time there are many women who are healthy and thin. I think, personally, that it is unhealthy to promote overweight women as being in the healthy spectrum when in reality it is not. This is not to say that fuller women are unhealthy because that is not the case. But shows about weight issues sometimes promote the idea that one should accept themselves the way they are, and sometimes the way they are is unhealthy.

    • Canniff45 says:

      Becky I completely agree with your opinion. Although it is a harsh truth, I think that you put it very respectfully. I feel as though this whole trend of accepting one’s self does negitively affect the overall health of America’s female population. It is estimated that 300,000 Americans die each year due to issues related to obesity. That number ranks second in terms of causes for PREVENTABLE deaths. Second only to tobacco related fatalities. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity in America is an “epedemic.” The acceptance of overweight individuals is a catalyst for a much larger disease which is festering in the American society, the lose of competitiveness among peers of all ages. In a culture were every youth sports team is given a trophy, children are praised for medicority. To quote will farrell in the movie Talledaga Nights, “If your not first, your last.” Now this is merely a phrase from a comedic movie but it holds some truth concerning how the real world works. Not everyone is given that promotion, the hardest working and most qualified canditate recieves it. Now Im not saying that overweight people are less qualified or slackers in the least bit. However, one cannot mature properly if you are constantly told that its perfectly acceptable to be overweight. Because that would be a lie. Not only are there a multitude of health issues connected with being overweight, but in many cases it is preventable by altering one’s diet and lifestyle. Sometimes the one thing people don’t want to hear, is the thing they need to hear the most.

  9. Allison Bresnick says:

    I think that there are many different aspects that influence how people look at themselves and others. The media does play an enormous role in telling people what the “right” way to look is and what to do in order to achieve this look. In my media and society class last semester we looked at various ads that showed extremely skinny models. While in reality many of the models are so skinny, almost all of these ads have been photoshopped. There is a video on youtube that shows a larger woman in an ad and demonstrates the process of how they can make her into a skinny supermodel. Even when we see celebrities on spreads in magazines, almost all of them have been touched up. These magazines are telling us to look like the celebrities, but how are we supposed to do that when their image is unattainable?
    Cory makes a valid point that the media definitely reinforces these standards for beauty. There are so many articles that tell us what the right way to style our hair is, or how to apply the right makeup. They constantly tell us what is in and what looks are out. We learn to look up to those who fit these standards, and do whatever we can do achieve it.
    I agree with Stephen that a lot of our judgments come from looking at others. We are our harshest critics, and obviously seeing a skinny person in real life is a lot different than a photoshopped image in a magazine. It also doesn’t help that we live in a culture that is consumed by diets and self image problems. If you walk into any supermarket or drugstores, there are aisles and aisles of diet pills, diet drinks, etc. We live in a consumer world and we are easily willing to believe that any of these will be the key to looking perfect.

  10. Emily Clemetson says:

    It seems that there can be an argument made not only for suggesting that the media is the key component to the high rise in eating disorders in America but also for not blaming the media. My conclusion is that they both play a large role in the number of eating disorders that we see, especially in college age women and men. It is most definitely true that there is a certain body type and an idea of what is and what is not beautiful that is portrayed in the media. However, I do think that Stephen has a very strong point in saying that women and men often judge themselves against their peers. Judging oneself against their peers is most prevalent in college because you are surrounded by thousands of people your own age and you see a wide range of body types. Since you are on your own in college (without parents) it is much easier for people to develop an eating disorder and have it go unnoticed for quite some time.
    The combination of the media, being surrounded by people your own age, and not having your parents around, allows for what I think, is the most dangerous source of eating disorders; the source I am referring to is diet pills. I think the advertisement of dieting pills is the most ridiculous role the media’s plays in instigating eating disorders. These pills can be extremely harmful and are available for anyone to purchase and at college you don’t have your parents telling you not to.
    Diet pills such as hydroxycut almost eliminate your appetite, which in turn makes it so you eat close to nothing. Therefore you have this eating disorder and you don’t even feel hungry. Not to mention that very few people realize that the adverse effects of the diet pills, such as shaking, feeling weak, etc., are strengthened when you drink coffee or take stimulants such as ADD or ADHD medication.

  11. ar5047 says:

    Weight loss has become the subject of all conversation. I actually have a great aunt who talks about nothing else but weight loss. She talks to all of her nephews about it, even the young ones that sever years old. She constantly warns us about eating too much or eating things that aren’t healthy. You can just see how annoying this can be. The fact that I am pleasantly plump makes me want to stay away from her. Ha

    About the weight loss operations, I think it something that is truly unnecessary but is something that I have experienced. An aunt of mine got operated because her husband pressured her into it. Long story short, she got so sick that she always lost her life because during the “unnecessary” surgery. The reason why unnecessary is in quotes is because of how she could have lost her life, and her children could have lost their mother, just because of how the media has forced our minds to believe that if we aren’t skinny, then we aren’t attractive.

    To be honest, if I was good at biology, I would have tried to become a doctor and operate on people that feel inadequate. I would make so much money.

  12. Ryan Waffle says:

    I won’t say that the media doesn’t play any role whatsoever in the perception for women to be thin, but I can say that I don’t think it plays as much of a role as we think. We all have a choice.

    Let’s take my life for example. Through the media, I may see an athlete making incredible football catches, I may see a guy who’s ripped, and I may see a guy who can make millions of people laugh. Sure I may want to make incredible football catches, be jacked, and make anyone I meet laugh, but its not because I see famous people doing those things. Its because I want those things for myself. The media isn’t convincing me of anything. I have that choice of what I want to be and what I want to do.

    Yes, people are extremely impressionable and influenced. You see someone walking down the street eating a cookie, and there’s a good chance you may want a cookie. But its your choice whether or not to eat that cookie. You might also look in a magazine and see Celebrity A eating that same cookie. Well, you still have a choice on whether or not to eat it.

    I also think that your own experiences with those around you have a better chance of making an impression than something the media feeds you. I feel as though (especially in your young days in high school) you have a much greater chance of being heavily influenced by the skinny popular girl than the skinny popular actress.

    The point I’m trying to make (for which I’m doing a horrible job) is that I think our own lives and experiences have so much more and impact on who we are and who we choose to be, and we all have a CHOICE of what we choose to believe or do, how we act, and how we perceive the world around us. You can’t blame others for what you choose to become. You can’t blame the pot for making you high. You smoked it. You can’t blame your car for speeding. You drove it. You can’t blame McDonalds for making you fat. You ate it. And you can’t blame the media for making you want to be skinny. You have the choice.

    I’m certainly not downplaying the fact that eating disorders are a terrible problem and that they are certainly widespread. I just think we need to start placing a little more blame on ourselves and our choices before we continually blame someone or something else.

  13. Sylvie says:

    I totally agree with Claire. Beauty and its impact on a woman’s health, behavior and attitude to life reaches an extent which is not inoffensive anymore. The female body really suffers a lot by this great pressure. Especially girls or young women have no clue what they are doing to their body by going to sunbeds, loosing weight by going hungry or getting beauty-surgeries again and again.
    Anorexia, vanity and its ignorance towards less pretty people, neurosis, depression, disorientation in life and the later awareness and remorse of missed chances are aspects which can influence a woman’s life in a very negative way.

    But even men get involved into that scene more and more. During recent times, many magazines has reported about men’s serious problems, like anorexia, bulimia, etc., caused by the illusion of beauty. It’s said, that men got more and more feminized. It starts with drying and styling their hair for hours, shaving their armpits and legs, shaping and retouch their eyebrows, using more make up than woman and ends with worries about calories in their a burgers. Is that really “The Man” of the future?: A woman disguised in a masculine body? Are those results really worth the efforts?

    Focusing only on beauty, its products, measures and means are a continuous destruction of the own body, with which people have to live a whole life. They don’t seem to be conscious of that fact. But they will, when they are older. Even if it is common in Western Society to throw away the used things we don’t need anymore, and waste a lot of stuff, our body will always be part of us, during the prime of life and the time, when maturity must be regarded as beautiful. It’s not that easy to just throw the old body away, as soon as it is nagged, and buy a new one. I think this is a fact many people are not conscious of. They mainly live for the moment, in which they are young and beautiful – living the time of their life- and forget about their later life. What if we are all mistaken and not our youth is the time of our life, but instead our mature age??? Do you want to destroy your beauty before your best times has already begun? Don’t waste your body as a signboard and save your natural beauty as much as you can!

  14. Yanli Guo says:

    To me, having a healthy body is much more important than a skinny outlook. People might envy you for having a model type body, but they won’t look after you when your body is not functioning well due to your diet. 8 millions American have a type of an eating disorder is just a scary number. In reality, lots of poor parents don’t have enough food to feed their children due to their poor financial backgrounds. People are willing to use their hard-earned savings on weight loss surgeries, but not willing to take their dear parents out for a nice dinner (this is just a funny and subjective example). For some overweight people, it makes sense for them to do the surgery if they will be healthier afterward, but definitely not cause of they want people to admire their looks or body shapes. It doesn’t make sense to me that people stop eating because they want to look thin while many children don’t have enough to eat. It bothers me when I see people only eat half or even less of what they have ordered. I guess throw away food is not a crime, but it’s certainly a big WASTE. Lastly, I don’t agree with the phrase like “the more skinny you are, the better you will look”. Since I am just a common human being, all I want or need is a healthy and comfy body. I will rather use my saving to take my grandpa to Vegas and hopefully we can hit a BIG jackpot. Hahaha . . .

  15. Wes Traub says:

    Female body image is an issue we have touched on in class numerous times, as it should be. Every time I exit the grocery store I catch a glimpse of tabloid headlines that make a HUGE deal about how “Tyra Banks gains weight!” … I’m sorry but who really cares? Why should we be entertained by someone else’s body weight? I partially blame the media for how screwed up our mindsets are, but I also place some blame on us, the american consumers who eat up this crap. I agree with this blog post when it claims “What is beauty and how we define it does not need to hold one definition.” Who are magazine and TV show executives to tell us what is ‘beautiful’?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis. I enjoy the fruits of physical labor and the rewards that sweat and determination pay. But the media today is stressing the importance to be skinny at all costs, and sometimes this involves unhealthy methods of losing weight, which is against EVERYTHING I stand for. Companies like “Hollywood Cookie Diet” and other ridiculously unhealthy diet plans love making a profit off of troubled Americans who are in search of attaining a “perfect” status in our popular culture. Of course the media is wrong for tapping into these wants and desires that they have created, but we can and should break this cycle ourselves by ignoring their attempts to make us act a certain way.

  16. I came to HWS a week early for Cross Country preseason. Three days into it, I was having problems with my hip and knee (I didn’t run very much this summer.) I told the coach, and a few days later he pulled me aside and said he had made me an appointment at Hubbs. I asked why, he said I was too skinny and he wanted to make sure I didn’t have an eating disorder, so I needed to be checked out. Until I was in the clear, I couldn’t run. I was checked, and for weeks after that, I had to go back to Hubbs, and every single time I was interrogated about how much food I was eating and when, I was tested to see if there were problems with my bones, asked if I liked eating, everything under the sun. I think we have a lot of weight problems in America today, but I also think that we make it worse by scrutinizing every little eating problem, over or under eating. I eat like every other normal person, three meals a day, lots of snacks, (I’m a sucker for cheeseburgers), and because of how I look, I was taken off the Cross Country team and sent to a nutritionist to be told how to have a balanced diet. I guess here, I risk sounding insensitive, but I think being underweight is seen as more harmful than being overweight, when both are equally unhealthy. What I don’t understand, I guess, is why I was questioned and tested for weeks on end, when I’m sure they didn’t go to every overweight person on campus and ask them to meet with a nutritionist to talk about how to eat healthier. (I’m definitely not saying that there is more of a concern with being underweight, as I said before, I think both ends of the spectrum are equally harmful.)

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