Opinion Blog: The Pressure to be Thin

May 2, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Posted by Caroline Foster

Whether SMU women are sharing diet tips, experiencing remorse after eating anything “unhealthy” or idolizing super-skinny celebrities, the pressure to be thin on campus is anything but tiny.

With summer just around the corner, swimsuit season is on the radar and the pressure to look perfect increases. I know many girls who are changing their diet and exercise routines in ways that could be potentially harmful.

In a world where the average consumer is exposed to more than one thousand advertisements each day, it’s no wonder many feel the need to look a certain way. The unrealistic beauty ideal the media constantly shows can affect our self-esteem and contribute to an obsession with being thin.

In a recent study by Glamour Magazine, 97 percent of those surveyed said they had at least one “I hate my body” moment per day. The media’s constant presence can attribute to this. Especially when it typically shows the image of a thin female with large breasts, light skin and perfect features. Open any magazine and nearly every advertisement and editorial features a model with this look. It is this ideal that we as women strive to attain. We hope with insane amounts of dieting and exercise we can one day look like this.

But the media’s portrayal of the ideal model does not just affect American women. One of the main exports of the United States is the media; whether it’s television shows, movies, or magazines the U.S. media affects other countries as well.

In South Korea the trend is to have a surgical procedure on the eyes that makes them look rounder, more Western. In India skin lightening is all the rage, and one of the best selling beauty products is a lightening cream called Fair & Lovely. In Hong Kong weight loss centers litter the streets. Women flock to these establishments for procedures that decrease fat. These are just some of the examples of the western media’s effects around the world.

Fashion and fashion models are also prominent outlets for this body ideal. Many countries in Europe are taking positive steps in the fashion industry. In 2006, Madrid fashion week banned models with unhealthy Body Mass Indexes (BMI) from participating in the shows. London fashion week followed suit, and France tried to pass a bill banning media, including blogs, that promoted “excessive thinness.”

Researchers agree that the effects of the media are real, especially on body image. The images can contribute to body dissatisfaction, or in extreme cases, to eating disorders. But as the effects of the media are strong, why is it that other countries are being more proactive than the United States in showing healthier models?

The United States is taking a passive approach to the problem. The Council of Fashion Designers of America have recommendations for supporting a healthy atmosphere back stage at shows, but no regulations against using scary-skinny models.

Since it’s the Western media that affects millions of women, I think it is also their responsibility to use positive images as well. Advertisements like Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” are helping lead the way, but it seems other companies are slow to follow in Dove’s footsteps.

The majority of the media seems to show no concern for the images it shows, and the body ideals it is responsible for shaping. It seems the media is resistant to change and the images will continue to be shown. So, as women faced with pressure to look our best, remember the images you see in the media are not real, hours are spent photoshopping, airbrushing and perfecting them.