We indoctrinate our children to the ideals of beauty before they are out of diapers. These images come in the form of dolls such as Barbie and G.I. Joe, providing guidelines of what we are supposed to look like.
These images are only validated and expanded upon as we get older. The media, whether it’s in the form of a magazine or a television, only exacerbates the problem. Researchers have found that negative body image has a major impact on roughly 75 percent of the female university student population.
But the research is clear: These Barbie/G.I. Joe ideals are biologically impossible and quite dangerous. According to the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, Barbie would be 5 feet 9 inches tall and weigh about 110 pounds. This would make her anorexic. G.I. Joe would have biceps as large as his waist.
These ideals seem obviously unattainable. However, seeing these bodies can trigger a whole set of responses that have nothing to do with rationale. In fact, these triggers reach parts of your mind that leads to dangerous behavior if people lack the capacities to overcome the triggers.
Take a look at some of the research illustrating the effect negative body image has on college students:
- Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts both released studies with similar findings (Kilbourne, 1999, p. 138): 70 percent of college women report that they feel worse about their body image after reading women’s magazines. A researcher involved with the study said these magazines create a reality that can be attained. This reality is that people come in all shapes and sizes. Though these magazines say there is really one path to ideal beauty, that’s not the case.
- Brown University’s Health Services Department provides students with its own research. They point to a study of college females that found that 74.4 percent of normal-weight women said they thought about their weight or appearance “all the time” or “frequently.” The research also found that 46 percent of normal-weight men felt the same way. The Brown Health Services article follows this information with a quote taken from the authors of The Adonis Complex: “There’s often a vicious cycle here: the more a person focuses on (his or her) body, the worse (he or she) feels about (he or she) looks — obsession breeds discontent.”
- Speaking of vicious cycles, consider conclusions made by the now-defunct National Institute on Media and the Family. They said the amount of time college students, as well as other adolescents, spent watching television, movies, and music videos was associated with their degree of body dissatisfaction and desire to be thin. The Institute pointed to a book called The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls that says media is one of the triggers that lead to findings like this one: “At age thirteen, 53 percent of American girls are ‘unhappy with their bodies.’ This grows to 78 percent by the time girls reach seventeen.”
The research is endless, but one question remains: What does the roughly 25 percent of satisfied women have going for them that the rest do not? It’s likely not the ideal body image, since only five percent of the female population naturally attain the “correct” shape and size, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
Brown University’s Health Department provides some guideposts that have been mastered by the roughly 20 percent of younger women. This includes an understanding that bodies naturally come in all different shapes and sizes and that physical appearance has actually has a much smaller impact on our overall character and value as a human being.
Health often means being able to keep the concepts of self-esteem and body image away from each other. When the two affect each other, society ends up with the kind of statistics stated earlier.
Brown University Health Education Department, (no date), Nutrition and Eating Concerns: Body Image, Retrieved from: http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_eating_concerns/body_image.php
Brumberg, J.J., (1998) The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New York: Vintage.
Kilbourne, J. (1999). Can’t buy my love. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster.