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Today’s cultures and societies are driven by messages that are propagated by the mass media. What was initially created to encourage consumerism is now being used to mislead people within the society, especially women. It is imperative to understand that the actions and the messages conveyed through the different mass media are always what they appear, but rather they act as catalysts for harmful effects on people within the society, especially women. Research indicates that ongoing exposure to some ideas about the ideal body of a woman can either shape or alter our perception of reality. Prior to the existence of mass media, women’s ideas about beauty were restricted to their own communities. Unfortunately, things changed with the advent of photography and other mass media in 1839, which exposed people to real-life image of their bodies and faces.
In many ways, advertisements tend to tell the consumers who they are and what they should do. For women, they continue to tell them just as they did ten and thirty years ago that the most important thing for any women is how she looks. The first thing that any advertisement does is to surround women with captivating images of an ideal female beauty so that they can understand the importance of being beatify and what exactly it takes to become beautiful. Nearly all of the women we see in the advertisements are white and young. Likewise, these advertisements rarely feature older women, but those who are represented: from politicians, movie stars and news anchors look much younger due to plastic surgery. As a result, those women who choose to age naturally are often seen as “let downs.” To achieve the ideal body that is depicted in advertisements, many women resort to various practices that are harmful to their health. Kilbourne (2002) links depression, unhealthy eating habits and loss of self esteem to the exposure of women to young, thin, and air-brushed female bodies. It is asserted that one in every four middle aged women practice unhealthy weight control methods such as skipping meals, excessive exercise, fasting, self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse.
The culture of thinness is also propagated by beauty magazines (Media Awareness Network, 2010). It has been established that all women magazines have more articles and ads that advocate for weight loss as compared to men’s magazines. Likewise, almost three-quarters of women`s magazine covers have at least one message about how to alter a woman’s bodily appearance by cosmetic surgery, diet or exercise. These magazines are full of articles of how to “rock a man’s world” and body barring dresses rather than articles that teach women the importance of respecting their bodies and realize that it is normal not to be sexually active (Media Awareness Network, 2010).
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Women’s magazines often perpetuate common stereotypes that instill bad behavior in young women. For example, these magazines perpetuate that in order to succeed in life, woman’s looks are more important than her brains. They set unrealistic and unreachable ideals that place women’s focus on things that are not important in their lives. Shields & Heinecken (2001) assert that the overwhelming presence of overly thin women images and articles that advocate for the ideal body in women’s magazines have overshadowed the real woman’s body. It is unfortunate that many women accept these stereotypes, and end up judging themselves by the standards set by the beauty industry. This means that women end up comparing themselves with other, and compete with them for male attention.
The end result of the above self-destruction. The salvo of messages regarding beauty, thinness, and dieting tells normal women that there is always room for body adjustment, and that their bodies are objects that need perfection. The most distressing fact is that advert and magazine images of an ideal woman is unattainable for all but a few women (Shields & Heinecken, 2001). Those who are lucky enough to attain this image end up regretting in the end. Many end up developing health complications while others end up messing their natural beauty. Rather than achieving their intended purpose of getting the attention of other people, especially men, these women become subjects of gossip in the society. When their natural beauty is gone, they become isolated because no one wants to associate with them.
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