Overcoming Unrealistic Expectations: Body Image in Media

Media has made people feel uncomfortable for far too long. What are it's effects, and when will it end?

Mohss Elaine, Staff Writer

Media has, since its invention, been the driving force of the ideals of contemporary Americans, from the ‘perfect’ home to the ‘perfect’ family. Though perfection is based on an individual’s opinions, the media stays grounded in what it loosely considers to be exemplary.


The media, especially the new waves of social media, keep the portrayal of the ‘perfect’ body image blatant and prominent. The notion that you need a filter, a ring-light, and as many likes as you can muster spread the narrative that looking presentable is measured by the approval of others. This narrative is severely damaging to growing men, women and others alike, showing them that if they don’t look a certain way, they aren’t enough of what they represent.


The effects of portrayal of the ‘perfect’ body have been severely damaging to the mass majority of women and men since media reared its judgmental head. Aspects of this image, such as the hourglass figures, flat stomachs, and six-packs have been around for far too long. This is a problem that’s only getting worse, as social media becomes more of a driving force of how people interact. Everyone’s feeds are constantly filled up with models and actors, those who are presented to the media as holding the key to the ideal semblance.


Social media is able to influence the masses in a number of ways, and can either repair social injustices and connect people, or set unrealistic expectations and create borders. There are multitudes of ways that the internet has made progress on bashing the impractical ideals, such as the #MeToo movement, which has bolstered the growth of empowerment and recognition of those who have been sexually assaulted. Movements like these have true value in the outside world, that go past the bonds of skin, where words and actions are more powerful than superficial values.


This being said, it is very important to recognize the positive effects social media has. However, that mindset should not distract from the damage that is done by creating unrealistic standards. Regardless if we like to admit it, we look up to celebrities. They are the people that represent the media’s standards with how they look and dress. All aspects of their identity are constantly under a lens. We, as the general populous, want to imitate what we see. These celebrities, though held to be the peak of human beauty, are not as real and attainable as we are led to believe.


These models and celebrities are painted in the nicest light they possibly can be. If were all supposed to look this way, wouldn’t celebrities share their dieting habits, personal trainers, photographers, make up artists, costume designers, and Photoshop subscriptions? The simple answer is, of course not. If we all looked beautiful, they’d cease to be known for beauty. They are the barrier between normality and beauty that keep their names, companies and brands alive.


Companies are keeping the nonsensical standards afloat with their influence, constantly gripping to the general media’s standards. “Sex sells” is a common term used to describe the gross misrepresentation, of both men and women, in the media. The gross oversexualization is damaging to both men and women, but is seen much more with women. There are thousands of commercials that rely on beautiful women in revealing clothing that have nothing to do with women or their needs. The reliance on beauty to sell a product shows not only that a company is manipulative, but depending on their message that you are not beautiful and that you need their product to even be considered so.


Almost every company uses this system of degradation to make sure you feel insecure enough about yourself to cave in. For example, Ralph Lauren published an ad with model Filippa Hamilton, where they did not see her, a literal model, to be beautiful enough to sell their products. They photographed her, fired her, and then severely transformed her body using Photoshop. She looked emaciated, barely a speck on the front page, and that’s exactly what they’d planned on doing.


Another example is a rather current issue, where Victoria’s secret released an ad campaign entitled the “perfect body campaign”, where they hired models who all had uncommonly similar body types: thin, tall, white and cisgender. Consumers were rightfully outraged, and Victoria’s secret responded by putting quotation marks around the word body, and putting one woman of color in, because that obviously solves the problem of omitting normal body and skin types.


Victoria’s Secret went under fire again, as the CMO of the brand, Ed Razek, used discriminatory comments and degrading terms to justify why the brand’s fashion shows won’t use transgender models. His unruly justification was “ I don’t think we should. It’s a 42 minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.” His excuses for not casting trans women are only part of the major issue of exemption and discrimination against trans people as a whole. The brand’s failure to cast women of the LGBTQ community, women that are darker than light beige, and weigh more than what they did as a toddler is not a new revelation. They are just one of the many contributors to the ongoing issue of elitist expectation.


The pressure for women to be young, thin and beautiful, for men to be at peak physical condition, for those who are not cisgender to represent only femininity or masculinity, for people of color to be as white as possible. These norms create insecurity and, in many cases, irreversible damage for everyone, regardless of who or what they are. No one is safe from being targeted for being less than.


There is no human on earth who can be considered a paragon. We, as a species, are full of mistakes and flaws, and it is up to us not only to recognize this, but to embrace them. These flaws are what make us true to ourselves. As growing minds, we should never feel obligated to hold up standards that can psychologically and emotionally tear us down. As a society, regardless of age, gender, political views, and more, we can break the glass ceiling we’ve spent decades rebuilding and create a powerful, uplifting environment. Everyone deserves to feel respected, no matter what they look like.