While women are making impressive progress in education, professions and politics, body issues are worsening. Unrealistic beauty standards bombarding TV, movies and magazines are damaging the esteem of girls as young as 5.
While objectifying pictures and advertisements are most likely to appear in men’s magazines, teen girl publications are a close second. Cartoons, shows and commercials stress the importance of being tall, thin and perfectly made up. Between 40-70 percent of girls are unhappy with at least two aspects of their bodies and their self image plummets between the ages 12 and 15.
These messages have a monopoly on emotion. Ignoring them is easier said than done. Those few extra pounds turn into a million on the shoulders of teenagers and young women. Barbie-like “perfection” is unreasonable and unattainable. Even though most women know that Barbism is unrealistic, millions still aspire to the look. Disappointment inevitably follows.
One in six high school students had considered committing suicide and 1 in 12 had attempted it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More females than males were affected. Many things can be attributed to suicide, but body image is a leading cause. Feeling inadequate is a killer. Young women are frequently bullied and insulted about their appearance. They are bullied over weight, height, clothes, makeup and other superficial factors.
Targets of bullying face increased depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Many turn to self-medication for solace, often with deadly results.
Men also suffer. Society tells them to be muscular and to sleep around.
Women with lower self-esteem are more likely to have problems in their sex lives and engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners. Research shows the lower the self-esteem, the less likely to seek help.
Studies have shown that blatantly sexualized ads actually increase self-esteem of a majority of women. They understand what corporations and advertising agencies are trying to do and they laugh at it. Subtle messages are more dangerous.
Some larger companies only cater to smaller sizes. Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, said his company’s market was “cool, good-looking kids.” Only after there was a noticeable decline in sales following his comment did the company begin to offer larger sizes.
Fortunately, other big name companies are starting to catch on. Aerie, American Eagle’s undergarment line, is starting to “get real and think real.” They are ditching the supermodels and photoshop for reality.
“There is no reason to retouch beauty,” their website states. “We think the real you is sexy.”
This could not be more true. It is time to stop relying on fixing these issues once they have happened and have compassion. Every woman and every man is unique, amazing and beautiful, no matter what Madison Avenue says.