Karen is a seventeen-year-old girl who has been affected by the effects of having a negative body image (Phillips, Atala, and Albertini, 1995). She frequently compared herself to others and obsessed about many of her body features that she thought of as imperfect (Phillips et al., 1995). Karen’s negative body image was detrimental to her mental health. She was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, major depression, and a generalized social phobia (Phillips et al., 1995). Because of Karen’s appearance concerns, she ended up dropping out of school and attempted to permanently end her life to get rid of her pain (Phillips et al., 1995). Karen was affected by unrealistic beauty standards. As written by Christina Donati, “[the unrealistic beauty standard] is the overbearing, delusional, over-represented idea of what the media, and everyone else, believes what can and cannot be considered beautiful in our world” (2017, para. 1). Karen spent years trying to live up to this standard and endured many struggles because of it.
In the past, to see an advertisement or any type of media, you would have to buy a newspaper. Today, we have the capability of seeing any type of media in the palm of your hands. Unfortunately, this is not always beneficial to society. Many types of media use individuals that are not always pure of editing. According to Huffpost.com, only twenty-eight percent of cosmetic ads were untouched by editing (2011). Because companies have the power to do this, the beauty standards are held at an unrealistic standard that a natural human could never compete with. This can lead to severe mental health issues in people of all ages, including seventeen-year-old Karen. Unrealistic beauty standards can generate negative body images and mental health disorders; the use of body positive campaigns have been introduced in effort to improve the beauty standards in the United States.
Unrealistic beauty standards have been shown to generate negative body images in people of the United States (Tylka and Kroon Van Diest, 2014, pg. 70). One place that these standards are present are in media. Media has unrealistic standards that people feel they need to live up to. In media, producers use photo editing to make the face of their name as perfect as it can be. This reinforces the unrealistic beauty standards. One example of a type of media that reinforces this is pornography. In Tracy Tylka and Ashley Kroon Van Diest’s research, they found that pornography can lower one’s self-esteem because they do not feel as if they are good enough for their partner (2014). In their article, they explain that the women and men featured in pornography conform to the unrealistic beauty standards (Tylka and Kroon Van Diest, 2014, pg. 70). When a women’s partner watches porn, they feel like they are being compared to the actors in the porn (Tylka and Kroon Van Diest, 2014). The authors state, “these women reported feeling less attractive and desirable after becoming aware of their male partners’ pornography use” (Tylka and Kroon Van Diest, 2014, pg. 70). This puts two stressors on the woman. First, it reinforces the body insecurities that she may have had in the first place. Women reported more negative attention to their flaws and being more insecure about their good features (Tylka and Kroon Van Diest, 2014, pg. 70). Secondly, it makes a woman feel like she is not enough to please her partner. However, women are not the only people that can be affected by the unrealistic standards of the media.
Most people immediately think of women when they hear the word insecure (University of Pittsburgh, 2014). However, men can also be affected by the unrealistic beauty standards of the media. The men’s standard of ‘beauty’ is different than the women’s slim and sexy standard. Many media outlets want men that are muscular and fit. Most men in the media are still photoshopped and edited just like women. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh talk about how young men fall to the pressures of models and body builders (University of Pittsburgh, 2014). This makes the men feel as if they are not good enough for society as well. This has introduced a lifestyle in some men that includes extreme dieting and the use of steroids and nutritional supplements (University of Pittsburgh, 2014). This is a very unhealthy and unnatural way to meet the beauty standards and can cause some serious health problems such as “stunted bone growth, liver damage, and shrunken testicles” (University of Pittsburgh, 2014, para 4). Men who eat healthy and regularly excessive could never compete with the extreme habits they would have to maintain to meet the unrealistic standard. Putting one’s body on the line to try to measure up to the deceiving male figures in media is not worth the potential risks that come along with it. This not only puts pressure on a person’s physical health, but it also strains their mental health.
The pressure that the unrealistic beauty standards of the media put on men and women can lead to certain mental health disorders. One the mental health issues that can arise are eating disorders. Eating disorders, as described by the American Psychiatric Association, “are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thought and emotions” (Parekh, 2017, para. 1). Some of the eating disorders that are characterized with negative body images are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervous. Bulimia nervosa also described by the American Psychiatric Association is an eating disorder that involves binge eating large amounts of food and purging the food that they intake through forcing themselves to vomit or by taking laxatives (Parekh, 2017). Anorexia nervosa is another common eating disorder. It is normally characterized by having weight “at least fifteen percent less than the normal healthy weight expected for their height” (Parekh, 2017, para. 4). Patients with anorexia usually have a “fear of being ‘fat’” and problems with their body image (R. Parekh, 2017 para. 4). Most people with anorexia do not eat, may be bulimic, and or excessively exercise (Parekh, 2017). This causes additional health issues such as anemia and osteoporosis because they body is put into starvation mode (R. Parekh, 2017). Like men using steroids, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are detrimental to one’s physical health and are unhealthy ways to try to conform to the media’s standards.
There are many things that can cause a person to develop an eating disorder. The most common one, is body insecurity. Body insecurity is caused by comparing oneself to a standard that one’s body does not meet, such as the unrealistic beauty standards. Marzieh Mashalpourfard did a study on the relationship of social anxiety, body image perception and depression with bulimia nervosa and anorexia in youth to see how body image perception related to eating disorders (2018). In her research, she surveyed two hundred male and female freshman students and asked them about eating disorders, social anxiety, body image, and depression (Mashalpourfard, 2018). The results of the study conclude that anxiety, body image perception, and depression can significantly predict an eating disorder (Mashalpourfard, 2018). This reaffirms that the pressure that is put on people because of the unrealistic beauty standards causes detrimental damage to people’s bodies and minds. Many men and women are willing to put the heath of their bodies on the line to conform to the standards. Eating disorders are not the only mental health issue that can be rooted form the pressures of society.
Body dysmorphic disorder is another mental health disorder that can brought upon by negative body image. As stated in Lucia Tomas-Aragones and Servando Marron’s ‘Body Image and Body Dysmorphic Concerns’, “BDD [body dysmorphic disorder] is characterized by excessive concern and preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in bodily appearance…” (Tomas-Aragones and Marron, 2016, pg. 49). This means that patients diagnosed with BDD obsess about part of their body that they do not see as ‘perfect’. Unfortunately, suicide rates for people that have body dysmorphic disorder are high (Tomas-Aragones and Marron, 2016). According to Katharine A. Phillips’s study ‘Suicidality in Body Dysmorphic Disorder’, eighty percent of individuals with BDD had suicidal thoughts (2007). Additionally, around twenty-six percent of individuals with the disorder attempted suicide (Phillips, 2007). There are many therapies and treatments that can help patients with body dysmorphic disorder, but many health care professionals overlook the disorder (Tomas-Aragones and Marron, 2016). Many patients are too ashamed of their bodies to bring it up to doctors (Tomas-Aragones and Marron, 2016). Society today is too focused on having perfect people advertise products instead of thinking about the effect that their editing has on the consumers. However, some companies have realized the damage that unrealistic beauty standards have done to the health of the people and changed the way they campaigned.
Body positivity campaigns can reduce the pressure of the beauty standards that are put onto people. One good example is body positive models. Madeline Stuart became a professional model at age 22 (Free, 2019). However, Madeline is not like all of the other models on the runway because she has Down syndrome (Free, 2019). Madeline is quoted saying, “I’m happy to change the way society looks at people with disabilities. I want the world to be more accepting. That is my dream” (Free, 2019, para. 5). Madeline defies the worlds stereotype for models. She also proves that there is no one size fits all on beauty. Madeline has walked for many well-known designers such as Colleen Morris and Nonie (Free, 2019). Madeline someone that women and individuals with Down syndrome look up to.
Body positivity campaigns can not only be though models, but through entire clothing companies. American Eagle, a well-known teenage clothing company, has worked to become all natural and promote body positivity. In January of 2018, Aerie, a branch of American Eagle, released their new editions to their #AerieReal campaign (American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 2018). They brought in Olympic gold medalist, Ally Raisman, actress and activist, Yara Shahidi, and singer-songwriter Rachel Platten (American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 2018). These well accomplished women were added to the empowering #AerieReal campaign that “celebrates its community by advocating for body positivity and the empowerment of all women” (American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 2018, para. 6). The branch of American Eagle has been retouching free since 2014 (American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 2018). American Eagle has also introduced some more body positive models into their main clothing lines as well. By introducing body positive campaigns, companies and individuals are changing the way that people think about the beauty standards.
The negative body images and mental health disorders that unrealistic beauty standards can generate will not go away. The body positive campaigns that companies such as American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. have introduced into society can help change the way people think about beauty. People suffering from eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder would not have as harsh of a stereotype to compare themselves to. This would hopefully lead to less cases of these terrible disorders and leave people feeling better about themselves.
By using body positive campaigns, we lift the stigma that promotes perfectness among humans. If media outlets were to use pure people as their models and actors, this would create a world with more body positivity. Unfortunately, we are far from this dream world. There are still many people who suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders associated with negative body image. These mental health issues not only cause bad thoughts but can be detrimental to one’s physical health and may even lead to suicide. These issues could be improved by changing the unrealistic beauty standards that reside in our world today. By helping change the beauty standards, we can help people who suffer from the effects of having a negative body image, such as Karen, to be more positive about their body image, and help them succeed.
- American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (2018). Aerie introduces Yara Shahidi, Aly Raisman, and Rachel Platten as new #AerieREAL role models, joining Iskra Lawrence. Retrieved from http://investors.ae.com/news-releases/news-releases-details/2018/Aerie-Introduces-Yara-Shahidi-Aly-Raisman-and-Rachel-Platten-as-New-AerieREAL-Role-Models-Joining-Iskra-Lawrence/default.aspx
- Donati, C. (2017, November 13). Here's Why Society Has Unrealistic Beauty Standards. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/heres-why-society-has-unrealistic-beauty-standards_b_5a09bb8ee4b06d8966cf3172.
- Free, Cathy. (2019, February 12) This Australia Fashion Model Is in High Demand. She Also Has Down Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/02/11/this-australian-fashion-model-is-high-demand-she-also-has-down-syndrome/.
- Gleason, N., & Sprankle, E. (2019). The Effects of Pornography on Sexual Minority Men’s Body Image: An Experimental Study. Psychology & Sexuality, 10(4), 301–315. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/10.1080/19419899.2019.1637924
- Mashalpourfard, M. (2018). Relationship of Social Anxiety, Body Image Perception and Depression with Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa in Youth. Journal of Fundamentals of Mental Health, 20(2), 138–147. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=aph&AN=132968781&site=ehost-live&scope=site
- Phillips, K. A., & Atala, K. D. (1995). Case Study: Body Dysmorphic Disorder in Adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 34(9), 1216. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/10.1097/00004583-199509000-00020
- Phillips, K. (2007). Suicidality in Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Primary Psychiatry (14)12 58-66. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2361388/
- Tomas-Aragones, L., & Marron, S. E. (2016). Body Image and Body Dysmorphic Concerns. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 96, 47–50. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/10.2340/00015555-2368
- University of Pittsburg. (2014). Women in Media: Unhealthy and Unattainable Standards. Retrieved form http://www.gsws.pitt.edu/blogs/jtf18/women-media-unhealthy-and-unattainable-standards.