Gender Series: Women and Beauty
By Ciarah Cox, NCCJ Intern
Most females have struggled with body image at one point in their lives or another. Body image is an ongoing battle that begins as early as elementary school and continues, for many, to be a life long struggle. In fact, CNN shows that 42% of 1st through 3rd grade girls want to be thinner, in this graph that has other alarming statistics. TGC (The Gospel Coalition) also reported that by the age of 6 “girls start to express concerns about their own weight or shape…40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This struggle can endure throughout life unless recognized and dealt with.” Poor body image is also the best-known contributors to eating disorders which are, as defined by the National Eating Disorders Association, as illnesses that “include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.” These illnesses include the likes of names such as anorexia and bulimia, which average ages for onset is between 12-13 years old.
The issue of body image and self-esteem has long started to grow to epidemic proportions and has since gotten the attention of some of the industries top companies. In 2004 the Dove Company launched their “Campaign for Real Beauty.” The campaign was/is dedicated to widening the world’s definition of beauty and empowering women and girls around the world to have a healthier body image. Following their 2004 launch, the Dove released its Dove global study which was launched in 2007, and revealed that 91% of women between the ages of 50-64 believe that it is time for society’s views on beauty to change. This study later sparked Dove’s “Beauty Comes of Age” campaign, which focused on promoting healthier body images among women ages 50+. Another Dove global study was released in 2011 (the largest to date), which reported that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves “beautiful.” This says a whole lot about the warped image that not just our country, but also our world has about what it means to be “beautiful.” This worldview is often passed down through generations and works its way into how we perceive ourselves to be, frequently creating negative self-images. This was demonstrated in a commercial, which was released by Dove entitled “Dove Real Beauty Sketches.” In the commercial, different women are asked to describe themselves as a professional sketch artist draws what they describe. These sketches are then compared to descriptions that other people give of them. The results are staggering; the commercial can and is encouraged to be viewed.
Skirts, dresses, pink, and flowers…these are just some of the words that may come to mind when you think of what society labels as traditionally feminine clothing. What one wears is often an act of self-expression and can be telling to other people of who you are and what you like. However sometimes certain people may be unable to express themselves in the way that they desire, due to restrictions and unspoken rules that our society has about gender and clothing. Upon the release of the Disney/Marvel Entertainment movie The Avengers, the Disney Company also released a new line of Avengers t-shirts. For males the t-shirt said, “Be a Hero,” but for females the t-shirt read, “I Need a Hero.” Almost immediately a petition was issued for Disney to change the shirts; the petition received over 6,000 signatures. One petition signer said, “My daughter LOVES superheroes, in particular she loves the Avengers. She doesn't need a superhero...What she needs is for corporations to stop telling her that because of her gender she couldn't possibly BE the superhero herself. Please think through the messages you send to our daughters.”
In 2013, there was a huge media uproar, when Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries openly admitted to press that his company is exclusionary and only wants “cool kids” to buy their clothing (rich, popular, thin, etc.) so they do not carry anything above a Large or a size 10. The upsetting fact about these comments is that bigotry such as this is one of the many re-enforcers for discrimination and isms. This also promotes poor body image among adolescents of both genders, but can be especially harsh on females. It sends the message that anything above a size 10 or a large is less than desirable and puts them in another category apart from supposedly “pretty” people.
Many times throughout our lives we may not even realize that some aspects of what we wear are due what we have been taught is acceptable to wear in societies eyes. Today in the 21st century, females are expected to wear what is known as traditionally feminine clothing. This includes things like floral prints and bright exuberant colors such as pinks, yellows and pastel colors. The problem with traditionally female clothing in America however is not how their made and what colors they are made with, but the purpose that they are made to achieve. The bulk of feminine clothing is made by men to please men, whether they are made to flatter body types so that they look pleasing to other people’s eye or made to over-sexualize. This trend starts early in life. As soon as we know the sex of a baby we begin to buy clothes with pink, flowers and lace. It sets the precedent for females to be socialized into being everything that society says a woman should be, not necessarily what they want to be.
Like most girls, I did not grow up with what media defined as the ideal shape. Thankfully I had a mother who constantly urged me to be proud of who I was, inwardly and outwardly, despite what the outside world says. However, not all young women had this support.
It wasn’t until the summer before eighth grade that I truly began to understand the severe consequences of poor body image and self esteem. The week before the start of school, I got word that one of my classmates, and friends, would not be returning to school in the fall. I was confused and baffled, everything seemed fine through-out the summer and I wasn’t sure why she would chose to suddenly transfer school. My mother later informed me, that my friend did not transfer schools, but instead was being hospitalized for an eating disorder. I had heard of the term, but didn’t quite understand what it meant. My mother used this as a teaching moment and told me that she suffered from an illness called anorexia. She had just about stopped eating altogether to loose weight before she started school in the fall.
After the conversation with my mom, I remember thinking back to the time that my friend and I spent together during the last school year. I recalled her avoiding lunch a lot, often spending the lunch period to go to the library. I also remembered her talking about how she didn’t like the way her clothes fit or looking at other girls and saying things like “I wish I could wear things like that.” Even though I had no way of knowing about her struggles, I still wished I had known of a way to help her. I will never forget my first encounter with the effects of poor body image and how it impacted my friend.
More Dove Campaign Commercials:
Other Gender blogs:
Monday, August 11 - Female Gender and Toys
Monday, August 18 - Male Gender and Toys
Monday, August 25 - Female Gender and School
Monday, September 1 - Male Gender and School
Monday, September 8 - Female Gender and Sports
Monday, September 15 - Male Gender and Sports
Monday, September 29 - Male Gender and Body Image
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