The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was created to expand society’s meaning of beauty. “Among the study’s findings was the statistic that only 2 percent of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful,” according to the Dove website.
Female college students are flooded with images and advertisements of “beautiful” people through the media. Portraits of flawless models are detrimental to women and are becoming increasingly unrealistic.
UCLA’s Student Nutrition & Body Image Awareness Campaign (UCLA SNAC) stated “twenty-five years ago, the average female model weighed eight percent less than the average American woman. Currently, the average female model weighs 23 percent below her average weight.”
These images of idealistic women are influential even in early adolescents. A bombardment of images of unhealthily thin women can instill in young people the idea that to be perfect means having your bones show prominently through your skin.
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) found an unsettling connection between media and young girls.
“Of American, elementary school girls who read magazines, 69 percent say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight.”
Eating disorders can have traumatic effects on the human body.
Anorexia, a disorder where a person fears gaining weight so much, they will essentially starves themselves, can cause hormonal or metabolic problems, mood swings, fatigue, hair loss and in extreme cases, death.
Bulimia is characterized by a person eating in mass quantities (“binging”) and then engaging in an activity to expel the potential caloric intake gained from the food, such as vomiting, consuming laxatives or excessive exercise.
Complications can also arise from Bulimia, such as tooth decay, dehydration, low blood pressure, ulcers and depression, among others.
The media can play a role in triggering these disorders.
Repeated exposure to images of thin models contributes to a girl’s negative perception of herself. Negative body image may then haunt women throughout their lives.
There are some in the feminist movement who believe that the image of the skinny woman as being “perfect” is really an issue of a male-dominated society attempting to stifle women gaining influence in society.
“A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience,” Naomi Wolff wrote in her book “The Beauty Myth.” “Women who remain thin are being obedient; it is another way for patriarchy to control women. If women cannot eat the same food as men, we cannot experience equal status in the community.”
Susan Bardo put forth the idea in her book “Unbearable Weight” that the very physical space a woman can inhabit is seen as a threat to some men. She stated that as a woman becomes powerful, she must physically diminish herself to maintain her standing in any male-dominated field.
Her physical size can represent her power, and some would seek to limit both.
“Female hunger for public power, for independence, for sexual gratification [must] be contained,” Bardo wrote on the perspective of some males, “and the public space that women be allowed to take up be circumscribed, limited. On the body of the anorexic woman such rules are grimly and deeply etched.”
With the increasingly unattainable body ideal being portrayed in the media, it is not surprising that eating disorders are steadily on the rise.
According to NEDA, eating disorders “include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.” And “the rate of development of new cases of eating disorders has been increasing since 1950.”
Las Positas health instructor Elizabeth Hopkins recognizes the importance of addressing the issue on campus, considering the majority of people at LPC are at the age where they could be most at risk.
“It is a topic that is relevant to college students. It’s relevant throughout the lifespan to many people, but particularly young adults,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins advised students struggling with body image or an eating disorder to be, “aware of how Photoshop is used, how those images are constructed, so that instead of seeing an image and thinking I wish I looked like that or why do I not look like that, realizing that that person who is in that image doesn’t look like that in real life either.”
Students struggling with eating disorders can go to the health center and talk to the counselor there or visit websites like National Eating Disorders Association, Something Fishy or UCLA SNAC.