It’s a Man’s World

My previous posts have been focusing on the representation of female body image in the media. Now I’d like to look at male body image. We are seeing an increase in images of shirtless men, who appear to have no flaws. Generally, this image is of a physically strong, muscular man, who is tanned and toned.

Here is a classic example of this man. I found it extremely difficult to find an alternative to this generic image, and my search was full of glistening sculpted men. It seems that although the media is exploring different shapes in women, men don’t have so much leeway, which could possibly cause pressure for men to look like the men they see in magazines or on billboards. The Australian Psychological Society writes that “it is believed that men’s body image dissatisfaction has tripled in the previous 25 years, from 15 per cent to 45 per cent (of all western men).” As well as this The Better Health Channel published that “around one in four Australian men in the healthy weight range believe themselves to be fat, while 17 per cent of men are on a weight loss diet at any given time. Men also worry about being muscular. A desire to fit the ideal masculine image of lean muscularity means that over-exercising and the use of dangerous and illegal drugs (like steroids) are on the rise.” This is not surprising due the standard today’s media is setting. Images like these send the message than one must adopt a certain appearance in order to appear strong and sexually desirable.

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SELLING POINT

It’s common knowledge that most women aren’t happy with their bodies and it can be argued that this is due to the unrealistic expectations created by the media. But why is the media presenting these women in this way? Wouldn’t they gain more support if women feel they can relate to the images in front of them? That might not be the case. The Media Awareness blog suggests that the slim bodies are a selling technique. “By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. And it’s no accident that youth is increasingly promoted, along with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty. If not all women need to lose weight, for sure they’re all aging, says the Quebec Action Network for Women’s Health in its 2001 report Changements sociaux en faveur de la diversité des images corporelles. And, according to the industry, age is a disaster that needs to be dealt with.” Although women might buy products from campaigns that relate to them, it seems that the more effective strategy is to make readers feel bad about themselves. Women are constantly trying to improve themselves, and when they see an image of what they want to be they are more likely to buy into the product that body is selling. The media is using women’s insecurities and their idea that if they look good enough, their life will be perfect. Although it seems outrageous that the media is making women feel inadequate in order to make money, the reality is it works. I for one wouldn’t buy a dieting product from a woman who looked like me. What’s the point in that? The idea behind advertisements is to sell us something that supposedly improves our life.

This isn’t the only thing that tempts us to buy products. The media is constantly presenting stories about obesity and type two diabetes. We’re scared into trying to be healthy because, let’s face it, Australia is one of the most obese countries in the developed world. News articles and reports throw facts at us and warn us to live a healthy lifestyle. This links back to the pictures in magazines, and they are the supposed image of “health.” Does that mean we have to look like them in order to be healthy? That’s what a lot of people think. Their fear of being overweight might be what drives them to buy into products that represent a better body.

Are you letting the media scare or tempt you into buying into the current idea of “beauty” and “health”?

REAL V.S. SKINNY

In a lot of media today, we’re being shown the image of the “real woman.” She is curvy, toned and all woman. But is it really the media’s job to tell us what a “real woman” is? In 2004, Dove started the “Real Beauty” Campaign, which featured many women of different sizes, ages and nationalities. The idea behind it was to promote the “real woman” instead of the standard size-zero model. But my question is, are these women really the definition of a real woman? Does that mean that women who happen to be slim are discounted as women? Why does our body determine whether we’re real or not?

It’s not just in this campaign that we see the word “real”. In multiple seasons of America’s Next Top Model, we see Tyra use the term “fiercely-real” to describe plus-size models. Which leaves me wondering, what about the other women who don’t fit that mould? I understand that she is trying to promote a different type of body from the usual images we see in the media, but isn’t Tyra just creating a whole new mould that women must fit into to be considered real?

Why is skinny so bad? There is a difference between being ill and being slim, but being slight seems to come with a lot of prejudice nowadays. Is it fair to categorise women based on their figures? The modelling world seems to come with a lot of negative connotations, which is explored in this article from The Daily Beast.

How is it by embracing a different type of body type has the media excluded another?

MIXED MESSAGES

Most of us have a pretty good idea of what we think is the perfect body, right? But how many of us actually have this body? The problem is we all seem to have an opinion on body image and know what we strive to look like, but we rarely achieve it. Why? Maybe it’s because the images the media is presenting to us are unrealistic. Or maybe the media is confusing us with mixed messages about body image. It seems to me that we’re told that our body has to be just right, otherwise you’re unhealthy.

Here we have a classic example of the mixed messages the media is sending us. On the same cover of a women’s magazine we have criticisms of celebrities who are too fat or too thin. How are women supposed to be happy with their bodies when the media is telling us we have to fit an exact mould, otherwise we’re unhealthy?

Now, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a fan of America’s Next Top Model. At first I thought I had it figured out. Articles like this one have been telling me that models are portraying an unrealistic body image, and so when watching America’s Next Top Model I understand that the bodies on show are not representative of all women’s body types. So it came as a bit of a shock to me when Ana-Marie was eliminated from the competition because the judges decided her body promoted an unhealthy image to young girls.

This left me completely confused as suddenly I felt that the other girls in the competition, all of who were very slim, must have a healthy body. It put pressure on me to look like them as I came to the conclusion that if Ana-Marie was too skinny to be a role model that the other girls must be what I should aspire to be.

In all this craziness of the media, it’s hard to know what body is right or wrong. The idea of looking healthy doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with physical health, which is what confuses women the most. Are these images the reasons people never seem to be content with how they look?