Lorraine Smith explains the pressures the media puts on women to be thin and beautiful.
Shortly after Christmas I was feeling fat, which is not an unusual occurrence
but was actually justified at the time due to the amount of calories I had
consumed over the previous few weeks. I was also feeling old and unfashionable
due to an evening spent in a pub packed with people between 4 and 10 years
younger than me who were wearing outfits purchased in the last 4 months, as
opposed to the last 4 years.
I occasionally find myself wishing I was something other than I am
Although there’s no real pressure on me to conform to a young, thin and
fashionable stereotype, I still find myself occasionally wishing I was something
other than I am. Most of the time I am quite happy with the way I look. I know
I have a big bottom and would love to have longer legs but there’s no point in
worrying about things I have little hope of ever changing, as I will just end up
feeling depressed and overcome by feelings of self doubt. I’ve never been one to
look at photos in magazines and fret that I don’t match up to the image of
apparent perfection that they portray, as they are generally airbrushed pictures
of unusual looking models, but I have recently noticed that I am
actually affected by images on television and in magazines.
I didn’t realise just how few media images there are of women I can relate to
until one television advert really made me smile. It was for the Nokia 7650
where three men expose their bellies to wish happy birthday to a colleague, who
then takes a picture with her phone. It’s full of normal looking people just
being themselves which is rare in today’s media, and even more so in
Why do so many rational women have body image problems? Research by the
University of Glasgow suggested that women are up to ten times more likely than
men to be unhappy with their body image. Why is this? Who is putting pressure on
us to be young and thin? You don’t have to go too far to find an answer to this
question: just as far as your television set, in fact. When we’re not being
bombarded with images of tall, slender and glamorous young women in programmes
where all the fat characters are there for comedy value only, we then get
subjected to adverts for Weight Watchers and Slim Fast during the commercial
breaks. OK so, no one has told us that we simply must buy these
products in order to look like these people, but it doesn’t help when you go
shopping for clothes only to find that nothing fits.
we’re bombarded with images of tall, slender and glamorous young women
So-called ‘fashionable’ retailers skimp on fabric so their sizes come up
smaller, and they shape their garments for a more athletic figure than the
majority of women have. This means that a lot of women feel abnormal when they
are in fact quite the opposite, and it is affecting us at a younger age than
ever before. Teenagers have always been teased at school for looking fatter,
thinner, taller or shorter than their peers but, as the magazine market for
young girls increases and the desire to grow up kicks in at earlier ages than
ever before, young women are finding it more and more difficult to accept the
way they look. A survey of 500 school pupils by the Young Women’s Christian
Association revealed that one in three thought about their body shape all the
time and only 14% were happy with the way they look.
Television companies, clothing retailers, magazine editors, advertising agencies
and Hollywood should all really do more to halt this trend. We need images of
women who we can aspire to be like, but not simply because they look a certain
way. After all, there’s more to glamour than looking good in a bikini. Jamie
Lee Curtis posed sans make-up and photo re-touching for a magazine last year,
then Kate Winslet destroyed all her earlier good work and caused outrage earlier
this year with her blatantly airbrushed cover for a men’s mag.
Every now and again someone in the media mentions that there is a problem
(remember British Vogue’s shoot with a size 14 model?), only to merrily sweep it
back under the carpet again once they have cashed in. Perhaps we shouldn’t wait
for the media to catch up and should focus on ourselves first, but it’s tricky
to “love the skin you’re in” when you’re constantly being told that you have too
much of the damn stuff in the first place.
society accepts a far wider variety of male body shapes than female.
The thing that bothers me the most about all this, however, is that men are not
under the same pressure to conform. Although there is evidence to suggest that
men are becoming more obsessed with their appearance than ever before (usually
by being urged to replace their keg with a six-pack if they want to impress us),
society accepts a far wider variety of male body shapes than female. Men are
still adored by their girlfriends/wives when they pile on the pounds, but then
find these same women unattractive if they happen go up a couple of dress sizes.
Men can go without shaving and still feel sexy, but woman misplaces her razor
and all hell breaks loose! Men can grow old gracefully, whereas women are
constantly being told that wrinkles are bad and will make you look like an extra
for Last of the Summer Wine before you’re thirty if you don’t spend at least
fifteen quid on a pot of cream.
I suspect that social conditioning has a lot to do with this, but most men do
seem to be immune to the media images of sultry male models draped in young
girls, preferring instead just to look at the girls. Buy a women’s magazine and
you will see pictures of the young and slender women that, in someone’s ideal
world, we are all supposed to look like. Buy a copy of a men’s magazine,
however, and you will see photos of the same women. There may be men on the
fashion pages, but the readers will doubtless be looking at just the clothes by
this point. Why can’t we do that? Sometimes I wonder if women are in fact
their own worst enemy when it comes to the poor image they have of their own