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Body Image: American Women Stephanie Cole and Cecilia Kim

With the United States being such a culturally diverse place, perceptions differ on nearly every subject. One subject that is uncommonly approached is the topic of body image among American women. Although many cultures heavily rely on body image to help define a person, American women approach this in a different way. By altering the natural and physical assets a woman has, she hides the “I” and creates a “me” character using dramaturgy in order to mold to the general perception of American beauty. Many women in the United States are willing to experience or go through many different situations and procedures in order to achieve a look as close to “perfect” as they can get, some of which are potentially life threatening. As time goes on, one thing is for sure: women in America will stop at nothing in order to be considered “beautiful.” Deeply disturbing women and body image facts from “Women and Body Image: Ten Disturbing Facts”: The average American woman’s height is 5’4” and weights 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weights 117 pounds. The average size of the “ideal” woman, as portrayed by models, has become progressively thinner over the years and has stabilized at around 20% below the average weight. This thin ideal is unachievable for most women. A 1995 study found that three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty, and ashamed. It is estimated that 40-50% of American women are trying to lose weight at any point in time. At 5’9” tall and weighting 110 pounds, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 which is considered severely underweight. Because


of her ridiculous proportions (39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs and size 3 shoes), if she was a real woman, she would not be able to walk upright--she would have to walk on all fours. Note that the target market for Barbie Doll sales are girls ages 3 to 12 (MomGrind 2009). The female body has always been a spectacle. Body image issues are a fairly recent problem; yet, identity was not a part of the way an American woman viewed her body. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, clothing and undergarments were a way to hide a woman’s “flaws.” “If a woman did not have a naturally small waist, she changed her body with a corset. Although this may have been uncomfortable, these external forces did not seem to do the psychological damage that internalization of beauty has achieved” (The University of Wisconsin 2004). Internalization of beauty began in the 1920s; the flapper look ignited popularity that emphasized a thin waist, small breasts, and narrow hips. This flapper style grew from women’s lack of freedom from wearing tight corsets. “This is also when dieting and internalization of beauty became popular---the idea that the body can be shaped through self control. Denying oneself food was part of the look” (University of Wisconsin 2004). As the industrial age began, clothing became mass produced and provided a way for girls to compare themselves to their peers and other girls. From the 1920s to today, thin has been a popular thing. Companies and the media spend billions of dollars convincing women that their bodies are not thin enough. These mass producers defined what was beautiful for women and girls across all ages. “In the 1950s bras with large, lifted, pointy breasts were the rage. Exercises to increase bust size were widely published in teen magazines. “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” was the mantra for a generation of girls” (University of Wisconsin 2004). Currently, models, fashion icons, celebrities, and the media bombard


American women with what the ideal of beauty is. This is rampant all throughout our culture and is meshed into our everyday lives. In American society, the definition of beauty is not as subjective as one would hope. With the many freedoms that have been earned throughout the history of the United States, one so-called “freedom” that has been defined for the people, not by the people, is beauty. According to a research finding in the Social Issues Research Centre, the article claims that we are all more obsessed with our appearance than we like to admit. But this is not an indication of “vanity.”

“Vanity means conceit, excessive pride in one’s appearance. Concern about

appearance is quite normal and understandable” (Fox, 1997). Studies show that concern with appearance is not an issue in the past but also in contemporary society; the issue is the degree of concern for appearance. According to the research, 3 factors contribute to this phenomenon: “Thanks to the media, we have become accustomed to extremely rigid and uniform standards of beauty. TV, billboards, magazines etc mean that we see ‘beautiful people’ all the time, more often than members of our own family, making exceptionally good looks seem real, normal and attainable. Standards of beauty have in fact become harder and harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population. With such strict standards and nearly impossible ideals of thinness, many problems stem from this but are often looked past or stigmatized. Part of the “thin” phenomenon that is correlated with many health concerns today is the issue of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Both of these illnesses are eating disorders that are most prevalent among American women where food is abundant and thinness is equated with attractiveness.


Anorexia Nervosa is defined as “a type of eating disorder marked by an inability to maintain a normal healthy body weight, often dropping below 85% of ideal body weight,” while Bulimia Nervosa is classified as “recurrent episodes of binge eating in combination with some form of inappropriate compensatory behavior” (Chakraborty and Basu, 2010). Both of these eating disorders are most commonly the result of problematic self-body image. The onset of most eating disorders is around the time of puberty and can last up to a lifetime if not effectively treated (DeLeel, 2009). Because the core of these problems are most commonly traced back to the issue of body image, eating disorders will not likely disappear until body image and the definition of beauty become more of a self-defined and less judgmental matter. With all aspects of body image in regard to American women, our culture and society needs to restructure the “norm” to something that is more achievable and that of a healthy state. American women rely on the media to decide what is right and what is expected, spending an entire lifetime in attempt to achieve what “they” label as beautiful.


Chakraborty, Kaustav, and Debasish Basu. "Management of Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa: An Evidence-Based Review." Indian Journal of Psychiatry 52, no. 2 (2010): 174-186. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927890/?tool=pubmed (4 November 2010). DeLeel, Marissa. "Prevalence of Eating Disturbance and Body Image Dissatisfaction in Young Girls." Psychol Sch. 46, no. 8 (2009): 767-775. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927890/?tool=pubmed (4 November 2010). “History of American Women and Body Image.” Last modified July 28, 2004. http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/display_story.jsp?id=294&cat_id=138 “Mirror, mirror. A summary of research findings on body image, Motives: why we look in the mirror.” Last modified in 1997. http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html Sciolino, Elaine. "Sans Makeup, S'il Vous Plaît." New York Times, 25 May 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/25/fashion/thursdaystyles/25skin.html?pagewanted =1&_r=1 (4 November 2010 Weisbuch, Max, Stacey Sinclair, Jeanine Skorinko, and Collette Eccleston. "Self-Esteem Depends on the Beholder: Effects of a Subtle Social Value Cue." J Exp Soc Psychol 45, no. 1 (2009): 143-148. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2641034/ (4 November 2010


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