It seems that these teens have developed a fixation with being ‘prettier and thinner’; thinking that ‘achieving’ this will in turn make them happier/more successful/more attractive people when in reality, many people who suffer from an eating disorder and recover; often remain anxious about their body image and suffer a guilt-ridden relationship with food. “Even though I’m in shape, if I eat something ‘bad’ I immediately feel rubbish about myself. I eat chocolate and then think, ‘now I’m going to have to go for a run tomorrow’.” Another anonymous post followed the same line of thought. “I always complain that I’m fat, and then raid the fridge anyway. I think it’s because we aren’t supposed to eat junk food, that we want it. They (the magazines) make us think that we can’t treat ourselves, so we want to. That’s how the guilt relationship starts.”
A university student, age 21, spoke to me about her views on the impact of fashion magazines upon body image. “I think magazines and the media are the main cause of society’s negative view on body image. Magazines show what is supposed to be relevant but by only showing women up to a size 12 (at a push) it alienates bigger women and makes them feel inadequate.”
She continued “I know personally as a plus size woman that even though demographically I am the magazine’s target audience, I can’t/won’t read them because they don’t show anything relevant to me because of my size. When the average woman is a size fourteen, and they neglect to represent them, they’re missing out on a large portion of readership. It’s a shame and even having a division between ‘plus size’ and ‘normal size’ can be damaging to someone’s self-esteem.”
Fortunately, some are helping to change the ridiculous notion that ‘plus size’ isn’t pretty. 23 year old model Robyn Lawley began her modelling career at 16, living on apples and counting calories as she tried to meet the modelling industry’s “corrosive skinny standards.” However after returning to her natural size (12-14) and becoming the face of lingerie brand Boux Avenue, she made Elle and Vogue covers. “’I tell tall girls, being tall and curvy is the double whammy! But confidence is really sexy. I love my shape. I love my body. I’ve come a long way.’ She adds: ‘I genuinely want companies to take notice and start being more realistic about who their customer really is. I hope to keep breaking down those barriers.’”
In an online survey that I created, 100% of the participants agreed that fashion magazines can influence body image. One person commented that “I often look at models in magazines and compare myself with their thin frames. While it makes me more conscious of my diet, I have the knowledge to prevent me from taking drastic steps to lose weight.”
While 68.2 % of respondents thought that fashion editorials sent out a negative message; fifty per cent said that people on the television influenced their body image most. However the remaining 50 % stated that images from the internet are the most influential. One participant commented that “I’m not that affected by magazines but I may be affected by people on the television and pictures on the internet.”
A participant anonymously revealed the cause of their own eating disorder. “I remember that the reason I started was actually because I saw a television show about how being Anorexic and Bulimic was bad…how did that happen? I can’t stop now that I’ve started no matter how hard I try. It’s the only control I have.”
One of the issues with television it seems, is when the representatives of the 16-18 year old demographic are misrepresented in the media. Exports from the US like 90210, cast size-zero twenty year olds with gleaming hair and perfect skin as high-school students. “I’d say television actually does a lot more damage than magazines I’ve seen. Most of us know that models in magazines aren’t ‘real people’; they’re airbrushed and fake. But characters in TV and movies are supposed to represent real, 3-D people with personalities and lives. When everyone in that setting is super-thin and attractive (especially the women) it can certainly warp the way people think about themselves.”
When asked who they most compare their body image with, 81% selected their peers as their main point of comparison. However, 68.2 % cited celebrities as an additional influence. 57.1 % had even bought something in order to emulate someone in the public eye at one point or another; which supports the idea that we are influenced not only by magazines, but the media in general. “There is no doubt that media affects my body image. I’ve had an eating disorder for five years now and while I don’t necessarily believe that the media alone can cause an eating disorder, it certainly encourages unhealthy eating habits. Also, for someone who may already have a biological predisposition to disordered eating, I definitely believe it can push them over the edge.”
This is the perfect example that the media we are exposed to can directly influence our body image. Whether it manifests as a television programme, website or film, I have gathered conclusive proof that the media makes a significant impact on the majority of people. Despite the statistical proof that the television and internet influence body image the most; 72.7% still agreed that models in magazines were too thin and 81% felt that fashion magazines indirectly cause eating disorders.
With their miscellaneous contradictions, praise for the immaculately beautiful, criticism for the rest of us and yet campaigns like Cosmo hearts your body in Cosmopolitan; readers are often left with a distorted image of what is right. Magazines can often feel like they’re dictating our standards; encouraging insecurity and suffocating us with costly solutions to our problems. If one remembers that our problems are created by their issue with us, their need for financial gain and not a personal hate crime against ourselves then their impact on our body image should diminish. If they were urging us to eat copious quantities of junk food because being in shape was as ‘disgusting’ as they portray excess fat to be, would you follow their regulations? We seem to have a predisposition to adhere to their rules but it seems that now is an apt time for a game change.
Models are just images printed on paper; one person’s ideal showing off their own sartorial creations. A figment of imagination if you will. We shouldn’t be affected by something as intangible as someone else’s daydream.