Search the Archive:

March 05, 2004

Back to the Table of Contents Page

Back to the Voice Home Page


Publication Date: Friday, March 05, 2004

Media, peers promote negative body image Media, peers promote negative body image (March 05, 2004)

In a society obsessed with physical appearance, it is no surprise that children as young as nine are worrying about their inability to look "perfect."

In fact, almost one-fourth of preteens aged 9-13 have only poor or fair body image, and 80 percent of 10-year-olds have tried dieting. As these children grow older, their obsession with appearance becomes even greater. Sadly, the number one wish of high school girls is to be thinner.

Although girls are more likely than boys to have a negative body image, young men are not spared from the pressures to look a certain way. While girls often wear makeup and go on diets, boys sometimes work out excessively and even take steroids. The pressure on boys to be muscular can be just as great as the pressure on girls to be thin. Body image is an issue among teens regardless of gender.

A female perspective
By Barbara Wright

As a 17-year-old female, there are some pretty rigid societal expectations that I am expected to live up to in order to be considered attractive. I have to be thin, well-developed, have clear skin and shave my legs. Basically, I can't be my natural self.

Who makes these rules? The media creates many standards of beauty. In the Middle Ages, obesity was considered attractive. They also didn't have TVs or magazines in the Middle Ages!

Some people say that the media purposefully creates a market based on unattainable desires. By promoting an image that is far from natural, the desirability of products is increased based on the notion that "normal" people must buy these products in order to be as attractive as media icons.

Only 7 percent of women are naturally built like catwalk models. The other 93 percent of us must spend our money in an attempt to look like that 7 percent. The diet industry alone makes more than $30 billion in revenue each year. That's $30 billion spent by people who are trying to look a particular way.

The media capitalizes on this weakness in its regular programming. There was a show on television called "Hot or Not" that judged people based solely on their physical attractiveness. Not only did the judges dole out numbered ratings of the contestants' features, but they also nitpicked them and insulted their tiniest flaws. The fact that this show had high enough ratings to complete an entire season proves how focused our society is on attractiveness and how negative we are toward those who do not fit our slimness standards.

Two young women have admitted to me that they have forced themselves to throw up. One does this on a regular basis. All of my friends have complained about their bodies at one point or another, commenting that their thighs were too big or their breasts were too small. There are very few young females who are completely satisfied with their natural bodies, and even fewer that have always been that way.

Another reason for our society's fixation on appearance is our need to impress others. It is when we value another person's opinion of our looks that we put on the most makeup and spend the most time selecting our clothing. Most women will spend time getting ready if they know they are going out and might be seeing people. An afternoon of chores around an empty house, however, probably would not necessitate any time in front of a mirror.

When there is no one to impress, we feel much less need to be attractive by society's standards. I am completely willing to go downstairs and eat breakfast with my family straight out of bed, messy hair and uncovered pimples and all. It is a much different case, though, when this family breakfast is at a restaurant where I might run into people I know.

Bodies should serve as a casing for what is beneath the skin: our minds, hearts and souls. However, our society has switched these roles, making our bodies the primary focus while our personas are often overlooked.

Barbara Wright is a senior at Los Altos High School.

A male perspective
By Kevin James

In our day and age, females go through more dilemmas than boys do. Most males experience few to no physical appearance problems. Some males feel pressure not only from the media but also from the opposite sex.

However, most males could care less about what the media shows as long as they still appear attractive to females.

Some males may take steroids to bulk up and try to gain more muscle definition.

But males rarely suffer from eating disorders where they may not eat as much or possibly at all. I have never heard of a case where a male eats his food and then throws it up. The media plays a role in male body image, but not as much as it does for females. Males don't usually look at other males in ads. The media's influence is not that great for me or for any of the males I know.

Kevin James is a sophomore at Bellarmine Preparatory School.

Did you know:

32.9 percent of Santa Clara County teens consider themselves overwieght?

7.2 percent of county teens have taken diet supplements without a doctor's permission?

6 percent of teens have forced themselves to throw up or taken laxatives to lose weight?

31 percent of the nation's ninth and 11th graders watch two or more hours of television a day?

Models weigh 23 percent less than average women?

69 percent of girls said magazine models influence their idea of a perfect body?

75 percent of "normal" weight women think they are overweight

One-third of teenage girls try smoking as a weight-loss method?

All statistics were provided by the Lucille Packard Foundation for Children's Health and Mediascope.

E-mail a friend a link to this story.

Copyright © 2004 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or online links to anything other than the home page
without permission is strictly prohibited.