Sociological Paradigm and Application of: How the Media’s Images of Female Beauty Adversely Affects Girls by Causing Them to Aspire to a False Reality Dr. Gianna Durso-Finley Mercer County Community College Marie Olsson SOC 101 April 26, 2009 Introduction We are bombarded with images from the media that reflect an idealized picture of female beauty. TV is on in homes in the U.S. more than ever. Years ago, we watched TV after dinner and they were mostly family shows like Ed Sullivan, Variety Shows and comedies. We didn’t have TV in our vans, or on our Ipods or laptops because none of those things existed. We mainly saw movies when we had the chance to go to the movie theater. The female movie stars we saw had, for the most part, normal, healthy body shapes. They were beautiful, but they were, generally speaking, not exceedingly thin. Girls had as role models the women in their lives. These were their relatives, teachers, and neighbors. People connected with one another more then than they do now. I say this for a number of reasons. Forty years ago, we didn’t have: personal computers, hundreds of television stations, large screen televisions, DVD players, downloadable music or even microwaves or multiple cars per family. Therefore, we went out more to socialize with both formal and informal gatherings. You could go to a friend’s house and play cards, charades, or board games. It was more common for teenagers to attend dances, go roller skating and bowling. Children helped out more in families because it was expected and the kids weren’t over scheduled with activities. Today we live more spread out from our neighbors, many mothers work outside the home and children have greater access to the media. Children are watching a lot of TV, accessing the internet, watching movies at home and are constantly seeing idealized forms of female beauty. The women they see are young teens that have their own shows or recording contracts or movie contracts. Sadly, more teens are getting plastic surgery to enhance their looks. Lawrence Bass, a New York City-based plastic surgeon is quoted in Teens and Cosmetic Surgery, “It’s a decades-old ritual in certain parts of the United States for 15- or 16-year olds have rhinoplasty. But now that we have a constellation of faster, safer, more reliable cosmetic procedures, reasonable body modifications are being adopted by more and more teenagers.” Anorexia, cutting and other manifestations of low self esteem are on the rise with girls in the U.S. Our society has made progress with accepting women as equal to men but we have a lot of work left before women are judged on their merit first and not on their looks. Social Conflict For the last fifty years, the media has been bombarding us with its images of female beauty. These images used to reflect a healthy, voluptuous body size, like Marilyn Monroe, but with the advent of Twiggy in the 1960s it became a reed thin ideal. Although Twiggy modeled for only three years, her image changed the definition of beautiful with a new concept that has persisted into the twenty-first century. This distorted and unrealistic view of female beauty has adversely affected females by causing them to aspire to a false reality. In Teens and Cosmetic Surgery it is reported that society constantly pushes the notion that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the eye of the media. The pressure to meet the media’s strict beauty standards sends women and teenagers alike scrambling to the offices of plastic surgeons with photographs of pop star Jennifer Lopez’s backside and actress Jennifer Aniston’s nose. Money is a power resource in the U.S. and there is a great distinction between the haves and the have nots. If you have money, you have access to medical procedures to enhance your looks. You are able to afford plastic surgery to reshape your nose to the standard pert nose size. Girls are receiving breast augmentations as high school graduation gifts from their parents. In addition to plastic surgery, girls are getting laser hair removal and professional teeth whitening. Families with money can afford to buy their daughters the newest clothes and most importantly to them, the clothes with the “right” labels. It’s common to see girls with Coach brand bags, Ugg boots and Juicy jeans. Girls shop at Victoria Secrets for sexy under garments and wear thongs regularly. Girls have jewelry from Tiffany’s and have “good” jewelry at an early age. Having money allows girls to make themselves sexually attractive at an earlier age. And it’s more and more acceptable for girls to look sexy when they go to school and out with their friends. Girls aspire to be popular and being sexually attractive sets them at the top of the social order. They get more attention from boys and are the envy of other girls. Other girls want to be like them and thus hold them in higher value. These sexually attractive girls are in the “in groups” and have boyfriends. Other girls aspire to have boyfriends and thus emulate these popular girls. The Liverpool Daily Echo wrote that in a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) it was found that “sexualization – when a person’s value comes only from his/her sexual appeal – “abound” in visual media and song lyrics, as well as in certain toys such as the top-selling Bratz dolls.” Even the epitome of childhood, Disney cartoons, are singled out for criticism in the report, which points out that characters such as the Little Mermaid and Pocahontas “have more cleavage, few clothes and are depicted as sexier than characters of yesteryear.” “The consequences of sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” says Dr. Eileen Zurgriggen, chairperson of the APA’s task force. Society stereotypes people by their socio-economic status. Looks broadcast SES. Structural Functional A highly influential structure in our society is the Media in its many forms. Girls begin watching Hannah Montana at five and six years old. They play with Bratz dolls and are used to seeing girls dressing sexy as an acceptable form of dress. Take a walk down the aisles of the major toy stores and compare the products marketed to girls and the ones targeted to boys. The majority of girls’ toys are Barbie dolls and all her accoutrements, Bratz dolls in all their sleazy clothing as well as makeup, hair styling and dress up clothing. Contrast that with the boys section which contains building blocks, war simulations toys and sports paraphernalia. Girls watch television, movies, movie videos, YouTube clips and read People, Seventeen and Glamour Girl magazines. The Media is critical when a movie star gains a few pounds. This is a dysfunction in our society. The tabloid magazines and TV shows are brutally critical of a female star that is not conformingly thin. They are also critical of a star that dresses in less than perfect fashion. Like when you see a photo of a star that ran out for coffee and didn’t put on makeup. The media has also influenced us to be a more consumer oriented society. We buy a lot of things to make us happy. Girls buy a lot of clothes, jewelry and makeup to make them happy and to help them to fit in. It’s common for girls to have many different clothes so they don’t appear in the same outfits too often. Girls feel a lot of pressure to buy the latest fashions in order to conform to the media’s image of female beauty. They look to the media for information on what they should look like. We see parents supporting their girls in their support of media-determined ideals of beauty. Parents are buying their daughters the sexy clothing and jewelry and in some families the parents are paying for plastic surgery. And we’ve all seen the “hot moms” who aspire to look like the models and actresses they see on television, movies and magazines and their daughters are watching. For that matter, so are their sons. Now boys are also coming to the belief that this is what girls and women are supposed to look like. Boys see the actresses and see the magazines. No longer are those titillating girlie photos only available in magazines wrapped in brown paper. These images are everywhere. It’s become common, everyday viewing. Not all parents can afford to buy the “in” toys. This creates a problem for those girls whose families cannot provide them with the toys that are being marketed to them. Some parents become desperate to provide for their children. When children beg and plead and are distraught about something a parent will normally do whatever she can to make “it” right. Some people resort to crime to get extra money. Some families have parents working such long hours that the children are often left home alone longer than they should. Girls use as role models the most popular performers, actresses and models. Girls have their hair styled to resemble these role models. Sometimes the reality of these media images is blurred and girls model their behaviors on the characters they see on TV. The Media and Consumerism work hand in hand. Girls are influenced by the types of clothing, jewelry and hair styles the media targets to them. There is more product placement in the entertainment industry than ever before and girls are paying attention. Symbolic Interaction People are often judged by their appearance and generalizations are made based on appearance. The ways in which dominant U.S. culture evaluates and judges those who do not conform to those ideals include discriminating against overweight people, those who are poor and those who are not in the in groups. It is more difficult to be hired for a job if you are overweight. Some jobs require interacting with the public and companies hire average to above average looking people to fill these positions. It is difficult for find fashionable, youthful clothing if one is overweight. Clothing designers do not include large sizes in the clothing lines. However, it is often possible to find a size 2 or a 0, extra small sizes, in those lines. If you are overweight in this country you are labeled as lazy and slovenly. It is more difficult for a young woman who is overweight to make friends and be accepted into a group. Additional forms of discrimination include ageism. Youth is highly valued in our culture. Older people are generally viewed as useless to society. If you are attractive you are generally believed to be more socially skilled. We have made progress in overcoming racial and ethnic discrimination. However, we have much more progress to make in overcoming gender and age discrimination. A striking example of how looks are important in our culture is the reaction to the Susan Boyle video clip from the show “Britain’s Got Talent”. She is a 40ish woman of average looks and dress. Before she sang one of the judges asked her why it is was that she never succeeded as a singer. He gave more than a hint in his question that her lack of success may be due to her physical appearance. She sang and completely wowed them. They were more than normally impressed with her talent because of the less than perfect physical beauty. I overhead a discussion about this video by two of my coworkers. A man asked the female employee if she knew about the Susan Boyle clip. She responded she did and asked if he saw it yet. He had not. She told him “She’s a real looker.” I was struck by her comment because of all the things that come to mind with this talented woman, looks was definitely not something I would have mentioned. And it was particularly disappointing to hear that from another woman. Will our culture then overlook her talent and discard her because she is not packaged in the beautiful, glamorous, thin persona that we want to see? As a result of her recent success, Susan Boyle has dyed her hair, is wearing makeup and more fashionable clothes. She is changing her image to conform to cultural standards. Application For me, the biggest culprit in projecting an unrealistic image to girls has always been the Barbie doll. According to Teens and Cosmetic Surgery, the Barbie doll is the highest-grossing doll in history. Some claim that Barbie’s anatomically impossible figure causes young girls to have unrealistic expectations with regards to their physical appearance. I would like to see the toys we provide to our children be more about fun and creativity and less about gender stereotyping. Let’s get rid of all the Barbie dolls and Bratz dolls. Let’s make one big toy store where it’s not designated in any way which toys are for which gender. The Easy Bake ovens can in yellow, not in pink thus turning the subliminal message around that it’s a “girls” toy. Children could be free to choose any toy they wanted without criticism from other children or adults. Girls could play with air soft and paint ball guns and boys could play with fashion related items without censure. We can start from when children are young to empower them to be whatever they want to be. Girls can be doctors; boys nurses; girls can be pilots; boys flight attendants. Let’s focus on a person’s character not their looks. We can raise our girls to be healthy not thin and strong and assertive, not submissive and demure. Let’s have a TV station that’s fun and exciting and targeted to girls. The girls on the shows will be excellent role models for the viewers and the commercials will advertise toys that are gender neutral. This new station will help to make it okay for girls to be smart and attractive, strong and feminine. They will see every type of positive role model and it will be “fun” to aspire to emulate them. There will also be magazines targeted to girls that market positive role models. There will be articles about girls taking flying lessons, girls playing ice hockey and interning at the NSA because of their outstanding math skills. Thousands of these girls will make public appearances in schools around the country. These school assemblies will be exciting with great music and video presentations about empowering girls to aspire to reach for any goal they set. There will be support for girls in the form of mentors and social groups organized within each town. The new social norm will be an equal society with equal pay and equal opportunity. Girls will embrace their uniqueness. Society will embrace girls and women as equally vital members of society.
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