Marie Olsson by pengtt


									          Sociological Paradigm and Application of:

  How the Media’s Images of Female Beauty Adversely

   Affects Girls by Causing Them to Aspire to a False


Dr. Gianna Durso-Finley

Mercer County Community College
Marie Olsson
SOC 101
April 26, 2009

       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


        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

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


        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



       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


       Girls will embrace their uniqueness. Society will embrace girls and women as

equally vital members of society.

To top