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How The Media’s Habit Of Glorifying The ‘Perfect Figure’ Develops Body Image Issues In Men And Women

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By Ashni Dhaor:

Flip a magazine and what do you see? A large perfect face smiling right back at you through the glossy paper. “Achieve the 10/10 fairness in two weeks!” so, it says. Do we believe it? No, of course not! But you do see that face, glaring at you, and just like that, your idea of perfection, beauty, to be precise, is defined.

Yes, that is how powerful these media images are and how they have sub consciously invaded our minds is something we are completely unaware of. Beauty has been defined by these media images and we happen to believe these, which are mere representation of reality, more than the reality itself. Our bodies don’t match those ideals of beauty or perfection which are embedded in our consciousness since childhood, we strive to change ourselves and in worst cases, develop serious disorders pertaining to body image issues.

Body imageBody image issues arise when people are unhappy about their bodies and are in dire need to change them. Here I will be writing about the influence the media has on our minds which form different perception regarding how ours and others’ bodies should be in order to be attractive. Women tend to dominate these conversations but men are no different when it comes to having body image issues. If you’re concerned about how you perceive your body visually and your sense of how other people view your body then you do have some body image issues, no matter how minuscule they maybe.

Media shows us images of ‘hyper-reality’, a term coined by the noted French theorist, Jean Baudrillard. According to him, media creates an artificial reality in front of us which we tend to believe and when our lives do not match this ‘reality’ we are left feeling depressed. There are many reasons for this depression and the most prevalent is the concern for being perfect and developing body image issues. We might not even be aware of it, but that is how we have grown up to be.  We’ve all had a Barbie or a Super-Man toy with us at one point in our childhoods. Little girls would be enchanted by the slim waist, heavy bust giving out to the hourglass figure of their Barbie doll and this is how an image of beauty gets instilled in our mindsets so early in our lives. The beefed up body of He-Man or Super-Man with all those heavy muscles and little waist forming that ‘V’, would make little boys relate the idea of masculinity with violence, and heavy muscles which is now deep rooted in their minds, now that they have grown up. That image of how our bodies should be gets more and more defined as we grow up but no one really tells us that it’s not how the reality actually is. Boys and girls get conscious of their bodies and how they perceive them. They compare themselves with their role models who are usually these unrealistic images that have a negative impact on the impressionable minds of the children.

We watch TV and when a commercial break comes in, we tune it out. But do we really tune it out of our minds? The excessive amount of advertising happening around, with hoardings, pop-ups on the internet, viral videos and what not, it’s nearly impossible to not take notice of an advertisement. These advertisements encourage us to buy stuff which we don’t really need, but are made to think so. The images that these advertisements show us are highly photoshopped (the trend has been so prevalent that the name of the software itself has become a verb) but we believe them to be real. We want to be perfect even when we know that nobody can achieve that. These lean men and women, without a freckle, without an extra inch, without any blemish become our ideals for beauty. But here is the truth: contrary to what we see in media, all of us are not supposed to look the same.

Look around yourselves; are all of us the same weight, height, complexion or shape? No! That is what reality is. Not what you see on your screens or in advertisements. Advertisers merely earn from people’s insecurities, playing with the psychologies of people who are naïve enough to believe the claims made by these advertisements. Movies and songs that we listen to, too play a huge part in influencing how we see ourselves or how we see others. Movies have always shown that the nerd girl or the nerd boy just needs to transform themselves into desirable beings in order to get the person they love, love them back. They show that in order to get noticed, you need to look attractive and that being good at studies is not enough. Another prevalent stereotype is of comic character most of the time played by an overweight actor/actress. Because of a person’s extra large bodies, they’re never taken seriously. This puts a lot of pressure on the youth to be alluring to the ones they want to impress and they become very conscious of how others perceive their bodies.

A typical woman’s man is generally the one who is self-confident, a leader, provider and protector. Now, these are all personal qualities or traits mentioned, and would create an image of a tall man with muscular physique in our minds. But would anyone consider a regular looking guy, 5’ 5”, slim and toned? The answer is most probably going to be negative because of the extent to which the media has influenced our thinking.

We watch pornographic videos of adult stars having that perfect body with right proportions. Many people’s sex lives get affected because of these unrealistic images shown to us through movies or pornography. It affects the person both ways; how he/she perceives his/her own body and, what they expect from their partner to be. Pornographic videos are watched by men and women alike, making them expect something similar when they have sex. Men tend to fret over the size and colour of their penises or if they have a tummy or are too slim. On the other hand, women tend to panic over the size of their breasts or the colour of their vagina. This thinking process hinders their sex life and sometimes might lead to strained relationships.

There are n number of proofs available which lead us to believe that media is the culprit for increased body image concerns among the youth. Don’t let the media own real estate in your mind. Ultimately, you have the power to turn off the television, put down the magazine or stop caring what others think about your appearance. You may not be able to escape the media’s reach, but you don’t have to live by its rules. Only you choose what to believe about yourself. But the question remains, is media the only culprit? Peer pressure, societal pressure and pressure from family members cannot be ruled out. We still have a long way to go before we see any changes in the media or in the society, but we sure can begin to change our thinking process and not let media or anyone else for that matter, influence your thoughts. As long as you have a balanced diet, exercise and stay fit and healthy, you don’t need to worry about your bodies because all that matters is what kind of a person you are from the inside.

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  1. Babar

    Nicely written. From beauty magazines to movies to advertisements to the diet and fashion industry, everyone is busy in portraying the perfect body image because of the money involved in it. While there is nothing wrong with looking slim and fit, at times it can lead to consequences in the form of anorexia and depression. Furthermore, plastic surgery is a billion dollar business in many countries all over the world and even perfectly normal, beautiful girls opt for it.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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