The Greek gods and goddesses have flooded Instagram. Really. We might as well rename it Mt. Olympus. With all these idealized versions of beauty, we’re seeing more and more airbrushed, Barbie-like models invade our social media, leaving us to believe that’s what we should be striving for. It’s becoming systematic, with staggering statistics like “most models weigh 23% less than the average woman,” or “only 5% of US women fit the body type popularly portrayed in today’s advertising.” It’s no wonder that problems with eating disorders have increased over 400% since 1970.
It’s likely that you’ve heard this before. Society is portraying unrealistic expectations of beauty and it’s corrupting our youth. But, is this still even a problem? With growing ad campaigns featuring various body types, unedited photos praised on Instagram as “brave” or “courageous,” couldn’t we say that we’re taking the necessary steps to combat this issue? Here’s the problem: the few companies who are pushing for better representation aren’t doing so out of the kindness of their heart. They’re doing it so you feel better about buying their products. I never thought about this concept until I came to college and was introduced to it in my communication theory class. Most people don’t ever ponder this idea – but its truth value is unmatched.
In ancient Chinese culture, small feet were thought of as beautiful and were so sought after that most women bound their feet and eventually disfigured and crushed them into a smaller size. More recently, Snooki from the infamous TV show Jersey Shore’s extremely tan skin and tall hair were strived for by many (even if we don’t want to admit it). I can remember rushing out to buy the “Bump-It” because I just needed to have Snooki’s signature poof. This is exactly what marketers and ad agencies want from us. They want us to be as vulnerable as possible and rush out to buy their product because of what it says about our physical appearance – “I am trendy, I am beautiful, I am desirable.” They want us to associate their company with these characteristics. Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is marketers are sneaky.
We may think they are being inclusive because they have good intentions and genuinely want to represent all types of people. But the sad truth is companies are only looking out for themselves and want to maximize their financial gain by making it seem this way. How “real” are these photos? We only see the end result, not the process. Just because companies are leaving a few stretch marks in photos doesn’t mean they aren’t editing other stuff out. Which brings me to my final point – we are constantly getting conflicting messages from mass media about body image and the way we should look. Be yourself. Don’t be yourself. Be perfect. Show your flaws. I encourage you to throw everything you know about body image out the window and write your own rules. The media doesn’t even know what they think is beautiful – they are always changing their mind. The concept is fluid in and of itself. Don’t be tied down by traditional standards, free your mind and soon you will see your body will be free too. We cannot let advertisers and the media lead this conversation about OUR bodies. Don’t let this systematic degradation of our natural human form continue. We as daughters, mothers, aunts and friends need to take control and start uplifting one another.
Cameron Fluri is a fourth-year communications major and media and culture minor. CF870541@wcupa.edu