Beauty and the media

Think about your idea of beauty. Is it a full-bodied girl with a little bit of chubbiness around the hips? Or maybe a boy with muscles like rocks? A girl who can fit into size 00 clothes?

In all likelihood, your idea of beauty comes from the media. And right now, that means skinny. Skinny is “in” right now. We see it on the covers of magazines, where models with tiny waists dominate the covers of all kinds of magazies. We watch this bias on T.V., where the Project Runway designer Ven Budhu insisted that he was “shocked and disappointed” to work with a plus-size person, rather than a size 0 model, saying that it was “unfair” to him to have to work with a person with a fuller figure. We watch fat people get made fun of in well-loved shows like “Friends,” where Monica, a beautiful, skinny Courtney Cox, hates her former, fat, high-school-er self. We don’t think anything of it; after all, it’s natural to like oneself better when one is pretty than when one is ugly. 

But what is it, exactly, that makes skinny-Monica “pretty” and fat-Monica “ugly?” Some would argue that skinniness is healthier than obesity, in that obese people have higher risks for Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, and sleep apnea. However, no one talks about the health risks posed to clinically underweight people. Underweight people can have problems with fertility, brittle bones, and depression. Obesity is still a serious problem in the United States. It’s important to realize that, although everyone can be beautiful, it’s not necessarily healthy to be overweight. It can be argued that obesity is a larger problem, currently, in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that the problem of underweight health issues should be ignored in favor of attacking overweight people and their health issues. Others might argue that people are genetically inclined to favor skinny people because they are naturally healthier. This is simply untrue. In many cultures, as well as in the past, it was considered more healthy, and more beautiful, to be overweight than to be underweight. The history of the issue proves that skinny has not always been considered beautiful, nor does it always have to be seen that way. As of now, though, skinny is what’s pretty, and that’s what the media shows to the public.

Teenagers are most at risk to falling prey to the fallacies projected by the media. I, for one, have. In fact, I have been bulimic, and, to an extent, I still am. Although I haven’t forced myself to throw up recently, the idea that I should, that I should do everything in my power to get skinny, still hangs in the back of my mind after every meal I eat. A friend of mine counts the number of bites she takes, and wonders daily whether or not to throw up,

although she’s never done it. She watches her weight, and gets on the scale as much as possible, documenting every addition or loss in pounds in a little notebook that she hides under her bed. I know a girl who has been to the local center for eating disorders numerous times, and can only bring herself to eat peanut butter for fear of getting too fat. She keeps peanut butter in her car to prevent fainting at rehearsal, but sometimes that doesn’t work. Once, she nearly fainted in the middle of a run-through of our play, and had to send someone to get the peanut butter from her car as she sat down and tried to breathe. These are not isolated cases; according to the ANAD ten-year study, 11% of high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Although we don’t realize it, the fact is that fat can be beautiful, skinny can be beautiful, and so can everything in between. It is more important to be healthy than to be skinny. The media’s representation of beauty has a terrible effect on youth who look to the media to define themselves, and we can only hope that our youth finds a better way to be themselves.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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