The media has profoundly influenced the society through the use of messages and images that promote the presumed and almost unattainable perfect body image of beauty that has led to body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating that mostly predominant among girls. Throughout the years, the media has developed unrealistic body image that is deemed to represent perfect beauty. The body image is a concern to many people since the society tends to center their judgment on a person based on how their body looks like. In this media analysis, I chose to analyze the music video “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé and a print advertisement entitled “Perfect Body” by Victoria’s Secrets.
Throughout the video “Pretty Hurts, Beyoncé illustrates the negative body image that women struggle with. The music video illustrates the futility of the beauty standards set by the society in which many women struggle to conform to them. Beyoncé is seen as pageant representing the idea of beauty in the western culture which is based on the body image. In the first three seconds of the video, Beyoncé is seen with short hair and is seen later with long hair since it is required that she change her image in order to contest for the beauty pageant. Another crucial scene that focuses on appearance in the first minute of the video is where we see several pageants in the dressing room, brushing their hair, whitening their teeth, spray-tanning, and scuffling with each other all in the name of seeking beauty. In the second minute where the song begins, Beyoncé reveals the perception of what society perceives beauty when she says that her mother tells her that what matters is not what is in her head but how she dresses and fixes her hair. This shows how appearance is used as the standard of beauty by the society.
What I find more thought-provoking about the negative body image media standards of beauty is the lyrics that criticize the TV which says “bigger is better” and vogue which says “thinner is better” which are contradicting views of ideal body image. This is a depiction of the struggle that women go through in their attempt to conform to the presumed beauty standards where the thin struggle to get bigger while the big want to become thinner. In the middle scenes, some pageants take diet pills after failing to meet the expected body weight and size. This reveals the ideas of body shaming which leads the contestants to adapt diet culture and eating disorders. At one scene, Beyoncé is seen kneeling before a toilet and walks across the bathroom stall while wiping her mouth after vomiting suggesting her scuffle with bulimia. Another contestant who is slim with her ribs showing consumes cotton balls together with orange juice which is a dangerous dieting trend. The song uses the negativity of body image in order to send a positive message that all the struggle in conforming to the beauty standards through dietary, surgery, and make-up don’t correlate to happiness. In fact, all that she can think when asked about her aspirations in life is that she wants only to be happy. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXXQLa-5n5w).
In 2014, Victoria’s Secrets released an advertisement of their lingerie sale entitled “Perfect Body.” The advertisement illustrated women who were about five foot and ten inches tall, unnaturally skinny, unusual curves and who seemed to have little fat or no fat at all. On top of the images of these women, the slogan “Perfect Body” is featured. This made it seem as though the company was depicting the standards of how a woman with a perfect body should look like. Although below the advert they explain about bra collection underneath the ad, they do not mention bras in the advert which sends the message that the ad is talking about the women being perfect. According to this ad, a woman cannot be perfect unless she looks like the models used in the ad which is a common perception in today’s society. Women are struggling to lose weight in order to look skinny. Other women wouldn’t agree that skinny is the ideal perfect body.
The advert led to a massive uproar from customers and other people who argued there is no ideal perfect body. Many women felt that their bodies are perfect and the ad propagated a negative body image that would result in dietary disorders if women were to attempt to conform to the ad’s perfect body. The Victoria’s Secret Company reacted to the upheaval by altering the mantra into “A Body for Every Body” but never altered the images of the model women. Changing the slogan did not change the initial perception since the entire advert was offensive not just their slogan. By using skinny and tall models along with the slogan of the perfect body, Victoria’s Secret was suggesting the conventional standards of beauty that many women who suffer from eating disorders attempt to achieve. (http://www.businessinsider.com/victorias-secret-perfect-body-campaign-2014-10?IR=T)
The Relationship between Eating Disorders and Western Culture
Cultural beliefs have been associated with influencing the development of eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa. The rates of the eating disorders vary across different cultures and are greatly influenced by the evolvement of cultures. The eating disorders are more prevalent in the western culture and is predominant among females than it is the case with males. I think one of the contributing factors is the dissemination of body image messages that suggest the western standards of beauty among both males and females. The blend of universal standards of beauty and eating behaviors causes a profound confusion and body image dissatisfaction, particularly among many young people. In my opinion, the construct of body image is influenced by both individual and cultural factors and affect many people in the western society. Today, the western society is filled with ideologies of the ideal body image that has been developed by the media. The western movies, cinemas, magazines, adverts and many other media feature model body images that reinforce the beauty stereotypes.
The idealization of a slim female body by the western Hollywood is one of the probable cause of anorexic food restriction among many women who are afraid of gaining weight. I think it has become a contemporary trend where every woman wants to lose weight in order to have a slender body image which is presumed as a standard of beauty. The ideal beauty of a woman is not based on the slim body image, and it’s unfortunate that the western society equates perfect beauty with a thin female body. From Beyoncé’s song “Pretty Hurts,” she decries the saying that “thinner is better” which is a Eurocentric conventional beauty standard that pressurizes women to meet these conventional standards. In order to conform to the cultural beauty standards, many women develop eating disorders in the process. The print media also disseminates ads that feature sublime women who are tall and slender which suggest that for a woman to be beautiful, she must look like that. For instance, although the American Victoria’s Secrets Company sells bra collections for all women, their advert uses tall and slender females only with the slogan “the perfect body.” When women attempt to transform their body image through unnatural means, they result in developing eating disorders. The emphasis of the body appearance by the media is detrimental to the consumer’s health. I also come across health diet adverts that claim to cause a massive weight loss within few days, and many women end up focusing on over-consuming such commercialized diets to the detriment of their health. I strongly believe that fear of gaining weight is irrational and starvation, in order to gain a slender body, is unnecessary.
In addition to mass media, there are other socialization agents in the western culture such as peers, families, role models, and schools that influence the body image perception. The desire to look like a particular friend who has a slender body may make someone to resolve to weight loss and dieting that progress to diet restriction and finally develops anorexia nervosa. The struggle of the young people to fit in and gain attention makes them result in unnatural diets to improve their appearance. It is not a surprise that even school going children are concerned about their body image. In fact, eating disorders are common even in the educational institutions. Children who are termed as fat by their friends may result in anorexic food restriction while those who are termed as skinny may develop binge eating. There is a great tendency for children who are seen as fat to have no friends which make them dissatisfied with their appearance. In my opinion, the reason why some people are rejected by others based on their appearance is due to the western culture which dictates how one should look like in order to be accepted.
I also think that there is a high correlation between eating disorders and the family environment. The parents are very influential people to their children and to those they interact with. Children consider their parents and role models, and they tend to copy their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. In the case of mothers who are constantly worried about their weight and are always on diets, the children are likely to develop similar attitudes associated with abnormal eating behaviors. Parental advice also has great impacts on how the child perceives beauty and diets. For example in the lyrics of Beyoncé’s song “Pretty Hurts,” she says that her mother is the one who told her that she is pretty as long as she keeps her focus on appearance and not on her intellect. This is an illustration of the western parenting where the children are introduced to the societal convention standards of beauty while still young. With such great negative parental influence, the western children adapt abnormal eating habits as they grow. I believe that if parents were to focus on the positive development of their children, it is natural that they will grow to accept their appearance and would have problems related to diets or eating habits. The children who learn to admire their positive relationship with their parents would want to be more like them. Instead of focusing their admiration on a particularly slender and sublime celebrity model, the children would imitate their parents. It is my strong opinion that parents have the capacity to end the vicious cycle of eating disorders in the western culture depending on how they raise their children.
The association of self-starvation with the ideal body image is a construct that has greatly affected the contemporary generation. Although almost all cultures have been affected by the stereotype of the ideal body image, the western culture has been the central focus. The cultural pressure on people to conform to the conventional beauty standards has led to an increase in diet unrealistic solutions for weight loss and weight gain. The confusion between which is the perfect body image has made the thin to result in binge eating in order to gain weight while the fat goes for anorexic food starvation to gain a slender body. I believe if we change the stereotyped cultural belief, we can protect the population from eating disorders. The western culture is being copied in the developing countries which mean that they will inherit the same problems that are prevalent in the western culture. The media is a significant platform that promotes social-cultural interactions on a global mechanism. If we change the media messages with regards to dieting and beauty standards, people will learn to accept themselves and avoid engaging in abnormal eating habits. In my opinion, beauty is just an individual perception based on the dictation of the cultural standards, and if the culture eliminated the conventional beauty standards, people would be satisfied with their looks. Although the western culture is not directly related to eating disorders, I believe it creates a favorable environment that promotes eating disorders