Modern society is dominated by the media. It tells us what to wear, how to think, where we should buy our coffee, and what number the scale should read. We turn to Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Allure to tell us who to be and what the ideal body size is. There is a widespread cultural conception that beauty equals skinny. Protruding collar bones are sexy. Flat stomachs lead to happiness. These beauty standards, however, are very often unattainable. The improbability of scoring a model-like body doesn’t stop women, and even some men, from trying. The body-type portrayed in advertisements is possessed naturally by a mere 5% of American females (ANAD, 2015). The message that thin is pretty is permeating our society at an ever increasing rate, and young girls are dieting at even younger ages.
Imagine the perfect girl. Tall, thin, long blonde hair, big breasts. Her name is Barbie and she is one of the most cherished dolls of all time. From pull-ups to training bras, our daughters grow up with Barbie. They spend hours daily changing her outfits, brushing her hair, and desperately wishing to become her when they grow up.
Barbie is a super-model. She is a prized academic, a lifesaving nurse, an award-winning chef and even an astronaut. She does it all, and she does it perfectly. In 1965, Mattel released ‘Slumber Party Barbie,’ complete with a diet advice book and a scale set permanently at 110 pounds. The only advice in the book? Don’t eat (Grenoble, 2012).
Barbie is beautiful. She is popular. All of the boys want to date her and all of the girls want to be best friends with her. She is the ultimate trend-setter, and young girls turn to her to learn how to fit in. One of the most notable features of Barbie is her thin body, and our daughters are not naive to this fact. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
Barbie is not the only one telling us that thin is beautiful, however. Magazines are full of ‘get thin quick’ tips, and their covers are satiated with thin celebrities and models flashing their bikini bodies. Even without a magazine subscription, these images transfuse our brains as they sit at grocery store checkouts and flash across our television screens.
As we enter our teens and proceed into adulthood, we turn to Victoria’s Secret Angels to tell us what is beautiful. These women, with their many different hair styles and diverse ethnicities cause men to drool and women to become ravenous with jealousy. As different as they may be, they all have the same body type. Like Barbie, they are tall and thin and seemingly perfect.
We, too, want to be perfect. So we take advice from Barbie, the tabloids, models and celebrities. We diet. We try to lose weight. We think that when we are skinny we will be happy. We take on drastic measures to fit in. We stop eating. We start throwing up the little food we do eat. Eating disorders are believed to have be genetic, but though our DNA loads the trigger, society pulls the gun. The media is not to blame for the increase in eating disorders, but because of the power that these outlets hold, they can do much to reverse the unrealistic body standards.