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Women’s Bodies In Art

While flipping further into the novel, I noticed several different works of art depicting women’s bodies in many different forms and ways. Each work of art displays women with some degree of nudity, some more severe than others, and each tells its own story of women overall during that time period. Later in the book, photos were included of women advertising products in a sexual and/or lude way, such as a hand pulling thin panty hose away from the thigh and a woman’s tongue licking a popsicle to advertise lipstick.

Young girls are seeing these types of advertisements and feel they have to act and present themselves in a sexual manner to please others; that’s the message these advertisements are sending to their audiences. According to author John Berger, “men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves…thus she turns herself into an object. ” (Berger, 47).

Because of these advertisements, women feel and are seen mainly as sexual objects and are treated as such. I can say this with confidence because I am a young woman who has seen these pictures and depictions of women’s bodies her entire life and who has been affected greatly by those same displays. These images still affect me from time to time. From my own experience, I can say that these images portray such negative views of women and it needs to stop.

These images are pure poison being leaked into the world with young eyes viewing them and believing there’s something wrong with themselves if they don’t achieve this absurd body type that isn’t quite ideal. In the United States, the average woman stands at approximately five feet four inches with an average weight of 166 pounds, which are healthy demographics. These numbers are nowhere near the body standard for height and weight that magazines display, which is an average height of roughly five feet ten inches with an approximate weight of around 100-120 pounds.

This combination of height and weight is not healthy for anybody, male or female, and seems almost impossible to achieve without a rigorous and unhealthy diet along with excessive exercise. Even then, you can’t do anything about your height. When viewers look at these images of seemingly anorexic models and feel that they will never amount to them, their body image worsens and their self-esteem plummets.

According to Psychology professor Jasmine Fardouly, “experiences of sexual objectification, such as exposure to objectifying media, can lead women to view themselves from an observer’s perspective and thus view their body as an object to be gazed upon (termed self-objectification) …research has found that exposure to sexually objectifying media—such as thin-ideal or sexually objectifying magazine images, television, and music videos is associated with greater self-objectification in young women. Fardouly, 447).

Fardouly goes further on to say how low self-esteem along with poor body image can lead to something worse, and he claims how “self-objectification can lead to negative outcomes, such as body shame and anxiety, which in turn can lead to depression, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders. ” (Fardouly, 447). I can agree to this statement with confidence because I myself have experienced it for years, along with millions of others.

Researcher Kara Kerr reinstates what Fardouly stated when she talks about how “self-objectification not only affects body image, but may also lead to depression…body shame and rumination mediate the link between self-objectification and depression in adolescent girls. ” To think about how many girls have depression and how “girls’ rates of depression during adolescence are twice as high as boys’, a trend that continues throughout adulthood” is so terrifying. When having depression, some might contemplate suicide as their only way out.

Females reportedly have higher rates of suicide attempts than males with “the rate of attempted suicide to be 17. 1 percent for adolescent females as compared to 10. 2 percent in adolescent males. ” (Kerr, 1). When shown a photograph of an advertisement using a woman’s body in a sexual, exploited way, almost half of viewers reported having negative emotions towards the photo and towards themselves and their body images. (Hawkins). Overall, body image is described as the mental construction of oneself and basically how satisfied someone is with their physical body.

When forming body image, one will pay attention to positive and negative feedback from those around them as well as from the information around them. When magazines portray these thin female bodies, young girls forming a sense of self will pay attention to that and create a negative body image, believing that those images are a beauty norm and desirable in our society. As they grow up, those girls will constantly compare themselves to the girls occupying the pages of the latest issue of a swimsuit magazine, still believing it’s desirable and the beauty norm.

Yet what’s interesting is that According to Choi Yoonhyeung (“Yoon”), an academic at Hanyang University, “Women are well aware that the images shown in advertisements are illusionary and unattainable,” and “…women are aware of media’s unrealistic way of representing female bodies…female adolescents believe media images of female bodies are not realistic at all”. So if girls are saying they’re aware of the absurdity of the portrayal of women’s bodies in magazines, why are we still seeing girls affected by these images?

Why is it that “approximately 40 percent of anorexia nervosa cases occur in young girls ages fifteen to nineteen”? (Kerr). According to Professor Marina Krcmar, “young women who read [thin-ideal magazines] [are] more likely to show eating disorder symptoms…. magazines, especially fashion, fitness, and celebrity magazines, can influence adolescent girls…In fact, thin-ideal magazines contain many weight-loss-promoting advertisements and articles. ” (Krcmar, 113).

It ties back to how I mentioned earlier that the creation of body image and self-esteem stems from the positive and negative feedback from everything around them. With so much negativity surrounding women and their physical selves these days, it’s no surprise to me that eating disorders are apparent in young women and that self-esteems are as low as they are. I remember flipping through my grandparent’s old magazines as a kid and seeing women on the pages fully clothed and selling things such as toothpaste and dryers.

Mind you, those magazines were published in the year 1942, but you see my point. It’s ironic in a sense because women were still appearing in magazines to sell and advertise, but it feels innocent. Now, most magazines will contain a naked woman wrapped around a giant bottle of the latest Chanel perfume, or wrapped around a man’s half naked body to sell a car brand. According to author Patrice Oppliger, “men’s magazines have symbolically regulated women into sex objects as a backlash to their achievements in social, political, and professional equality. Oppliger, 135).

As a young woman myself, I am constantly surrounded by inequality and the ongoing battle of the sexes. Women are seen as less compared to men, and that is a perfect example. Women being portrayed so sexually within men’s magazines sends a message that women are only good to look at, which proves my point of women being seen and treated as objects, starting from a young age. When being treated so continuously as less than human because of your body, you learn to hate it and view yourself as the same, resulting in poor body image and low self-esteem.

When studying the correlations of age, awareness, and body image development, “awareness and internalization of societal standards of attractiveness increased with age, whereas body satisfaction and self-esteem decreased. This reveals how, in adolescent girls, increasing acceptance of cultural standards may lead to dissatisfaction with and rejection of themselves. ” (Kerr) When I see photographs and other media forms from decades ago, for example the 1940’s, I see women and young women dressed in clothing that covers their bodies, and I get a sense of what the rules around clothing and public sexual exploitation were like.

I almost have a feeling that women were never thought of being featured on any type of media then the way they are now. During this day and age, no one bats an eyelash when they see a woman naked on a magazine cover or in a digital form of media such as a movie, television show, music video, etc. What changed our views around the exploitation of our bodies? What happened during those seven or so decades that made us comfortable with something so irrational?

While multiple magazines feature the ideal body shape that I’ve discussed previously, there are some magazines that have begun to include models of a healthier weight with various body types being represented as well. In relation to this sudden inclusion of bigger models, the Barbie doll has recently been released featuring multiple body types with various combinations of height and weight. These recent actions give me hope that someday, every body type will be included instead of discredited and put down.

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