Frequently Asked Questions: Problems and Solutions
Q: How is media harming women?
A: Studies show the women in media these days are thinner than ever and very often severely underweight. Furthermore, surgical and digital enhancement have become unquestioned standards. In a world where a constant flow of media images far outnumbers women we could ever see face-to-face, this unrealistic ideal has become the norm in our minds. When we only see a certain type of woman presented positively in media, it’s no wonder media is consistently linked to body hatred, disordered eating and an unhealthy focus on appearance. When females grow up believing their worth comes from being looked at, and “beauty” comes in one unattainable form, female progress is stunted.
Q: How much do Americans currently spend on beauty?
A: In the last decade, there was a 446 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures in the U.S., with 92 percent performed on women — the majority being liposuction. Add the cost of voluntary surgeries to the $7 billion per year U.S. women spend on beauty products, and we have a population that spends $19 billion per year trying to achieve ideal beauty. On top of that, with the relatively recent conflation of beauty ideals with health ideals, the weight loss and diet industries have begun to flourish unlike ever before, with an estimated $61 billion spent on the quest for thinness in 2010 – more than twice as much as Americans spent on all types of diet programs and products in 1992. Read more: “If Beauty Hurts, We’re Doing it Wrong.”
Q: If the ideal beauty is so focused on thinness, then why are there so many obese people?
A: In a world where health successes and failures are too often measured entirely by weight loss or weight gain, we have to seriously reconsider this idea. Fitness researchers prove it, stating: “There is a need to increase knowledge and understanding of the health benefits of exercise, and reduce the emphasis on weight loss. This agrees with the evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness is a more powerful predictor of risk than body weight.”
How often do we see health magazines and programs that promise you will“Lose 10 lbs. by Friday!” or “Shrink your belly bulge!” if you’ll begin some exercise program or make healthier food choices? Constantly. Equating healthy choices with quick weight loss is seriously hurting our health. It’s also making lots of people LOTS of money, while our health problems are still killing us. Interestingly, researchers have identified body dissatisfaction as one of the major barriers to regular exercise for women. One study found that one of the most significant barriers to exercise for obese people was their body image perception, with “feeling too fat to exercise” showing up as one of the most common stumbling blocks, particularly for females. Recent studies have found that body size satisfaction had a significant effect on whether a person performed regular physical activity, regardless of the individual’s actual weight. That is, those who were satisfied with their body – regardless of their size – were more likely to engage in physical activity regularly than those who were less satisfied.
Q: Why have eating disorders skyrocketed lately?
A: While representations of women’s bodies across all media have shrunk dramatically in the last 30 years, rates of eating disorders have simultaneously skyrocketed. The rates have tripled for college-age women from the late 1980s to 1993 and rising since then. Now, it is estimated that 4 percent suffer from bulimia. Maybe even scarier is the 119 percent increase from 1999-2006 in the number of children under 12 hospitalized due to an eating disorder, the vast majority of whom were girls. Recent studies show women tend to overestimate their body weight and size, while men tend to underestimate their body weight and size. Researchers have found 61 percent of normal weight women perceive themselves as overweight, while 92 percent of underweight women perceive themselves to be average or overweight.
While many factors contribute to the dramatic rise in disordered eating since the late ’80s, it is well demonstrated that shrinking beauty ideals have contributed to a culture that prizes thinness as they key to beauty, health and happiness. And in a country where 50 percent of women say their bodies “disgust” them and a whopping 90 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearances, body shame needs to be viewed as a huge barrier to healthy eating and exercise choices. This rampant self-loathing can be partially attributed to women’s self-comparisons to unrealistic body ideals in mass media. Body hatred usually leads women to disordered eating or giving up on achieving healthy body weights altogether due to the perception that “healthy” or “average” is unreachable.
Q: Does the media portray women of color the same as white women?
A: Women of every ethnicity are told to be not too dark, but not too white; not too bodacious up top, but not too flat either; not too skinny, but not too fat. This vicious cycle of “never quite good enough” is fantastic for a consumer culture supporting $100+ billion beauty product and weight loss industries, but it is certainly not conducive to real progress as individuals or as a culture. Read more of our research on a disturbing phenomenon called “Beauty Whitewashing.”
Q: How has media affected the definitions of fitness?
A: “Fitspiration” is an online trend known to millions of females who share and collect pictures of very thin, objectified and Photoshopped parts of women as inspiration to get “bikini ready” or “look good at any cost.” Thousands of girls and women die every year in this pursuit through eating disorders. Millions more resort to unhealthy lifestyle choices to try to fit the unattainable ideals. In reality, these ideals often don’t portray real people and aren’t achievable for the majority of the population. This negatively affects women’s confidence, leading to body shame and unrealistic expectations that fuel diet and weight loss industries, cosmetic surgery industries and the like.
Q: How has pornography affected body image?
A: Studies demonstrate repeated exposure to sexualized female bodies encourages women to view and value themselves from an outsider’s gaze, positively endorse sexually objectifying images in the future, and experience body hatred. Adolescent girls who value themselves primarily for how their bodies look to men, based on years of objectifying media images, make unhealthy sexual choices, measured by decreased condom use and weakened sexual assertiveness, including the ability to say “no.” Read more about how normalized pornography affects both males and females.
Q: Why does it matter if I have a good body image?
A: Poor body image affects female progress and happiness in every way imaginable, from greater incidences of depression and disordered eating to time, energy, and valuable resources wasted on products and procedures. Female health is put on the line. Self-objectification is a direct result of poor body image. It causes girls to perform poorly on math tests, reading tests, athletic performance tests, spatial skills tests, etc. Research tells us girls and women who learn from media to pay extra attention to the way they look have fewer mental resources available in their brains for other mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning and athletic performance. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies or appreciate them, regardless of their actual appearance, become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. On the flipside of that study, research has found that girls who feel good about themselves and respect their bodies, regardless of what they look like, are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are less likely to gain unnecessary weight and make healthy lifestyle choices.
Q: What is media literacy and why is it important?
A: While the U.S. is the number 1 producer and exporter of media, we are also the only industrialized country in the world without some form of media literacy in public school curriculum. We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt!
•Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media? Do you believe the females in your life would feel better or worse about themselves after viewing or hearing this media?
•Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? Look for ads and commercials and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages.
•Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game or website you are viewing? Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice.
•Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time? Who are those messages promoting impossible ideals usually speaking to?
•How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like the females in your life?
Q: What does Beauty Redefined do to promote positive body image?
A: One of the most important and far-reaching things we do is share our research through our website. Rather than just opinion or commentary, our blog posts are heavily research-driven and include much of our own doctoral-level scholarship as well as other scholars’ work. We tailor all of it for a diverse audience of people of all ages interested in the ways media affects body image and how people can recognize and reject harmful messages. Another important part of our work is our speaking engagements, which generally consist of our one-hour visual presentation on body image and media literacy, which we co-authored in master’s projects in 2009 and have since presented for thousands of people across the U.S.
A third part of our work to promote positive body image is through public advocacy, including groundbreaking billboards we were able to display throughout Utah and even in Pennsylvania in 2011 and 2012. Out of those billboard designs, we have created and sold sticky notes to post on unrealistic advertisements to help others recognize the harm of unattainable beauty ideals in the media. Those same designs appear on postcards, posters and fliers available for sale on our site as a fundraising tool and uplifting way to spread positive messages.
Q: How can I get involved with Beauty Redefined to fight against the media’s negative beauty ideals?
A: Be an Advocate: Aside from learning to recognize and reject harmful messages about women’s bodies in media and interpersonal situations and then sharing that information, please also consider your fierce influence as an advocate for women.
•When you come across a company’s advertising that fuels female insecurity or a magazine that objectifies women even as it claims to empower them, speak up! Blogging your disapproval is a great start, and so is posting links to news stories that reveal harmful ideals on social networking sites.
•To take a step further, write to and/or call your local cable company, network TV station, newspaper and any other media outlet perpetuating harmful messages.
•Use social media for good: Post links or start discussions on blogs and social networking sites to continue the conversation about dangerous beauty ideals and the harms they cause. Join us on Facebook for regular links to continue this conversation with your friends.
•When thinking about your future studies and/or career, consider going into journalism, advertising, or media production so YOU can produce messages that uplift rather than tear down. We’re currently working on a campaign to raise money for positive body image billboards across the country, which have already appeared all across Utah and in Pennsylvania in 2011 and 2012!
•Stop Photoshopping yourself out of reality: Each year, women put hundreds of billions of dollars into the latest procedures, products and prescriptions to try to reach the beauty ideal media has created. We set unrealistic standards for females everywhere when we physically manipulate ourselves in attempts to meet a profit-driven standard that is inherently unattainable.
•Recognize areas of your own life where you could embrace a little more reality in your own physical appearance. We each must carefully choose for ourselves where to draw the line of what hurts us.
•Sponsor us: We are qualified spokespeople and experts in body image activism, but we need your help spreading the message. We are available for speaking engagements for any group who is interested in hosting us to share our one-hour visual presentation. Please contact us for more information about scheduling and costs.
Q: What do others say about Beauty Redefined?
A: Whether in response to our speaking engagements, media appearances or writing and advocacy online, the feedback we have received since starting this campaign in early 2009 has been overwhelmingly positive. We are happy to share a small sampling of the heartwarming comments and e-mails we receive on a regular basis. Read feedback here.
Q: Who are Beauty Redefined’s sponsors?
A: A handful of generous individuals have stepped forward to provide services when we’ve needed them, inlcuding Ripe Concepts, who designed our billboards, and Greg Shearer, the photographer for the billboards. Otherwise, we have relied on small donations from hundreds of individuals for the billboards and through sales of our sticky notes and other merchandise. Everything else comes out of our pockets. We are seeking financial support in any amount, whether from individuals, businesses or PayPal or grants from public or private foundations.All donations are tax-deductible. Please contact us for our tax ID number if you’re interested in donating!