The Media and Teen Girls
Twelve year old Rebecca stands in front of her mirror, her eyes scrutinizing up and down on her reflection. As she looks at her stomach she twists her body to the side to see the disgusting flesh overlap on top of one another. At 5’2”, Rebecca weighs 110 pounds and is considered to have a petite body type. She then looks closer into the mirror and notices that one breast is greatly larger than the other. Oh, how she awaits the day to get a breast augmentation! Rebecca just read in her Teen Vogue magazine that “C” cups were the latest spring trend and of course, Rebecca is all about fashion. Finally, Rebecca slouches in front of her reflection while looking at the cover of Sports Illustrated with Brazilian Supermodel Giselle in a white see-through bikini and dreams of the day when she can have that same beauty. Sadly enough, Rebecca represents many cases of teen girls in the United States today going through the same battle of reaching the “perfect” beauty. In a 2003 article released in Teen Magazine, it was reported that “35% of girls six to twelve years old have been on at least one diet, and 50%-70% of normal weight girls believe they are overweight.” As shocking as this seems, statistics are shown to be increasing as we speak. The question is, “Why are young girls suddenly so self-conscious about their bodies and their looks?” The problem traces back to the media and the hidden messages that are sent out to its viewers, mainly young girls. In Frances M. Berg’s book, “Women Afraid to Eat,” the author states that “the average American sees 1,500 ads per day and spends a year and a half of a lifetime watching television commercials” (35). This wouldn’t be an issue if what is shown on TV was educational and beneficial to becoming successful, but in actuality, television does the complete opposite. It secretly feeds children with the idea of unworthiness and imperfection. Almost every other commercial is selling images of remedies or quick fixes that are meant to improve our appearance. One of the most popular quick fixes of the season is anti-aging products. From anti-wrinkle creams to [body exfoliaters], women all over the world are buying into the trend of looking young. Why can’t we just love ourselves for who we are and take in our age as a testimony of our experiences and our unique maturity? This is a perfect example for how young girls learn to lose the true meaning of life. Life is much more than trying to remain youthful, but more about developing into a better person each day. The main promotion on television is that of thinness and a flawless body. By the age of two, Berg tells us, girls have already been exposed to a handful of weight loss commercials as well as lingerie advertisements (45). It is quite disturbing to know that a child is introduced to the “idealistic” standard of beauty before she is even introduced to potty training. In fact, Berg believes that “thinness is sold on every street corner, and the wonderful diversity of women, their inner beauty and well-being, is rejected” (31). During the prime years, young girls are faced with images and information, molded in such a way that they learn to hate themselves and compare their qualities with those of others. Promoting beauty in itself is not wrong at all; however, the beauty that current advertisers are promoting can be considered unhealthy, and in some ways, life threatening. In today’s world, the average model weighs 28% below the average weight “Beauty and Body Image in the Media.” Medically speaking, it is humanly impossible to maintain the ideal body image portrayed daily. According to that article “Beauty and Body Image in the Media,” “Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie Doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her waist would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel.” Pathetically, even considering all this, as it states in “Women Afraid to Eat,” the medical fields promote healthy as being thin (38). An example of this is the “Got Milk” commercials. Instead of promoting the fact that milk contains high levels of calcium essential to building strong bones, it publicly informs how dairy products, especially milk, have been medically proven to help reduce the size of the waist. Through this, the media industry gives out the message that thinness and beauty are all that are needed to have the perfect life and that thinness is more important than being healthy. Not only does the television promote unrealistic standards for body perfection, but magazines also have part in the corruption of young girls’ self image. Young girls are constantly exposed to hundreds of magazine covers promoting easy to follow diet tips. In Women Afraid to Eat, Berg states how magazines continually publish “easy to follow steps” to losing weight, quick dieting ads, “food of the month specials,” and cute little make-over quizzes (36). Once again, it is perfectly fine to publish articles pertaining to dieting; however, why are such articles published in teen magazines? A teen magazine shouldn’t consist of a multitude of strategies for weight loss, but should consist of strategies to be successful in school and life. The shocking truth is that “Magazines are the only medium where girls are over-represented than boys compared to television and movies; however, 70% of the editorial content in teen magazine focuses on beauty and fashion, and only 12% talks about school or careers” (Media and Girls). In relation to this, imagine how young girls are being molded to think? Is beauty really more important than being educated and successful? Magazines are slowly but surely ripping apart the true soul of teens. Every time a youth turns the pages of a magazine; she adds another imperfection to her list of self improvements. Frances M. Berg states in Women Afraid to Eat, “The strive for beauty perfection makes girls feel inadequate and counts herself as a failure” (37). Since these goals for “true” beauty are unrealistic, girls are constantly being torn for not reaching the perfect size. This may seem like a confidence issue, but this feeling of failure does pour into young girls’ everyday lives. As author and motivational speaker, Robin Gerber states, “We don’t need Afghan-style baroques to disappear as women. We disappear in reverse- by revamping and revealing our bodies to meet externally imposed visions of female beauty.” As a youth myself, what I find to be most deceptive with the promotion of magazines is the attempt to try to make the articles seem balanced in accordance to life. From the cover to the last page, magazines incorporate mixed messages from being true to your heart to the hottest “must have” trend of the season. Kelsey a sixteen year old, describes this confusion in Girl Talk, a teen magazine. “Magazines have ads about how you should dress,” she says “and what you should look like and this and that, and then they say, ‘but respect people for what they choose to look like’. Okay, so which do we do first?” This is a perfect example of how magazines try to appear as if they are not the cause of this frenzy to be physically perfect. They use the excuse that they publish articles which pertain to “loving oneself.” If anything, I feel that young girls are being hurt more with contradictory messages. The question is, who defines beauty? Is it the media? And if so, why do we, as females, give others the right to judge our bodies and decide if it is acceptable in society? Decades ago, Marilyn Monroe was the definition of beauty. At 5’2”, 135 pounds, and size 12, every female wished to be Marilyn. Since then, the idealistic physique has changed to the ideal height as being 5’5”, 120 pounds, and size 3. The advertisement business encourages us to focus on flaws on our bodies that we’ve never noticed before, but thankfully there currently have been various attempts to go against the tide and genuinely promote self beauty. The Dove Campaign for Real Women, a campaign advertising the natural mature beauty of middle-aged women and Tyra Bank’s “So What!” campaign, a campaign against the lies of the media are just a couple of the new and improved efforts. More and more “curves” are being praised and accepted. My question is if we’ve evolved from one type of definition, to a new thinner definition, can’t we evolve again to a more curvier and realistic one?