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Communication and Influences Affecting Body Image Essay Sample

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Communication and Influences Affecting Body Image Essay Sample

Introduction

            There were different factors that influenced and communicated body image perceptions according to the different genders. There were different impacts for different genders when it came to how these factors were perceived. It was important to gauge the power of different areas of the society to conceptualize the accepted body image of males and females.  A comparison of gender perception and impact will be done in relation to different influences that dictated body image.

Hollywood and the media had been observed to be the primary influence for the creation of body image concepts. The paper would also address the influence of culture in the creation of these depictions. This would be followed by a discussion of how fashion constructed body images that served as stereotypes for each gender. They had been responsible for the creation of different perspectives according to the gender of the individuals. The different perceptions of weight for the genders were also compared with each other. In the same manner, same-sex peer communication will also b discussed in terms of how males and females related to and influenced each other.

Gender

            There were different perspectives when it came to the roles people played out in terms the norms of society for what was normal and appropriate. Most of the time, there was no room to question such perspectives because of how they were imposed and cultivated by society. In terms of communication of mindsets and perceptions, there had been a gender distinction when it came to masculinity and femininity (Payne, 2001). Research had widely included the limiting sex roles for gender stereotypes. An exploration of the similarities and differences in such roles could provide accurate descriptions of human behavior.

            Gender was defined as the social construction of masculinity and femininity within a specific culture, in comparison to the term “sex” that described the individual’s biological self (Payne, 2001). Gender was also considered the interaction by which a person incorporated the biological, psychological, cultural and religious characteristics. The danger of stereotyping an individual could result in sexism or the discrimination against a person on the basis of one’s sex.

Body Image

            Body image had been the focus multidimensional attributes of the individual composed of the physiological, psychological and sociological component (Hoyt & Kogan, 2001). Body image was defined as one’s attitude towards the body and its particular size, shape and aesthetics. It included the person’s evaluation and experiences that affected their physical attributes.  The discussion of the body image included the level of emphasis on weight maintenance in relation to physical attractiveness.  Body image was also influenced by different feelings and was influenced by behavior, self-esteem and psychopathology. According to Hoyt and Kogan (2001), “our body is our personal billboard, providing others with first–and sometimes only—impressions” (p. 199).

            More often than not, women were seen to be the subject of most body image literatures. This was attributed to the fact that the body image was a significant issue for women in the society. There was a growing dissatisfaction with how females viewed their bodies in today’s society. However, instead of seeing it as an alarming occurrence, it was considered as a “normative discontent” as female body image dissatisfaction was a norm for women, especially in the United States (Hoyt & Kogan, 2001).  Critical issues such as the development of eating disorders and growing rate of cosmetic surgeries were strongly attributed to body image dissatisfaction.

Media Exposure and Body Image

            The everyday life of the Western society was characterized by mass media’s influence. Most adults would read the newspapers and magazines as a part of their daily routine (Tiggemann, 2002). Most of the time, women and girls read fashion and lifestyle magazines. Every home in the United States commonly has at least one television set with each individual watching at least three to four hours a day (Tiggemann, 2002).  The children of today spend more time watching television more than any other activity that they could do.  It was not surprising how the mass media and Hollywood communicated significantly concepts of body image.  The media’s experienced omnipresence had influenced the body image of men and women in a number of ways. It had mediated social comparison, investment in appearance and internalization of certain body image ideals that had pushed individuals to constantly compare their body with an image that was presented in the media (Tiggemann, 2002).

Media Content

            The current societal standards dictated the desirability of thinness for females. There was a growing concern regarding the level of thinness that was unattainable for the average woman to achieve through healthy methods (Tiggemann, 2002). The mass media was considered as a strong conveyor for sociocultural ideals. It has been a huge contributor for the high levels of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders that were prevalent among women.

            Since the 1990s, the men also experienced the emergence of a cultural norm that presented the muscular body as their ideal body image (Tiggemann, 2002). In the extreme cases, the level of muscularity was unattainable without the use of anabolic steroids. Men were also being presented to have young, lean and muscled bodies. The media presented the ideal body shape for men that were composed of broad shoulders, a well-developed upper body, flat stomach and narrow hips.

            Although differing in the levels, the idealization of thinness and attractiveness was closely linked to happiness, desirability and status (Tiggemann, 2002). The media constantly presented the an acceptance for this schema to be absolutely vital for the success and happiness of individuals. It was also equated for one’s self-worth and self-perceived attractiveness, a notion that was more apparent for women over men. The media played an important role in propelling appearance as the core basis for self-worth.

            The media provided external pressure when it came to the ideal of masculine and feminine physical appearance. Most of the time, the vulnerable stages for individuals involved younger girls and late adolescent boys. Media was responsible for creating cultural gender images from the common mediums like television shows, movies and advertisements that impacted how young people evaluated their physical appearances.

The self-esteem of young people, specifically girls, was significantly associated with the ideal body image that the media messages related to them (Polce-Lynch et al., 2001).  Girls that saw themselves to be close to the cultural ideal for women’s bodies tend to feel better for themselves, and those that didn’t had lower self-esteem. The bodies of women were also used to sell almost everything from liquor, cigarettes, perfume and everything else (Polce-Lynch et al., 2001). This resulted to how women were more affected by the self-esteem issues more than men were in relation to body ideals.  The women had history of being represented as an underclass of victims and solely dependent on men while men were presented with male self-confidence (Payne, 2001).

            There were different theories that discussed about the development and the maintenance of body image disturbance. A sociocultural model was a common perspective offered to explain the social pressure that was placed on individuals as they feel the need to conform to a certain body shape standard (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997). The print and film media had been the leading avenues wherein endorsements of the ideal body shape was done and this sustained the existence of body image disturbances, as represented by the rising number of people with eating disorders (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997)

Print Media

            There were different studies that examined the role of print publications in forming the ideals for the standard for the accepted body shape. Cusumano and Thompson (1997), observed the body images that were presented in the previous study of the adult magazine Playboy. The magazine was selected because of how it epitomized the perception of what a female body should shape like. The weight was seen to be lower for women in the centerfolds than other women in the same issue from 20 years of magazine articles.  An observation of other popular women’s magazines such as Vogue, Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar revealed that over a 20-year span, there had been an increase in the number of articles that dealt with dieting and weight loss (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997).

            According to a study that compared men’s and women’s magazine, diet advertisements and articles appeared 10 times more in women’s magazines that it did for men’s (Greenberg & Worrell, 2005). Women were more exposed to the ideals of dieting and a thinner body image. Women’s magazines were also observed to carry more body-oriented topics more than the men’s magazines.  This reflected a significant relationship between the eating disorders that females develop in comparison to males.

            Women magazines were observed to present advertisements that portrayed the women to have perfect faces and bodies. The Victoria’s Secret catalogue was observed as an example of this in how it presented faces and figures that could only be achieved with the help of medical treatment or plastic surgery (Payne, 2001). While the catalogue’s goal was to make the lingerie ads allow women to envision themselves to look as seductive as the sexy models when they purchase the product, body images were still being presented as a standard for the non-model females. Stereotypes were constantly targeted in such magazines because of the publishers and editors’ desire to please their advertisers and to keep their accounts (Payne, 2001).

            Even when women have taken their place as professionals in different industries, magazines still portrayed them as sex objects, wives and mothers that lacked confidence, autonomy, and rationality. Magazines also portrayed them to have no signs of aging because of how artists airbrush their flaws and computer-generate women’s adjusted images (Payne, 2001). In 1992, editors admitted changing the models’ images with the Scitex machine, a graphics package that made people looked smother and slender than they actually were. This produced self-doubt in women who internalize the messages the publications send.

            When women view such images and then compare them to what they see in their mirrors, they would have a tendency to feel inadequate for less impossible standards that were established in such magazines and accepted by society (Payne, 2001). Within the last 50 years, the plastic surgery produced a while new industry as more women wanted to increase their breast size and decrease their fat through liposuctions or receive face lifts. When women realize that they could not achieve the body image standards given by the magazines, they develop eating disorders and low self-esteems.

            The average model weighed 23 percent less than the normal women. This was a body type that represented only five percent of the population. However, the fact that women see these advertisements every day painted in their minds that this was the accepted image of the perfect women. Even as young girls, teen magazines would produce feelings in them of how their felt that they were “too fat” because of the body images of their teenage idols.

            On the other hand, men’s magazine create the image of men as the to be action-oriented, adventurous, do-it-yourself and strong. These magazines were designed to reshape masculinity as men understand and master their lives. More than just body images, these magazines reflected masculinity to translate into action and accomplishment for self-worth. At the same time, self-confidence, instead of self-doubt, were reflected through the promotion of Calvin Klein aftershaves, Ralph Lauren polo shirts, or a Rolex watch. The goal of men magazines was for these men to purchase these things that would give them confidence. It was not more of their body shape and structure.

            However, this did not mean that the media left the male body free from any body image standards. The 21st century still depicted the men’s bodies as much as sexual objects as they did with women for decades. It was only a question of intensity. Fabio was famous for his hard abs and thighs, as he characterized the icon of masculinity (Payne, 2001).  Men were also seen half-naked in magazines as they served to be irresistible objects. Men had increasingly felt the pressure to stay young looking despite their ages.

            In the more recent study, there had been an increase in the magazines that catered to men regarding weight loss. However, it must be pointed out how there had been a decrease in both men and women magazines regarding weight gain articles  (Grieve, 2007). The proportion in the advertisements for weight loss and weight gain had appeared to shift. Despite this decrease, men still had more access to weight gain articles since men magazines featured them more. However, this did not decrease the pressures that men felt towards obtaining and maintaining more muscular and buff body shapes (Grieve, 2007).

            Media exposure for men did not stop with their concerns with their bodies but was also associated with their perception of women (Hatoum & Belle, 2004). Men who had more weight issues for themselves also had more weight concerns towards women. The more male-oriented magazines men were exposed to, the higher their standards for women have for thinness.

Moreover, men were observed to be strongly concerned with the thinness and body images of women more than they were concerned about themselves (Hatoum & Belle, 2004).

Most of the magazines they read were promoted a standard for women’s body images. In men’s magazines, there were more images of women than men. Most of the advertisements that appeared in men’s magazines included sensual female models to sell the products. However, in women’s magazines, female model endorsers and celebrities were as commonly used to advertise products effectively.

The objectification of women through such advertisements for both men and women demanded for more bodily perfection for the readers. Men’s escalating exposure to media presented a problem for women as they increasingly seek thin women. As a result, women become overly concerned with their bodies because of their fear of rejection or losing men’s interest if they could not achieve the extremely thin standard.

            The expansion of the men’s magazine industry was considered as a recent occurrence. Before, there was not much of a market for such magazines, as men did not often read through magazines that were not about politics and current events. The introduction of magazines like Maxim, FHM and Stuff captured the attention of a young male audience and had turned into a huge moneymaker (Hatoum & Belle, 2004). While women magazines had been around to provide information about health, fashion and lifestyle, men’s magazines now provided articles for bodybuilding and weight gain. Such magazines started to feature grown men with bulging biceps.

Television

            The introduction of the television in the United States had been observed as a purveyor of popular cultural imagery (Alan & Coltrane, 1996). Over 98 percent of the households in the United States have a television set and more than a 25 percent of them have multiple television sets. The average American home has a television turned on for at least seven hours each day. The average American could watch over 30,000 commercials annually and over 2,000,000 million in a lifetime (Alan & Coltrane, 1996).

The average person experienced being exposed to television images of beauty for an extended period of time. The images of gender that was presented in television shows was said to conform to the body images of gender presented in the commercials. The presentation of gender in the television commercials was representative of gender portrayal in the larger medium (Alan & Coltrane, 1996). The domination of television of the modern life cultivated the common perspectives of the trends and meanings of images related to gender.

            Men and women were showcased performing different activities and exhibiting different characteristics. Male characters were observed to outnumber female ones. Men were still commonly portrayed to be dominant and strong; they were successful, powerful, and unemotional (Alan & Coltrane, 1996). Women were often seen to be passive, emotional and dependent on men. On the other hand, men had more diverse roles and played characters with much greater depth and complexity.

While television shows and commercials produced gender stereotypes, these mindsets resulted in how men and women were valued in society. Since women were seen to be passive and weaker, they were valued more for their physical appearance. The value that was placed on external beauty generated a great pressure on women to be in line with the standard of beauty that the media provided for. In the same way, since men were seen to be dominant and powerful based on non-physical attributes there was less pressure on them to look according to the media idealized them to be. However, this does not mean they were no pressure at all, especially in these days wherein aesthetics was a growing necessity for any gender.

New Media

            The World Wide Web had extended the level of exposure of men and women to depictions of masculinity and femininity. Before, they were only provided with depictions from television and from print publications. There was only a schedule as to the portrayal of gender (Alan & Coltrane, 1996). The Internet had made it possible for gender to be depicted through a multitude of sources. They could access this media according to how they pleased with billions of websites to choose from.  Even when men and women were not watching television or reading a magazine, the Internet was the next place wherein they absorbed several gender portrayals.

            The Internet was first seen as a recreational media due to the prevalence of online pornography. This alone reflected how women’s body images were depicted online. Like magazines, a lot of websites featured thin models and celebrities that exemplified the so-called standard for beauty. More than just presenting pictures, the Internet was also a portal for any information one could ever need. For women, it provided for numerous weight loss resources, ranging from healthy methods to unhealthy ones.

            Even with men, the Internet had increased the pressure for men to be muscular. Steroid users had become a more diverse population because of the different people that wanted to get buffer (Davis, 2008).  The lack of proper guidance and expertise in steroid use had been the concern of many healthcare providers.

            The steroid users, for the purposes of bodybuilding, had been getting younger. In the past, teenagers or any potential steroid user would have to walk into a gym or a wellness clinic to have access to steroids. However, healthcare and wellness professionals would not allow any teenager to access steroids. The Internet had changed all of that since younger users were able to bypass the steroid gatekeepers y going online to buy a tub of pulls or injectibles (Davis, 2008). Most of the time, steroid dealers were not able to pass on safety information about using steroids.

            The male body image that did not present much of a concern decades ago had been shifting to a more active observation of a buffer image of masculinity. It was the media’s promotion of fashion over function that motivated younger users to pump up and have bigger bodies (David, 2008). The new users were very concerned with their body images. It was turning into a purely aesthetic function. From magazines to Internet sites, male health and diet supplements had been a growing industry. More and more actors and sportsmen were pulled to present the male ideal.

The Culture Factor

            The discussion of culture did not only involve those that were considered to be stable and constant. It also included concepts and practices that could be considered to be more transient and experienced through popular and mass culture (Squire, 2000). Culture was described by polarized representations of the bodies from different genders.

Theories on Culture and Body Image

            Cultural theories needed to be examined to understand the relationship of culture with the current body images that men and women held. According to the objectification theory, the ubiquitous objectification of women in culture promoted the dissatisfaction for the body and the development of eating and mental health problem among them (Murnen et al., 2003). The data that was presented in the previous section regarding the relationship of media exposure and the formulation of body images reflected how women were objectified in the media and how women experienced body shame because of it.

There was pervasive objectification of women in this culture. Society had been used to utilize women bodies as tools for advertisements and how the emphasis on specific body parts, instead of the entire body and the whole person. The culture accepted how the images of women were sexualized and how men could “possess” the women’s bodies, as a result of this objectification (Murnen et al., 2003). This provided for more pressure for women to attain the unrealistic presentation of women in the media.

            Culture was reflected in the media. Media presented the cultural perception of women through Playboy centerfolds, Miss America contests, female television characters, and models in the magazines that had gotten thinner over time when the average woman was heavier. There had been discrepancies between the actual body sizes of the women and the ideal body types that popular culture presented. This culture was susceptible to the increase of body dissatisfaction of women (Murnen et al., 2003).

 The Social Learning Theory and the Cognitive Development Theory were theories on gender role development and the influence of culture in molding individual identity. Culture has the power to impact society in such a manner that its members play out their roles (Payne, 2001). The achievement of these roles affected the culture. Cultural images pervade the lives of people and cultural messages could reinforce the cultural views of men and women (Payne, 2001).

The sociocultural model of the body image affected the population, as early as when they were still children (Murnen et al., 2003). The younger ones were perceived to be more likely to be influenced by cultural messages about their bodies. However, girls and boys receive varied messages about cultural ideals. Girls receive cultural messages that were more focused on achievement that was about their bodies and their looks. Culture was perceived to promote that the girl’s bodies served as projects to work on (Murnen et al., 2003). Even as young children, they already absorb the significance of the culture of dieting from their peers, parents, and the media, as anti-fat messages was promoted.

On the other hand, boys received messages that their bodies were tools that could be used to master the environment. Culture discouraged females to have autonomy or a voice; instead they were ingrained with ideals of external beauty. According to Murnen and his colleagues (2003), “because the feminine gender role encourages girls to see the appearance of their bodies as a form of achievement, they might be particularly susceptible to using media images as a guide for self-evaluation” (p. 427). Research had shown how culture impacted the female perspective of body images; a more concentrated area of culture included sociocultural influence.

Gender role development was shaped by culture. The process of accepting the stereotypical roles of individuals included the ingraining of the body images assigned to each gender.  Body image was closely connected to gender and to the definition of masculinity and femininity. Previous researches had analyzed the relationship of body image and gendered personality traits and gender role attitudes (Gillen & Lefkowitz, 2006).

Masculinity was linked to instrumentality, while femininity was perceived in expressivity. The discussion of gendered personality traits showed how women body image disturbance or the development of eating disorders in women reflected an over engagement in the feminine role. The consequence of such level of role engagement was the desire to be ultra thin.

Women who developed eating disorders had low levels of instrumentality. Instrumental traits were recognized to be socially valued and were important for success in society. Low masculinity was associated with body image problems (Gillen & Lefkowitz, 2006). Men who lack masculine qualities were said to have trouble achieving the cultural standards for masculinity and were reported to have poorer health outcomes. This was seen in the manifestation of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety (Gillen & Lefkowitz, 2006).

Differential Cultural Focus on Gender and the Body

The cultural perspective of the women’s bodies had always received more attention than the men’s bodies. Different areas in culture such as fashion, art and other parts reflected the focus on women’s bodies. They were constantly placed under scrutiny and observation. Even as young girls, they were already given dolls to play with (Franzoi, 1995). Dress-up and dolls were the common toys that were given to young girls.

This focused on girls and the importance of the physical beauty to femininity.  The pervasiveness of the attention on female bodies was conveyed in television commercials and magazine advertisements. The female beauty was used to sell products effectively because of the preferential use of female beauty in culture. This focus brought about what researchers called a “social physique anxiety”–anxiety due to others’ observing or evaluating their physiques” (Franzoi, 1995, p. 417).

On the other hand, males were trained to view a world of action wherein they were taught the significance of power and function as an important criteria for self-evaluation (Franzoi, 1995). There was a shift of focus when it came to how males were reared in culture. They evaluated themselves according to what their physical selves could do rather than visual appearance. They were often given cars and superhero toys to display these notions. Men were not honed to see their bodies as static objects of aesthetic beauty the way women were trained (Franzoi, 1995).

Shift in Male Body Image Perception

However, males have increasingly received awareness for their physical appearances and women were expressing growing interest for athletic endeavors. Society had witnessed the emergence of metrosexuality and feminism. Popular culture had experienced a shift in the representation of the male body. As mentioned, there had been a growing amount of images that portrayed men in the once-female dominated world of advertising and entertainment objects.

It was not just about the circulation of men’s image. It was more about the change in the representational practice that emerged portraying the male body (Gill et al., 2000). The toned and young muscular body characterized the current and popular depiction of the male body. This was considered to be a new phenomenon because the coding of the male body was freshly presented something to be looked and desired the way women were seen. Male bodies were already presented to be desirable in the past.

One of the key influences in this shift was the emergence of feminist movements. The emergence of the novel codification of the male body was because of the feminist interrogation of traditional masculinity (Gill et al., 2000). Different aspects of masculinity were questioned in the rise of criticism that was described to be distant, uninvolved, unemotional and uncommunicative. These critiques paved the way for the new kind of masculinity. There was an emerging trend of focusing on the whole person. In connection with this, masculine perspectives included the growing importance of the male aesthetic body.

Fashion: Influence and Communication

            A casual flick through any fashion magazine would show the standard for beauty for women that were characterized by the young, tall, long-legged and extremely thin model-like body (Tiggemann, 2002). Fashion had such a strong influence on body images. There were multitudes of resources where people get information about fashion. It was safe to say how fashion was, in a higher degree, more important for women in comparison to men.

Clothes served as the visible or the detachable skin of the woman (Craik, 1994). They served as the symbols of individual’s aspirations, dreams and fantasies. They were also considered as status symbols in society. However, people were not really in full control over their appearances. Most of the time, there were external forces that dictated the standards for value.  Fashion and women were had such an intense connection. Women had the desire to mold their bodies according the current trends of the fashion industry. The reconstruction of their body shapes was part of the package of maintaining fashion ideals (Craik, 1994).

The reshaping of the body was a technique to uphold fashion in women’s lives. The term “body management” was presented as a means of “normalizing” the body according the ideals of gender relations (Craik, 1994). The body was considered as the site of struggle wherein people constantly needed to work to make it into a certain shape. The attention body management had from individuals was due to the gender coding and stereotype that the western culture held. Bodybuilding, steroid intake, dieting and eating disorders were just a few techniques by which individuals process body management. The fashion industry promoted the pressure of the need to look good. There was the strong emphasis for control over one’s body. The struggle came from the feeling of being out of control over their bodies’ shapes and sizes. People would constantly search for techniques and technology to control their body shape.

The media, unsurprisingly, had a hand in the influence of fashion in society.  The emergence of the style press in the eighties provided an impact in the portrayal of gender body images (Gill et al., 2000). There was a perceived difference in the patronage of style magazines with men and women. Men had little self-consciousness concerns in comparison to women. They bought magazines that were about cars, gadgets or hobbies. The tone of women’s magazine focused on treating the women as their friends, playing on the relational nature of women (Gill et al., 2000). This tone was threatening for men.

While most of fashion or style magazines were originally directed for the female population, there had been the rise of fashion companies that catered to the new male market (Gill et al., 2000). The images of the city gentlemen sporting striped shirts and double-breasted suits. This came with emergence of clothes as a different signifier. Instead of being symbols of power, clothes were worn to be flexible and playful. People could already “try on” different identities” (Gill et al., 2000). This was appealing because of the lack of attachment that fashion presented for the male market. Instead of using the relational and committed form of marketing female fashion magazines provided for women, men magazines offered loose relationships that would men more comfortable to explore the world of fashion.

The female body was established as an icon of femininity. Studies about women magazines included the promotion of shopping and the showcase of fashion models as role models (Craik, 1994). Fashion models had an influence in the formation of the female identity in the western culture. Femininity was closely intertwined with concepts of consumerism and iconization. Popular culture created the concept of prestigious imitation based on the figures of popular culture, such as movie stars, socialites, models, pop and television stars (Craik, 1994). Modeling epitomized the dominant ideals of western femininity and manipulated the formation of the standard for female body images.

Dolls were toys girls played under the influence of fashion. They communicated issues of representation and cultural positioning within the feminine society (Peers, 2004). In the early 20th century, the bébé doll served as the ultimate norm for dolls. Dolls were said to materialize the human body. The more popular dolls had short skirts, high heels, long legs and blond hair. This promoted fashion and body images even to younger girls.

Feminists had already argued the perpetuation of the Barbie doll as an unrealistic standard for the feminine beauty. It was also criticized to undermine female credibility because of the stand long, slender plastic limbs, and tiny waists. It promoted an overtly fashionable image that was fueled by consumerism and superficiality, instead of women liberty and intellect (Peers, 2004).

This created the increasing disparity between the fashion industry’s definition of the ideal female shape and the actual size of the women in the country (Morrison et al., 2004). Models appeared to be progressively thinner even when the female market they were reaching was progressively becoming heavier. The idea that fashion magazines implanted on its readers was thin was good. The media portrayed thinness to be desirable.

In the same way, the muscular body was the ideal body shape for men. A study had shown how male figures that had assertive, athletic, and confident personality was something that was desirable for both men and women (Morrison et al., 2004). The mass media promoted a muscular ideal that created for pressures in men’s health after the years wherein it was mostly women that developed health disorders because from body image pressures. The media promoted that thinness was good for women; muscular was promoted to be the standard for men. Thin and overweight men were not depicted to be desirable in fashion resources or in any other Hollywood depictions.

Perceptions of Weight

In comparison to literature that investigated women’s bodies, men’s concerns with their bodies had been understudied over the past decades. Therefore, there was little literature to reflect the issues of underweight and under-muscular issues that men faced.  When studies addressed such issues, researchers found out that underweight men experienced the same issues as overweight women did (Hatoum & Belle, 2004). Underweight men, in comparison to the average or normal weight men saw themselves to be less desirable. Studies also showed that underweight men dated less and saw them to be rejected more (Hatoum & Belle, 2004).

Understudied Male Pressures

The pressures and struggles of men when it came to their weight did not reflect extensively in literatures. However, even in the 1960s, research found boys to desire larger chests, wrists, shoulders and biceps (Hatoum & Belle, 2004).  Boys had always wanted to gain weight and become more muscular. Males would prefer a muscular physique. However, the question of difference from the other sex would be in the degree by which they were affected by this desire. When it came to men, there was an inverse relationship between the percent of body fat and the rate of their body satisfaction.

This showed how muscularity played a major role in the man’s satisfactory perception of himself. This was considered as “reverse anorexia” wherein normal or overweight men saw themselves to be too small and would go to extreme lengths to bulk up (Hatoum & Belle, 2004). Instead of developing a disorder that made them loose weight by binge eating, they would do everything to get their weight up, including steroid intake.  Just as women were culturally required to be thinner, men were culturally ideal to be muscular.

Social Comparison and Media Exposure

Cultural icons represented these ideals. The popular dolls like Barbie showcased a busy period and slim waist while men had male action figures such as GI Joe or other super heroes. These male toy figures were found to be more muscular. Either way, males and females alike were provided with toys that implanted negative psychological effects in the individuals’ desire for the impossible physical ideals.

The process of social comparison had the tendency for upward social comparisons wherein those that had socially admired bodies could produce dissatisfaction and demoralization for the individuals who were trying to achieve them (Hatoum & Belle, 2004).

While a lot of magazines offered tools for self-improvement, the media’s embodiment of beauty was unrealistic and was easily the source of numerous dissatisfaction among them. Men and women alike, when presented with a comparison of body images, would end up to be dissatisfied, have reduced self-esteem and eating disorders.  Gender perception had a dose-response relationship with numerous dieting messages that were sent to men and women over the media. They were closely related to eating disorders. Women magazines had more weight articles that was produced than men’s. Statistics also showed women were ten times more prone to develop eating disorders than men were (Hatoum & Belle, 2004).

At the same time, men were also exposed to such body images. Men were shown that the female figure must be unrealistically fit and sexy. The ideal female shape was not limited to pornographic magazines. Men would view these women in swimsuit or sports magazines as well. A huge bulk of the popular men’s publications were reserved to the creation of the thin women ideal; those that had large breasts in small bikinis (Hatoum & Belle, 2004). Since men were usually given the power to judge potential partners based on physical attractiveness, women were more pressured to accept the lighter weight requirement to achieve the cultural expression of physical beauty. Even at such a young age, boys had rated girls according to their physical attractiveness and girls were always aware of this fact. Men’s perception of beauty was widely related to their media consumption, especially what they see on television. A research revealed how men who had regularly watched the famous television show Charlie’s Angels rated the average woman to be less attractive (Hatoum & Belle, 2004). Men who were exposed to media more reported dissatisfaction for their own bodies as well as upheld higher standards of beauty for women that were characterized by thinness (Hatoum & Belle, 2004).

Formation of Body Images

            There were different factors to the formation of weight perception. The media, family, and peers had their fair share of transmitting the message for what the ideal body was supposed to look like (Ricciardelli & Macabe, 2001). Women who were not thin were perceived to be less attractive because of the equation of thinness with beauty and attractiveness. This resulted in the strong desire for women to get thinner and the perceived necessity for weight loss behaviors.

            On the other hand, the sociocultural standard for males was the muscular mesomorph (Ricciardelli & Macabe, 2001). There was the preference for men who were large and muscular, even for boys at the ages of six and seven years of age. This desire increased as the boys grow older into adulthood. This masculinity was related to the cultural sex role of men to be strong and powerful. Muscles were perceived to symbolized power and strength in men. When men were skinny or too fat, they were considered the opposite and did not meet the cultural perception for masculinity.

            The achievement of the standard body images was associated with the level of self-esteem the individuals had. Body dissatisfaction was closely associated with self-esteem. Society formed a standard for self-value that was closely related with the physique, instead of weighing the wholistic perceptive of the person. The response to the lack of self-esteem due to body dissatisfaction was observed in the form of weight loss strategies and eating problems (Ricciardelli & Macabe, 2001).

            Sufficient research had presented how women were normally more dissatisfied with their appearance than men were (Hoyt & Kogan, 2001; Ricciardelli & Macabe, 2001). They were largely dissatisfied with their weight than men were. It was relatively easier to gain weight and maintain a larger physique than to lose weight and control thinner body. The ideal women were seen to be thinner and most women viewed themselves to be overweight. They strived hard to achieve and maintain this body shape through dietary practices and other weight loss behavior.

On the other hand, men have such a focus on their upper body. They  were expected to have six-pack abs and bulging biceps (Hoyt & Kogan, 2001). While it was easy to gain the weight to produce these kinds of muscles, some men found the necessity to have implants to make their muscles appear more pronounced than they naturally were. Meanwhile, women were more dissatisfied with their lower bodies. They were dissatisfied with their abdomen, waists, buttocks and thighs. Magazines would offer wonder exercises that would bombard women with messages on how they could and should improve on these body parts by doing crunches, lunges and leg lifts (Hoyt & Kogan, 2001).

            Nevertheless, women were still regarded to be more at risk than men for problems of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating practices (Kashubeck-West et al., 2005). Women were more concerned about their appearances. This would give them the tendency to believe that they were heavier than they actually were. According to a research, 88 percent of the women generally wished they lost weight, in comparison to 37 percent of men who wished they did (Kashubeck-West et al., 2005).

Weight Discrimination

             Heavy weight people experienced facing discrimination in different areas of society (Blaine & Williams, 2004). In terms of employment, relationships, education, legal decisions, and health care, stereotypes of heavyweight individuals were usually negative. They were commonly perceived to be lazy, unattractive, dumber, and with low self-esteem.  They also evoked negative emotional reactions from others that included pity, disgust and fear. Even the movies commonly presented fat characters to be mobsters or abusive fathers.

This was rooted in the belief that heavyweight people were not responsible with their life and outcomes were reflected in their physical appearances. Weight was perceived to be a controllable concept and this perception produced widespread prejudice for heavy weight individuals (Blaine & Williams, 2004). Such beliefs together with cultural values of thinness resulted in the stigmatization of heavier people.  According to Blaine and Williams (2004), “heavyweight stigma as the realization that one’s weight (or body size) prompts negative feelings and stereotypic assumptions in others” (p. 79). Cultural standards were also applied to more women in comparison to men. Women were stigmatized to occupy heavyweight status. Women were constantly forced to fight the heavyweight stigma that was associated to them by culture.

Body Images and Adolescent Skipping Breakfasts

Weight control included practices of dieting in terms of reduction of food intake, skipping meals and fasting. Even young adolescents feel the pressure to control their weight to make their bodies as close to the ideal body shape and size as possible (Zullig et al., 2006). They would usually reduce their food intake and skip meals like breakfasts to achieve this. More often than not, when unsupervised by a nutritionist or a physician, dietary practices could be unhealthy for the individuals.

In a study made in Louisiana, girls and boys skipped breakfast. Skipping meals was perceived to be detrimental as it prevented children from achieving the recommended minimum number of servings for all major food groups that was dictated by the Food Guide Pyramid (Zullig et al., 2006). The compromise for skipping breakfasts meant sacrificing one’s health, energy level and cognitive performance.

 Breakfast consumption was seen to vary according to gender. Those that were characterized to have poor body images or weight preoccupation had less breakfast consumptions. Young girls (63.9%) were concerned with their body weight more than boys (36.1%) (Zullig et al., 2006). Girls that were largely concerned about their body weight found the need to skip their breakfast. Breakfast represented an important contribution for the adolescents’ dietary intake of calcium. This problem was addressed by school’s efforts to provide breakfast meals at schools. However, even when breakfast was served in the campuses, adolescents still chose to skip them because of their weight issues.

Same Sex Peers: Communication and Influence

            Different studies reflected the role of sociocultural influences in the formation of body image concerns (Murnen et al., 2003; Blaine & Williams, 2004). While mothers served as role models and social reinforcers of girls body attitudes, studies also reflected the impact of same sex friends’ suggestions, encouragements and criticisms that determined the level of body satisfaction among girls (Ricciardelli & Macabe, 2001). On the other hand, boys were observed to be less affected by sociocultural influences. In the same way that they were not affected by parents’ encouragement to lose weight, they were also not affected in a considerable manner by peers’ perception of their weight.

            Nevertheless, research still showed how individuals’ contextual features such as same-sex relationships, individual attributes such as gender influenced one’s interpretation of their situation (Pickard & Strough, 2003). They usually defined themselves within the context of masculinity or femininity. Men and women changed their behavior according to the social context. Individuals express their masculinity or femininity according to the expectations of the people that were around them.

            Research also verified how males and females, especially adolescents, to engage in social comparison to peers and models to define attractiveness (Jones, 2001). Comparisons to peers were usually connected to negative body image, more for girls than for boys. Girls were often observed to compare themselves to their other girl friends. The standard would still be what the media had presented and the comparison would be based on which girl had a body that was nearest to culture’ standard for thinness. Most of the time, girls were also seen to communicate prejudice against girls that did not meet the standards of beauty, even at such a young age (Jones, 2001).

            Adolescents were susceptible to the most peer pressure when it came to achieving the ideal body image. Research showed how they adolescents reported discussing weight control measures with their peers (Phares et al., 2004). Girls also reported how they perceived their peers to be a major source for weight control and dieting. Adolescent girls carried more worries that were related to their weight, figure and popularity with their peers.

            Negative verbal comments that were made by their peers could impact the body image satisfaction of an individual, especially for female peers (Phares et al., 2004). Teasing was a strong factor for the development of eating disorders and weight concerns. It was also considered as a significant predictor for overall  body dissatisfaction. Women also had the tendency of competing with other women when it came to their physical appearances (Hoyt & Kogan, 2001). This could be widely related to the fact that women were culturally valued for their physical appearances more than anything else.

            While same sex peers influenced body image dissatisfaction in a powerful manner, research showed how parents were stronger indicators for individual self-esteem and self-concept (Ricciardelli & Macabe, 2001). Even when peers teased and criticized each other regarding their physical appearances, individuals that were grounded and trained to value themselves based on factors that were more than physical appearances would be able to get past the threats to body dissatisfaction and the dangers that were related to it.

Summary

            This chapter presented the discussion of how body image ideals were created and communicated to men and women. There were different predictors and factors for body satisfaction that were exhibited in this section. There was a focus on the influence of media and Hollywood in the manner by which they communicated the standard for beauty and attractiveness with thinness and muscularity for women and men, respectively.  It also included the role of culture in the manner by which it formed the mindsets that regarded physical appearance to account for the individual’s value in society. Fashion was also an industry that played a powerful role in the formation of body image. It included the influence of fashion in the formation of the picture of ideal body images. There were also different perceptions of weight that were presented from male and female perspectives. The discussion ended with an analysis of the impact of same sex peer communication and influence on the promotion of an ideal body image.

References

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