Age of the selfie: Our grotesque obsession with beauty
Never before has there been a time where body image has become such a big part of our every day lives. This high concern for our appearance is quite normal and as shown below, being attractive has its advantages in our society today:
- Being beautiful is a good stereotype. A deep seated irrational belief that those that are more attractive have more desirable characteristics, which include intelligence, social skills, competence, confidence and even moral virtue. (You can liken this to a beautiful princess and an ugly stepmother.
- Partiality for beauty functions in most social situations. Experiments show we always react more favourably to physically attractive people.
- In a 'court' situation, the more attractive people found to be guilty less and also sentenced to shorter prison terms.
- This can also be said of people going after jobs and receiving higher salaries.
- At school the more attractive children receive more attention from both teachers and pupils. They also receive higher evaluations and have higher expectations than that of their counter parts, this has been shown to improve performance.
Physical attractiveness has been held with high regard for hundreds of years.
Modern western culture has been obsessed with this oddity in every period of history. The standards of physical attributes have been distinct throughout history, whether it be the corsets of the 19th century right up the present day of diet and exercise to get us into the ideal body shape.
We may resemble our ancestors and other cultures in appearance, the intensity of our concern is heightened thanks to advances in technology, and the rise of mass media. This has turned our normal concern about what we look like into an obsession:
- The standard of beauty for women has become harder to attain due to the current ideal of thinness. This is only achievable to only 5% of the female population.
- Billboards, TV and magazines not to mention images flashing up on our tablets, PCs and mobile phones mean we see beautiful people 24/7. Often more than our own family members. This makes us think that looking good is more attainable.
- Our standards of beauty have become rigid and uniformed all thanks to the media.
Of course being very attractive has its own problems. The pressure of maintaining image becomes greater, self esteem can be low because they don't see any merit in their own talents, mostly believing that positive evaluations are largely influenced by looks.
Image and response
What people see in the mirror varies according to: their age; sex; species; or what they've been watching on television and magazines they've read; their childhood; whether they take part in a sport; the phase of their menstrual cycle; if they're pregnant; or have been shopping and even what they may have been watching.
Research shows women are highly critical of their appearance, and less likely to appreciate what they see in the mirror, half may be dissatisfied and see a distorted image.
Men on the other hand are more satisfied with what they see. They are generally more positive about their body image than women. They can often over estimate how attractive they are, some may not even see their own flaws.
Women are super critical because they're judged more on their appearance than men.
Perpetually being bombarded with perfect images of beauty. This is a hundred times and more than their own mothers saw throughout their adolescence.
Unfortunately the standards of beauty have become impossible to achieve.
Most animals looking at a reflection of themselves don't realise its their own reflection. They think its another member of their own species.
Apes are the exception, they are capable of identifying themselves in the mirror.
Women over the age of 18 are 80% more unhappy with their looks. its almost become the norm that women over estimate their own size. Even normal, attractive women with no issues of weight see a distortion in their body image.
For a short time boys go through a period of dissatisfaction. This doesn't last because puberty kicks in bringing them closer to their masculine ideal.
Puberty for girls makes things worse. Physical changes including increased body weight and fat that goes on their hips and thighs takes them further away from the cultural ideal, which is unnatural slimness
Again this starts at a very young age. A human infant recognises its own reflection at the age of 2. A few years later and young females don't like what they see. Some cases show girls as young as 7 years old going on diets because they feel they're unattractive.
Boys are a lot less critical of their appearance. In a recent study, normal weight females were more worried than obese boys of the same age.
Magazines and TV
After reading a magazine people's reactions to their reflection can be warped.
Analysis of body image show that people are more dissatisfied with their appearance after they've watched TV ads that include attractive people in them.
TV programs featuring a more idealized image are more likely to make people feel less positive about their image.
This is the same for reading fashion magazines. Resulting in depression, stress, insecurity, shame, guilt and body dissatisfaction.
State of mind
Studies have shown that people in a bad mood or feeling low experience a higher body dissatisfaction. A lot of these studies were on women who estimate their body size to be larger, as a result of feeling low.
If you were teased as a child because of flaws in your appearance, your body image may have become permanently altered.
People enduring extreme body disturbance don't hug as much, because of trauma from childhood days.
Single or married
People in a long term relationship are more stable and have a more positive body image to their counterpart singles.
Studies have indicated that pregnant females have a more positive body image than non-pregnant women. Any concerns about failing to match the cultural ideal are reduced during pregnancy.
It is most surprising that male body builders experience greater body dissatisfaction, given that their physique is closer in stereotype and the masculine ideal. They are generally viewed as vain, so much so that most suffer from low self-esteem and high perfectionism.
A study in America showed that female body builders, by comparison, have a more positive body image that other females.
In general men and women who participate in sport on a regular basis have a more positive body image than those who don't do any sports or fitness.
Obesity in our culture
Prejudice of those people who are classed as obese (especially women) in our culture, all tend to have a poor body image, along with depression and anxiety. Obese women suffer the worse mental illness compared to chronically ill or severly disabled. In cultures where fat is admired, the opposite happens. Obese people show none of these side effects, which include association of beauty and thinness and social pressure.
Our acceptance of sociocultural standards
A strong minded individual won't internalize society's emphasis on the importance of appearance. They're more likely to have a more positive body image and live a happier life.
© 2016 Helen Bolam
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