We all have a certain way of viewing ourselves. Sometimes it is positive, and sometimes we are pretty hard on ourselves. So, what influences our perceptions of ourselves?
This is the question that we dealt with last week in one of my communication classes. It was a very interesting topic, so I thought that I’d share my most recent paper on it with you all!
If you have the time, skim this article (it’s the one that we read in class): Elastic Body Image
If you don’t have that kind of time, then you can skip straight to my paper. Enjoy!
Three people are sitting at a table smoking: a fit boy from Bosnia, an incredibly slim woman from the Philippines, and a slightly overweight woman from America. They are three amazingly different people with one thing in common: where they are from, their body image is not acceptable. The boy is not skinny enough, the woman is too slim, and the other woman is not skin and bones enough to fit her country’s “ideal” fantasy. As they look at each other, each of them envies the other’s body type, and cannot understand why the other people are unhappy with the way they look. This is the sort of observation that interested Myers and Biocca, and led them to conduct a study on media’s influence on young American women and their perception of their body image. What they concluded is that women hold three different images in their heads; the socially acceptable body, how they perceive their own body, and what their body really looks like (115). In order to understand why this is, Myers and Biocca evaluate the persuasive techniques of television advertisements to discover why women deal with this “elastic body image” (108).
The first thing that Myers and Biocca noted was that women are convinced when they look in a mirror that they are fat, and that this repulses them (109). Wood defines this phenomenon as a facet of nonverbal communication, stating that “based on physical qualities, we may make inferences about others’ personalities” (100). She deduces from this observation that people try to alter their physical appearance to fit an accepted “norm”; wearing contacts instead of glasses, coloring their hair, wearing makeup, and constantly dieting (101). This repulsion, however, is mostly a European/American construct. In other cultures, a larger figure represents wealth and beauty (100). Thus, the question must arise as to why American women are attracted to a slim body image and repulsed by a larger one.
The simplest answer can be found, as Myers and Biocca discovered, in advertising. For example, women want to be sexually attractive. If the models and actresses that advertisements show as desirable to men are super-slim, then women will create a subliminal observation that to be desired, they must be thin (Larson 407). Unfortunately for the average woman, “thin” will never seem thin enough. Every year the average weight of actresses and models drops (Myers & Biocca 113); women can never keep up. At the same time, scriptwriters and advertisers create a conundrum by creating what I call the “Gilmore Girls” effect. In the show Gilmore Girls, the two main female characters were always eating, consistently refused to do any sort of exercise, and yet somehow managed to get slimmer with every passing season. It is impossible to live their life and look as great as they do, a ploy used by television producers that is unfair to women.
The most interesting part of the study was the overall result observed by Myers and Biocca. After subjecting each woman in the study to a series of advertisements specially picked for their portrayal of women’s bodies, the women overwhelmingly portrayed their body as slimmer than they had before the study (127). The best conclusion that made is that this idealizing gave women hope that they may one day look as great as the women portraying the perfection in body image (127). Women like to conceptualize and idealize; if they see that someone has attained so-called “perfection”, then there is still hope that they may attain it as well.
Christian women know from reading the Bible that “charm is deceitful and beauty vain, but a woman who fears God is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30). They know that the “hidden man of the heart”(1Pet. 3:4) is more important to God than any physical beauty. However, the impact that society has on our minds is clearly seen in Myers’ and Biocca’s study. The persuasive techniques at play here are subliminal, entering the subconscious without any cognitive recognition from the rational part of the brain (Larson 407). As a result, womens’ physical perceptions of themselves and others are skewed, thus their eternal struggle with diets, makeovers, and reinventions. It is time for society to stop demanding an ever decreasing waistline from women, and to start focusing on things of more worth than physical appearance.