In the world today, images of beauty are everywhere you turn. Pictures of muscular macho males and thin beautiful females fill magazines, television and the music business. Women go through diets faster than they go through socks. Men are at the gym, striving for that toned body they think is the answer to all their problems. But why? How did so many people become obsessed with this supreme image?
Ever since civilizations were around there were different ideas of beauty. Historical research has uncovered ancient Egyptian formulae for things such as the removal of stretch marks, reduction of wrinkling, and diminishing of scarring. Art in Ancient Egypt illustrated men as broad shouldered and muscular while women were showed as having round busts and small waists (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). In China, a beautiful women would have what was called a "Three-inch golden lotus".
From around 950-1912 A.D., women in China practiced something called foot binding. At age three Chinese girls' feet were wrapped with long strips of cloth beginning at the foot (Ling & Stone). By age five all the toes on the foot would be broken except the big toe, and the two first years of the binding were filled with excruciating pain. The bones in the feet never healed, and after a few years women had trouble walking (Ling & Stone). In England in the 1700's, hoop petticoats were popular with actresses. These were calf-length underskirts made in starched cloth.
Actresses wore them to fill out their skirts and make their waists appear smaller. Surprisingly, corsets have been worn since the Minoans and fashionable women of Tiryns and Thebes. The function of the corsets was to accentuate a slim waist and bare breasts, and to hold the skirt flat around the hips (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). Completely different from the curves of the nineteenth century was the straight silhouette of the 1920's. Some women bound their breasts or wore special corsets to flatten their chests because in this era a flat chest was something to be proud of. Fashion designer, Paul Poiret, developed the famous "flapper" look, which exposed the arms and the legs.
This style had very much in common with that of French prostitutes who had provided company for many American doughboy's during World War I. The Flapper wore her hair cut short, or bobbed, and wore more make-up than women had ever worn before in Western Culture (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). The 1950's was the era of Marilyn Monroe. Large busts, long legs and curvy figures were considered beautiful. In a little over a decade, a large change occurred. In 1967 London's Carn aby Street arrived upon the US fashion scene with the arrival of, Twiggy, the British fashion model. True to her name, Twiggy weighed ninety one pounds on a five foot seven frame (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty).
This new image caused a tremendous transformation in the fashion world. Things got so out of hand that in 1968 there were riots in Chicago at the Democratic Convention, there was near revolution in Paris and feminists burnt bras, make up and high heels to protest the Miss America Beauty Pageant (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). In 1984, designers realized their clothes no longer fit the public. Normal women wore around a size 24. Reformations were made and the clothing was once again "normal". Throughout the 70's and 80's body images fell into the 'toned look'.
Exercise tapes promoting fitness were everywhere, and today it is much the same. In 1992 Working Woman magazine reported that 65 million Americans were on a diet (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). Today being a teen girl is perhaps harder than it has ever been. The media pushes a false female image upon us everywhere we go, and it is progressively getting worse. For instance, pageant winners such as Miss America and Miss Universe have gotten taller and slimmer over the years. In 1951, Miss Sweden was five feet seven inches tall and weighed one hundred and fifty one pounds.
1983's Miss Sweden was five feet nine inches tall and weighed one hundred and nine pounds (Pipher, Mary Ph. D, 56). A generation ago, the average model weighed eight percent less than the average woman. Today, she weighs twenty three percent less (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). We know this, and yet it continues. Children are brainwashed at an early age to think the tall and thin look is natural and normal. Take for example, the Barbie doll.
A perfect doll with a large bust, small waist, and long legs. Lets not forget the long flowing hair. Now in real life, she would actually have to crawl to support her top-heavy frame. If Barbie had a thirty four inch hip measurement, she would be almost seven feet tall (Beauty Worlds: The Culture of Beauty). According to Liz Dittrich, Ph. D., "90% of all girls ages 3-11 have a Barbie doll, an early role model with a figure that is unattainable in real life". Media gets at us more than we know through advertising.
The average person sees up to four hundred to six hundred ads per day, and one in every eleven commercials have a direct message about looks and beauty. Unfortunately, thinness has not only come to represent attractiveness, but also to symbolize success, self-control and higher socioeconomic status (Liz Dittrich, Ph. D. ). Market data Enterprises, Inc. estimated the size of the weight loss industry for 1994 at $32,680 billion. Research shows that though men are conscience about their body images, women are more concerned with how close they are to the 'ideal'. Glamour Magazine conducted a poll that found that 75% of women thought they were "too fat" in the year 1984. The sad thing is that these images are not only affecting the adult women in our society, but the teens and 'tweens' of our culture.
Tweens are girls and boys from the ages of around nine to fourteen who are not yet considered adolescents. In a study of almost five hundred school children, eighty one percent of the ten-year-girls reported that they had dieted at least once. A study by the American Association of University Women also showed that these negative body images were associated with suicide risks for girls. Because they are so desperate to become slender, girls take desperate measure that could affect them the rest of their lives. According to Frances Berg, editor and publisher of the Healthy Weight Journal, smoking is a common weight loss tool among many women.
Forty to fifty percent of female smokers smoke because they see it as a way to control their weight. Of these women, twenty five will die from a disease caused by smoking (Liz Dittrich, Ph. D. ). Other women go about weight loss in a different way. Eating Disorders are one of the key health issues facing females today. Not only do Eating Disorders have numerous physical, psychological and social consequences, such as significant weight preoccupation, inappropriate eating behavior, and body image distortion, but they can lead to other health risk behaviors including tobacco use, alcohol use, marijuana use, delinquency, unprotected sexual activity, and suicide attempts (Eating Disorders). People who have Eating Disorders experience clinical depression, personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, as well as low self-esteem.
They are also at a higher risk for problems such as osteoporosis and heart failure during the illness and in later life. Victims diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa may diet, fast, or over exercise (Eating Disorders). They sometimes take part in actions such as self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. People with this disease, and it is a disease, often think that they are fat or overweight even when they are extremely thin (Eating Disorders).
Individuals suffering from Bulimia Nervosa consume large amounts of food and then take measures to rid the body of it. This process is called "Binging and Purging". When the patient vomits, he looses essential vitamins and potassium. The acid from the stomach of the victim can cause inflammation of the esophagus and erosion of tooth enamel. This disorder puts patients at a higher risk for cardiac arrest (Eating Disorders). Other disorders include Binge Eating Disorder, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (E.D.N.O.S. ).
Presently there is no treatment for any of these illnesses. In an ideal world, work with nutritionists, mental health professionals, endocrinologists and other physicians would solve all the problems patients have, but it doesn't always work out that way. Other therapeutic systems included anti-depressants, other drugs, and Self-esteem enhancement and assertiveness training (Eating Disorders). According to Michael Woo-Ming M.D., MPH, there are almost twenty thousand tanning salons across the United States today that are visited by more than a million people each and every day. Salons tell us that the UVA light used in tanning beds is safer than the UVB rays, but that might not be entirely true. In addition, the UVA lights found in salons are two to three times stronger than those found in the sun.
There is also a strong link between UVA radiation and malignant melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer. In spite of what you might think, there is no such thing as a 'base tan' to keep you from getting burned, and researchers say that twenty minutes in a tanning bed are equivalent to a day at the beach (Michael Woo-Ming M.D., MPH). People who believe in such a thing as a 'healthy tan' are dead wrong. More than one point three million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year (The Darker Side of Tanning).
Seven thousand three hundred deaths are being anticipated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The warnings are everywhere, but people don't listen. They keep trudging on toward that beautiful thin bronzed body that everyone says is the meaning of perfection and happiness. Another dangerous practice women in the twenty first century are taking part in is Cosmetic Surgery.
Last year Botox Injections ranked highest percentage-wise of all cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedures. Around 1,600,300 people across the United States had the injection in the year 2001. Eighty six percent of these people were women (American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery). According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there were nearly eight point five million surgical and non-surgical procedures preformed in the year 2001 alone, and eighty eight percent of these were done to women.
Lipoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast augmentation, nose reshaping and facelifts were the top five surgical procedures last year (American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery). The top five non-surgical procedures were outline toxin injection, chemical peel, collagen injection, microdermabrasion, and laser hair removal (American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery). Steps are being taken against these unhealthy images and ideas thrown at the females in our world. Organizations are formed to help girls realize that they are beautiful because they are themselves. These organizations show them that looks are not everything no matter what everyone else says.
One of these organizations is called Girls Incorporated. This society is a nation non-profit youth organization dedicated to inspiring girls to be smart, strong and bold (Girls Incorporated). The Office on Women's Health is sponsoring "Body wise", an educational campaign on Eating Disorders. The goal is to educate the public on Eating Disorders: their signs and symptoms, steps to take, and ways to promote healthy eating and self confidence (Eating Disorders).
The Office on Women's Health also sponsors the National Women's Health Information Center. This center is a gateway to Federal and private sector information resources on women's health issues such as eating disorders, body image, and nutrition (Eating Disorders). The Office on Women's Health also sponsors the "Girl Power!" campaign which supplies positive messages, accurate health information and support for girls ages nine to fourteen (Eating Disorders). In addition to these programs, there are many books written for teens to read about Body Image and the World Today. Some of these books are: Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, Ph. D., The Body Burden: Living in the Shadow of Barbie by Stacey Handler, Am I Think Enough Yet? : The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity by Sharlene Hesse-B iber, and Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty by Nancy Etc off.
These books take a serious look at the problems brewing among our teens and struggle to find ways to cope and deal with these troubles. There have always been different ideas of beauty in our world. Some harmless, some devastating. The public today is literally obsessed with being thin and there is no end in sight. Mary Pipher says in her novel Reviving Ophelia, "I often use the North Star as a metaphor. I tell clients 'You are in a boat that is being tossed around by the winds of the world.
The voices of your parents, your teachers, your friends, and the media can blow you east, then west, then back again. To stay on course you must follow your own north star, your sense of who you truly are. Only by orienting north can you keep from being blown all over the sea. ' " Girls need to learn that what people tell us is right, is not always the correct answer. Until then, their sense of self will only be a reflection of someone else. We will be living in a world of clones, in which there is no change, no variety, no creativity, and no happiness.