Thin-is-in Culture, Mass Media, & Thin Body Ideals
Mass media affects the people who watch it. In the beginnings of mass media, there was no public research about how it affects people. In the late 20th and 21st centuries, there is now substantial research that shows that mass media affects consumers and that there are a variety of affects. Thus, it is not just that mass media affects people, we must consider how mass media affects people. Thin-is-in culture is fairly self explanatory. It is the elements of the culture that represents what is most popular, most trendy, and what is "in," specifically that excessive thinness is the ultimate physical achievement for women. There is a direct relationship or connection between mass media and thin-is-in culture. Mass media is often the vehicle by which thin-is-in culture is transmitted. Mass media is one of the biggest ways that people learn about thin-is-in culture. Mass media shows people what is in a variety of ways. Mass media also affects people deeply. Mass media often makes people feel pressure to participate in thin-is-in culture. The paper will explore the relationship between mass media and thin-is-in culture with respect to images of what the ideal body is for women.
The ideal body type for women, according to mass media and thin-is-in culture is one that is thin. A thin body is the ideal body in western culture right now. What is the ideal changes over time. Right now, in western culture, the ideal is for women to be not just thin, but also underweight. Mass media participates in forcing women to be this ideal, but mass media is not the only place where women feel this pressure. Mass media, instead of being the sole reason or only pressure on women to be thin, is more like an important factor in the social context that overall puts pressure on women to be thin. Park (1995) makes intriguing conclusions based on the changing studies and conclusions regarding how people react to media messages in social isolation. What Parks brings to the discussion that is new and innovative is that social influence comes from a lot of sources and that the social context within which the media messages are received must be included in the current research. He argues that pressure and social influence of the excessively thin ideal come from media and comes from relationships of those who are affected. Parks claims that key relationships to examine with respect to social influence in addition to media are family, friends, peers, and society in general. (1995) The pressure to be excessively thin can be both explicitly communicated and the pressure or influence can be inferred. Social influence to be excessively thin can be felt or perceived whether it exists in a tangible form or not.
Social context is very important when considering thin-is-in culture. Social context is a powerful aspect to finding out what kind of pressure women feel from the mass media to be thin. Parks (1995) explains some of the different ways to think about mass media and social pressure to be thin. There is clear evidence that when people are isolated from their environments. Those affects are different when people are integrated back into their social context. When we consider people, mass media, and social context, the range of affects is different. We see how mass media contributes to the social context, and plays a role in the social influence that individuals feel from others, their environments, and mass media. Mass media plays an important role in social pressure from thin-is-in culture, but it is not the only reason or from the only direction that women feel pressure to be thin to be accepted and beautiful.
If we combine the results from research on media effects and family and peer influence, we can be reasonably certain that both mass media and the people in one's immediate social environment are crucial elements in individuals' body images and attitudes toward eating. Also, because many previous studies have shown that mass media exposure can be nearly ubiquitously harmful to young women, we can safely assume that the actual influence of mass media on individuals and their peers is reasonably consistent. What is missing here is a body of research investigating how women are affected by their perceptions of how others are influenced by the media. (Park, Page 598)
This quote supports the importance of social context and the great extent of media affects. Women are not just affected by the mass media that they see. The people that are around women (other women, men, children) also affect women with respect to body image because the people around women are also affected by mass media. Therefore the affects of mass media upon women are both direct and indirect. They are directly affected when they watch, and they are indirectly affected when they encounter a person around them who has been affected by mass media when they contribute to the social influence or pressure to be thin and be a part of thin-is-in culture. There is pressure to do and look like what is in and there is pressure to be thin. Again, this point demonstrates how mass media is not the most important or most powerful influence on body image, but rather that it is more like the linchpin that connects other important factors, so that they all work together to create an atmosphere where women feel really pressured to be thin.
In a western culture such as American culture, the ideal body types come primarily from European, specifically, Anglo, concepts of beauty. Europeans came to the continent a few hundred years ago. They colonized the Americas with brute force and cruel strategies such as Native American genocide and the enslavement of Africans. Therefore, by the use of force and violence, European and Anglo culture became the standard. This is true is mass media of America right now. In American, mass media, what the Anglo-European/American ideal body type is, is usually what is considered what is now. This does not mean that the ideal body does not change because it does. During the Renaissance period of Europe for example, the ideal body type for women was one that was more plump. The word usually used to describe ideal women from this period is rubenesque. Therefore, it is not that thin-is-in culture stays the same and keeps the same ideals. This is not so. What does stay the same is the power and influence that mass media has upon the viewers. Right now, the western ideal for female bodies is one that is thin. "Women who attain excessive thinness gain social and economic rewards, which reinforces the desire to be thin." (Goodman, Page 713) The American dream is a powerful metaphor for Americans and for immigrants. Part of that American dream includes having an active and exciting social life that can be comfortably afforded because of financial stability or success. Media images of excessive thinness feed into the desire to achieve the American dream.
Society prefers thin females for a variety of reasons. Western societies, ones where the ideal woman is thin, are also patriarchal. This means that these societies are structured such that men have the most power, economically, socially, and otherwise. Thin people are typically much weaker than people at a healthy weight and even slightly overweight people. Of course, excessive weight is just as dangerous as being underweight, as makes people just as immobile as when they are underweight. It is important to mention that the ideal body type for women is not just thinness, but excessive thinness. Imagine if all women were excessively thin. This would not be good for women. They would be incapable of surviving pregnancy and childbirth. Many women and babies would die because female bodies would be too weak to endure the process. When people are excessively thin, they are weak. If all women somehow achieved the ideal body that is presented by mass media and thin-is-in culture, the race of women would be physically very weak. They would not be able to work or be professionals because their bodies could not handle the stress of commuting or handle the physical demands of their work, if they had jobs that involved manual labor. Women would be forced to stay inside, near or in the home.
People, especially men, who prefer women to have traditional roles, would enjoy this reversion back to older times, say in American history. In earlier eras of American history, actually for the duration of American history, women have always has less rights and freedoms than men. Women used to not be able to earn money or have jobs or wear pants, smoke cigarettes or vote. It was only quite recently, like in the last several decades that a lot of progress toward sexual equality has been made. Therefore, putting pressure on women to be excessively thin to the point where they are greatly weakened and…