The media's influence in western culture is pervasive. Through magazines, television and print ads such as billboards, advertisers have consistently adopted gender stereotypes in terms of body image, and use these stereotypes to sell their products. Although it is certainly no secret that the stereotypical womanly ideal is slender to the point of unhealthy, the body image presented as the male ideal is similarly unrealistic. Men are consistently presented an overly muscular, perfectly lean physique as the stereotypical ideal to which they must aspire. In considering the effects of such unrealistic stereotypical ideals, it is important to consider just what the ideals presented are, before one discusses the effects they have. Finally, it is an interesting extension of the issue to look at the effects of the female stereotype on men and vice versa.
The primary factor that typifies female stereotypes in the media is thinness. The female ideal presented through advertising (and other media, such as the celebrity ideal) is consistently thin. This stereotype has been evolving over the decades. The ideal presented by the media to women forty or fifty years ago was not such an extreme one. Women in advertising, and women celebrities were more voluptuous. Just what is the female ideal presented by advertisers to women today?
1999 study into advertising stereotypes and women's weight found that 94% of magazine covers showed a woman who represented the ideal of overly thin. "A strong emphasis has been placed on the bodily appearance of women that equates a thin body to beauty, sexuality, and social status." (Malkin, Wornian & Chrisler, 1999). Given that the image presented appears so consistently (94% of covers) we can conclude that this is the stereotypical ideal female, as presented to women magazine readers.
The ideal of thinness for women has evolved over the decades. Instead of evolving in line with demographics (woman are getting heavier), the ideal stereotype presented is actually becoming more slender. Over the last 30 years, the weight of models (whose entire job rests upon the stereotype of the ideal female) has decreased by 23%. The average woman in this time, has seen her weight increase by 15%. (http://web4health.info/en/answers/ed-treat-weight-goal.htm).Models themselves have weights that are greatly below that which corresponds to a healthy ideal. "The majority of models have a weight and a BMI from 15 to 23% below the average of women of the same age." (http://web4health.info/en/answers/ed-treat-weight-goal.htm).
An analysis of advertising over the course of the twentieth century reveals the trend toward a thinner stereotype.
At the turn of the century, and attractive woman was voluptuous and heavy; by the "flapper" period of the 1920s, the correct look for women was rail-thin and flat chested. The ideal body type changed again in the 1940s, when Second World War "pinup girls," such as Betty Grable, exemplified a heavier standard...British model Twiggy, introduced a very thin silhouette again. This extrememly thin standard of feminine physical attractiveness continues to this day. (Aronson et al., 2004, p284).
Aronson (2004) also notes a possible reason for the extremely thin female stereotype that dominates the media in western cultures. A study done in 1992 has found a strong correlation between the reliability of the food supply, and the female stereotypical ideal that dominates that culture. In parts of the world with an insecure food supply, a heavier, more volumptuous female ideal predominates. In countries where the food supply is never in question, the extremely thin stereotype is mostly seen.
The image that is often used to represent the stereotypical ideal female, is that of the Barbie doll. Introduced in the 1950s, Barbie has, for half a century, been the object of adulation and contempt alike. Alternately heralded as presenting the ideal female type, and derided as promoting an unhealthy body image, the Barbie doll has a history of polarizing opinion. "As the ideal western woman with long legs and arms, a small waist, and high round chest, Barbie represented every little girl's dream of the perfect mature body." (http://honors.umd.edu/HONR269J/projects/wolf.html).
The effects of this representation of the stereotypical ideal female have been varied and far-reaching. Much research has gone into the examination of self-esteem as it results to the inability to measure up to the ideal female form. Adolescents and women who read magazines that feature this female ideal often have lower…