Mass Media and Female Body Image During Research Paper

Download this Research Paper in word format (.doc)

Note: Sample below may appear distorted but all corresponding word document files contain proper formatting

Excerpt from Research Paper:

Mass Media and Female Body Image

During the last two centuries, there has been an unprecedented transformation of the role of females in modern society. Females are being increasingly perceived as empowered agents of their own destiny instead of helpless, docile women. However, the legacy of females as passive objects of male desire casts a giant shadow on the female psyche and female self-confidence. Thesis: Cultural influences such as mass media exert such a harmful influence on female body image because standardized ideals of female beauty harm the ability of individual females to find a suitable male mate and reproduce, thereby threatening the fundamental biological impulse for females to settle down and start a family.

Cultural Factors in Shaping the "Ideal Body"

An Ancient Form of Mass Media: Greek Sculpture

The very first influences on society's understanding of the body came through, as they do now, media. The form of media then were sculptures and paintings depicting Gods and other famous figures. The Greek statues were particularly influential because Greek Gods, having created humans in their own likeness, were therein depicted in the likeness of humans. They were, however, not supposed to resemble any old human, but rather a remarkable one.

Because the Gods were understood to be the personification of certain traits themselves, such as beauty, martial prowess, wisdom, or art, Greek sculptors strove to depict perfection of the human form, the most perfect, ideal human form for each God. They began with the fanciful, yet poorly detailed descriptions of each Gods found in old myths and poems. To fill in the details, the sculptors had to employ their imaginations, asking themselves what a perfectly beautiful or wise person would look like.

In doing filling in the innumerable subtle details constituting perfection, sculptors naturally drew on experiences and memories from the own lives in the human world. The Greek Apollo, for instance, was said to embody the ideal of the beautiful Greek youth, the "Kouros." Statues of Apollo attempted to depict the "Kouros" ideal through Apollo's muscular, v-shaped torso and the face's confident, serene countenance. Meanwhile, Aphrodite, the embodiment of female beauty and love, was depicted as a partially draped woman raising her robe to expose her large breasts, wide hips and plump buttocks.

The Greek notions of the ideal human body were to persist well into and past the medieval ages into the Age of Enlightenment and beyond. Curvy, buxom figures were to populate the large majority of Renaissance portraits and frescoes depicting beautiful women. The most common exceptions were the Renaissance-era portraits of actual historical figures, meant to be give the most accurate and realistic representations of the subjects, which sometimes revealed that some prominent women failed to meet the standard of the buxom beauty, appearing rather frail instead. Thus, even when thin was not in, reality did not always match up with the ideal.

Biological Factors

Although cultural influences play a large role in shaping a society's ideal of beauty, it is not the only factor at work. There are also more biological, universal factors that shape what we consider to be attractive. It is widely assumed that ideals of beauty are not universal and vary from society to society and era to era. However, recent studies suggest that people everywhere regardless of race, class or age share a common sense of what's attractive in other human beings. A clear and rosy complexion, for instance, is considered desirable in any society because it is an indicator of health.

A human being's views regarding the beauty and desirability of a particular body type is informed by a most fundamental biological issue, reproductive fitness. People, as well as animals, select mates based on their evolutionary fitness, their likelihood of surviving in their environment and reproducing offspring which will inherit fitness-promoting traits. The value placed on reproductive fitness has led human beings in all primitive societies to desire tall, muscular male physiques that can help fend off hostile competitors and buxom female physiques with wide hips to bear children and plump breasts and buttocks to store food.

Some people may even be genetically predisposed to preferring thinness in the female body. A recent study of identical twins separated at birth found that such twins gave strikingly similar responses regarding the ideal female body type. Some pairs preferred the thin ideal, while others preferred more buxom or athletic physiques. These findings suggest that there may be genetic determinants involved in the formation of one's idea of beauty which may supersede environmental or cultural determinants. Although the nature of these genetic determinants are still unclear, one expert has theorized that genes determine one's idea of beauty by making some women more sensitive to thinness-promoting environmental cues.

Throughout history, a small waist-to-hip ratio has been equated in the mind with good health and high fertility. Because female hips store varying amounts of fat during different stages of life while the female waist stays relatively constant, the hip-waist ratio indicates how much fat the women has stored. The distribution of fat stores in the hip and thigh areas are predictors of fertility and reproductive health. A "perfect" ratio of 0.7 sends a biological signal to men that that woman is most fertile and most likely to produce a healthy offspring, no matter what size that woman is.

Modern Western Society's Unique Preference for Thin Female Bodies

Up until the end of the Victorian era, the ideal body type for women was plump and full-figured.

Although the industrialization of Western Society was already underway during the Victorian period, women were still relegated to the household with occasional trips out on the town. Thus, Victorian notions of beauty were, as in the preceding periods, still driven by the goals of childbirth and child-rearing. However, the image-oriented nature of urban Victorian society also added the goal of looking attractive and presentable in society. Women during the Victorian period wore restrictive corsets in order to make their waists look artificially tiny while accentuating the hips and buttocks.

It was only in the 20th Century that slimness started to become fashionable. Industrial Capitalist society provided unprecedented amounts of leisure time for the well-to-do to enjoy. This leisure class chose to spend this newfound time in physically active pursuits such as tennis, golf, ballroom dancing, and hiking. The inclusion of leisure class women into these traditionally male-dominated activities presented women with a more active lifestyle to maintain. This shift to an active lifestyle caused society to value energy and vitality in females, causing society to prefer a lean, fit female who can keep up with an active social schedule. Plumpness was not only seen as excess fat to carry around but also as a sign of self-indulgence and sloth.

Though thinness came into fashion during the 1920's because of its helpful function in an active lifestyle, thinness would later come to be admired for the sake of form itself. During the 1960's, a teenage fashion model from London named Twiggy caught the imaginations of the Western world with her cute, slender, and almost boyish physique. Twiggy's figure was more suited to the sleek, modern fashions that emerged in the 1960's.

Thus, it was through fashion publications that the thin-ideal of beauty was propagated and reinforced.

Even publications which had nothing to do with fashion championed the thin ideal as the modern standard of beauty for the modern woman. For example, Playboy Magazine, a "lifestyle" magazine aimed at men which featured sexually suggestive photos of scantily-clad women, adopted the slim look coming down from the field of fully-clothed fashion. Playboy magazine, which had, since its founding in 1953, featured highly sensual, buxom physiques for their sex appeal, began to feature younger and thinner models in its publications during the early 1960's as it began to sell a lifestyle instead of just sexual fantasy.

The deep influence of Playboy on the attitudes and psyches of males aged 14 and up cannot be underestimated because it had a significant indirect impact on women's attitudes and psyches. With Playboy Magazine showcasing and partly dictating the women of every man or boy's dreams, women found themselves face-to-face with their ultimate competition.

Publications such as Playboy made life much harder for females in attracting and securing a mate. In the primordial competition between females for the attention and interest of desirable males, the average female was being quickly outgunned. Females did not just have to compete for the attention of target males with the other females in the neighbourhood, they now had to compete for this attention against a neverending stream of playmates and models selected specifically for their beauty and sex appeal.

In the 1980's, the competition became even stiffer because of the emergence of plastic-surgery which could alter the facial features and body shape of females. Now, the average female was competing with carefully selected, surgically enhanced, and paid professionals for the eyes and hearts of most of the heterosexual male population. As a result, an increasing number of women are taking extreme…[continue]

Cite This Research Paper:

"Mass Media And Female Body Image During" (2012, December 13) Retrieved December 4, 2016, from

"Mass Media And Female Body Image During" 13 December 2012. Web.4 December. 2016. <>

"Mass Media And Female Body Image During", 13 December 2012, Accessed.4 December. 2016,

Other Documents Pertaining To This Topic

  • Body Image While Precise Definitions

    As noted above, during the hunter-gatherer phase of mankind, the desirable physical appearance of the male of the species would have been one that contributed to their ability to hunt and kill the large mega-fauna that roamed the land. By contrast, modern males may not be expected to be able to take down a wooly mammoth, but a healthy physique equates to good genes for reproduction and even modern

  • English Literature Thin Is In Culture Mass Media &

    English Literature 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

  • Mass Media on Modern American

    2. Freedman, Jonathan. (2007). "No real evidence for TV violence causing real violence." Retrieved July 7, 2010 from: This source is an Internet editorial article published online on April 27, 2007 by Jonathan Freedman, a Psychology professor and former department chairperson at the University of Toronto. Professor Freedman has taught previously at Stanford University and Columbia University and has chaired the department at the University of Toronto. Professor Freedman's central thesis is his fundamental opposition

  • Media and Eating Disorders Media

    What is even more disturbing is the images of beauty we see of television that are given wide acceptance and are presented as world's idea of a beautiful woman are getting thinner consistently. For example, beauty pageant participants are always thin with not even a single one of them overweight or slightly 'chubby'. Miss America contestants have consistently adhered to media's false image of beauty as they continue to

  • Social Issue of Body Image

    Indeed, if there is only one type of beautiful person, it contributes to increased insecurity in women who happen to be a different shape or size from the "ideal" women perpetuated in the popular culture. According to Dank, Norton, Olds and Olive (1996), there has a lengthy association between dolls and ideal proportions, a relationship going back to Greek times. For example, pre-18th century dolls were manufactured so as to

  • Media Influence on Society in

    Today, the modern media are so thoroughly integrated into our lives that the ubiquitous and instantaneous availability of information means that the media now influence, rather than merely report the news. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the modern media have contributed to the outcome of national elections and they have been substantially responsible for the success of political coupes that toppled dictatorships and

  • Media Violence Social Deviance Media Violence

    In 1999, the average person in England and Wales watched 26 hours of television and listened to 19 hours of radio per week - this amounts to 40% of their waking life, and the figures are higher for youth and in particular working class youth (Young). Not only has the quantity of media usage increased, but the level of violence depicted in the media has increased dramatically, due in part

Read Full Research Paper
Copyright 2016 . All Rights Reserved