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Opinion: Body image and the importance of diverse representation in media

Have you felt insecure about your body image? Well, there have been many times where I have felt insecure about my body image just like many teen girls. We live in a world where social media surrounds us, so we are exposed to new ideas. For as long as I can remember, I have always…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/esmem58/" target="_self">Esmeralda Medina</a>

Esmeralda Medina

May 20, 2021

Have you felt insecure about your body image? Well, there have been many times where I have felt insecure about my body image just like many teen girls. We live in a world where social media surrounds us, so we are exposed to new ideas.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been thin, but it wasn’t a big problem since I was healthy. Until I got comments like “wow you’re so skinny,” these comments came from family members that hadn’t seen me for a long time.

More comments came from people commenting on my appearance, although I think comments were made with pure intentions and could have served as compliments; it didn’t feel like a compliment to me, and I should have spoken up at the time.

On social media things only made me feel worse, being too skinny was considered ugly, but not being thin enough was considered “fat.” All of the ideas and the colonized beauty standards that the media portrays only make teen girls feel insecure about their image.

Things have only worsened, I was on Instagram when I came across a video of a girl doing a TikTok dance, I thought she did a good job, but the comments only mentioned her appearance these comments included: “why is she trying to act cute when she looks fat” and “why does she look like that.”

Although there were people who defended her I can’t imagine what seeing these comments could have done to her confidence. Over time I’ve learned to stop caring about what other people think, but I still think it is important to raise awareness on this issue because not everyone can ignore the opinions of others. We need to show our support and destroy the beauty standards and the colonized beauty standard that the media portrays. 

What are colonized beauty standards? Why does it still exist? Colonized beauty standards are the idea that being white is beautiful. It’s the idea that having European features is more attractive, this includes whiteness (lighter skin), straight hair, blonde, blue eyes and thinness. If you didn’t fit this category then you weren’t beautiful by these standards.

Movements have slowly changed the beauty standards, but there is still a long way to go, and unfortunately, they still exist because of what the media portrays. Western beauty standards can be traced back 2,400 years ago to Greece and Rome, according to a 1987 Washington Post article.

Until 1940, women of color could enter the Miss American Pageant — before then, it was only for white women, according to NPRIn the 1960s and 70s, the Black is Beautiful movement hoped to broaden Black Power and civil rights movements. The movement hoped to embrace the political power behind the idea that Black is beautiful the contrary to what colonial standards held. 

Everyone should feel comfortable and confident in their own body, right? That is what I believe, but unfortunately, not everyone can do this.

Many feel they have to change the way they look, their size, and their fashion sense to fit into the right “model” that society has created. Why should we have to feel inferior just because we don’t look “thin” enough, “tall” and as “sculpted” as others? Why is it that we feel the need to change? Teen girls need to stop comparing themselves to colonized beauty standards because it is depressing to feel inferior, colonized beauty standards increase racism, and we live in a diverse country and the beauty standards don’t reflect diversity.

Considering the beauty standards that the media portrays many feel it’s depressing to feel inferior when they compare themselves to the idealized body most don’t have.

According to “The Link Between Social Media and Body Image” by King University, “The survey included 1,000 men and women focused on their body image, confidence, and the media. It found that 87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to images they consume on social and traditional media. In that comparison, a stunning 50% of women and 37% of men compare their bodies unfavorably.”

In this research, it’s stunning to see how out of the 87% of women who compare themselves to images the media portrays, 50% compare their bodies unfavorably, and this also applies to the men. Which further provokes feelings of inferiority with those you see on the media.

According to Heather R. Gallivan, PsyD, LP of the Park Nicollet Melrose Center, “TV commercials, programming, and movies almost exclusively feature thin, healthy-looking people. Women’s magazines have about 10 times the content related to dieting and weight loss than men’s magazines. A study conducted in Australia found that seeing thin models on TV and in magazines made girls feel that they weren’t good enough, pretty enough, or thin enough. They reported a great deal of pressure to be thin from the media.”

The article by Gallivan demonstrates how feeling inferior and less than someone based on appearance can lead someone to try and change to fit into these standards. The media which most teenage girls are exposed to make one feel inferior to those they see in the media because they don’t look like them, it’s depressing causing them to change when they shouldn’t have to. 

A major problem of beauty standards is colonized beauty standards which increase racism, there is little diversity.

In the NPR article “Is Beauty in the Eyes of the Colonizer?” Leah Donnella says, “To begin with, a lot of current Western beauty standards celebrate whiteness — not some objective, biological, evolutionary thing, but literally just being a white person. In fact, if you go back and look at the work of some early racial theorists — people like Christoph Meiners and Johann Blumenbach — they defined the category of ‘white,’ or ‘Caucasian,’ as being the most beautiful of the races.

So any other race isn’t beautiful in the eyes of the western beauty standard? This continuous cycle of portraying colonized beauty standards only increases racism, many compare themselves and keep this idea in mind when they classify something as beautiful.

That association between beauty and whiteness has proved hard to shake,” Leah Donnella says on NPR. “There’s a reason that so many people still think of an ‘all-American beauty’ as a thin, blonde, blue-eyed white woman.”

These ideas of white being beautiful go back a long time ago but are still persistent within society. Many women of color are being pushed down by what society still identifies as beautiful which only increases racism and conflicts between different racial groups.

The colonized beauty standards need to change and become more accepting of different races to make everyone feel welcome along with beautiful, especially for teen girls who are still learning about the world. 

Teen girls also need to stop comparing themselves to colonized beauty standards because we live in a diverse country and the beauty standards don’t reflect diversity.

According to research by Essence magazine’s Smart Beauty Panel in 2009, Black women spend $7.5 billion on beauty products yearly — 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skincare compared to other non-Black consumers.

“The main group purchasing these products have little specifically created for them,” Sydney Palmer wrote in a 2018 VOXATL article. “We can’t even see people who look like us advertising the products we are buying!”

Palmer makes a good point — Black women who purchase more cosmetic products are limited to the choice they have because our country doesn’t reflect the diversity in the beauty industry. They produce more products for the white women who use the products less.

Teen girls should feel they have the same choices as any other person when they decide on what products to use. If they keep comparing themselves to the colonized beauty standards which don’t reflect the diversity we do have in the country they will feel they, their color, and how they look isn’t right.

For VOXATL, Palmer wrote, “Even though we have been making progress in on-screen depictions of different cultures, it doesn’t help if we are not seeing them for more than 10 seconds at a time. Many companies still hold onto the generic beauty standards that society created many years ago.”

We have different cultures, different people, and different races but very little is portrayed in the media, which just proves that beauty standards don’t reflect diversity even though it exists.

Companies are still stuck in the old ways of thinking, not providing the diversity everyone along with teen girls need. More diversity is needed in the media since we are such a diverse country. 

Despite what many may think about social media and its effects, body positivity has increased because of social media.

According to “The Link Between Social Media and Body Image” by King University, “They said the landscape of body positivity on the internet has created a more understanding and inclusive space for all body types. As a result, body image advocacy on social media can make a huge impact on individuals actively struggling with eating disorders.”

Social media has positive effects on teen girls, it increases body positivity by accepting different body shapes. Those who suffer from eating disorders can slowly accept themselves thanks to what social media portrays.

The King University study found that “brief exposure to body-positive Instagram posts resulted in improved body image and mood in young women, compared to idealized and appearance-neutral posts.”

Instagram along with other social media platforms provide an inclusive environment for women and young girls so they can accept their body. By being exposed to these platforms social media has positive effects. 

Of course, there are positives and negatives to social media just like any other platform, but overall social media has more negative effects on body image.

A study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that “approximately 40% of 9 and 10-year-old girls are already trying to lose weight. This is largely a consequence of how the media, in general, has painted a picture of the ‘ideal’ body type: tall, stick-thin women who have very few curves.”

Nine and 10-year-olds are trying to lose weight? When we think about it, that’s a very young age, and these girls should be focussing on having fun and being happy.

The media has created this ideal image in which these young girls are trying to fit into, which is very concerning and proves the dismissive effects that the media has on beauty standards. ‘

The study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states, “Media portrayal of the ‘ideal’ body type has led to a rise in eating disorders, especially in young girls and women. In fact, NHS Digital released data in 2018 that showed the number of hospital admissions due to eating disorders had doubled in six years, with 16,000 people admitted for some type of eating disorder in the United Kingdom over that time period. This body dissatisfaction can affect other areas of your mental health as well, leading to lower self-esteem and even depression.”

Mental Health? Yes, mental health is heavily affected by the media, and the ideas it portrays. More and more cases have been reported of eating disorders that were influenced by the media’s “ideal” body portrayal which has affected mental health. This is why the media has more negative effects; one feels it is necessary to look like those in the media or we aren’t beautiful.

People, including teen girls, because of social media pull away from their original self, trying to fit into this mold. No one especially, these girls who are so vulnerable and are barely learning to value themselves, should feel inferior because they do not look a certain way according to the media. 

Overall social media has different effects, both positive and negative. Those who haven’t been affected negatively will say it has more positive effects than those who have been affected negatively.

Still, one thing is for certain the beauty standards in the media are very poorly portrayed. They lack diversity even though our country is one of the most diverse, racism has increased because of it, and it makes many teen girls along with others feel inferior.

This is why beauty standards and the colonized standards need to disappear for the better of everyone. Every shape, size, race, gender, age, and the list goes on should be accepted. No one should feel ashamed as to how they look.