The Media’s Obsession with Thin

The Impossible Standard of Thinness

The Daily Mail has a propensity of posting photos of celebrities in bikinis accompanied by headlines that are either body shaming the target or glorifying their emaciation. This recent photograph of April Love Geary’s (Robin Thicke’s love interest) emaciated body was glorified on December 30, 2016 by author Becky Freeth. And her caption? “Body beautiful: Never out of a bikini, April has spent a quieter Christmas at home since she returned from Negora Island (pictured) with beau Robin Thicke.” The message is clear: we are to admire Geary’s clearly emaciated body beautiful.

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This used to be the image of a 12 year-old girl, not a young woman. The media’s love affair with waif thin females has set impossible standards of beauty and thinness for Western women. Although there has been considerable push back against the modeling industry, the mainstream media continues to glorify emaciation. As a result, girls as young as 10 are becoming depressed over their weight and even older women are going to great lengths to achieve the body of much younger women.

Researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital, and Brown Medical School studied how a negative body image impacted teen depression in a 2006 study. They concluded that participants suffering with shape/weight preoccupation resulted in significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide than patients with no body image concerns, and that subjects with eating disorders had significantly higher rates of depression than those without body image concerns.

The Journal of Adolescent Health reported in 2013 on a study of more than 6,000 adolescents and depression and concluded that teens who thought they were overweight were more susceptible to suicide than those who did not see weight as an issue and that this was particularly true of girls, even as young as age 10. And the statistics just  get grimmer:

  • More than 80% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat.
  • 53% of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. This number grows to 78% by the time girls reach age 17.
  • By middle school, 40-70% of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body.
  • Around 30% of 10 to 14 year old girls are actively dieting.
  • 46% of 9 to 11 year old girls  are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.
  • Over 50% of teen girls and 30% of teen boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight.
  • Adolescent girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge eat as girls who don’t.

And what role does the media play in this dissatisfaction with weight? According to a report by Park Nicollete Medical Center:

  • Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% said that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape and 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight.
  • The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 144 pounds, the average model is 5’10”and weighs 110lbs.
  • Over 80% of Americans watch television on average 3 hours daily.
  • On a typical day American children ages 8-18 are engaged with some form of media for 7.5 hours.
  • A survey of the contents of Seventeen magazine found that the largest percentage of pages are devoted to articles about appearance.

All of this to say that the glorification of thinness must stop. It is irresponsible to continue to promote unhealthy and unattainable weight ideals that most women will never be able to attain. The pressure for young girls to conform to these media ideals is psychologically harming a generation of women and putting their very lives at risk. And it isn’t much better for older women, including women in their 70s and 80s. Professor Nichola Rumsey, co-director of the University of the West of England’s center for appearance research, suggests that 90% of adult British women feel body-image anxiety.

In order to reign well, we must support those advocacy groups demanding accountability in marketing and advertising, such as the #truthinads campaign and calling out those advertisers who clearly use Photoshop to alter the female form in media.

The fight against unrealistic body images in media has gained some ground, but women need to be wholly vested in continuing the fight against those marketers that feature waif thin models in advertisements and call out those media outlets such as the Daily Mail who continue to glorify emaciation as the ideal body type.

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