Media and Beauty Ideals Essay

Theorizing Communications Professor Kirkpatrick Journal Reflection 1 September 8, 2012 I am an avid fashion magazine reader; my favorites are Cosmopolitan and Vogue. As I was flipping through my October issue of Cosmo, passing by 80% of the advertisements without a second glance, I stopped myself at a Nivea lotion ad. In the past, I would have over look this page, not noticing anything distinguishing it from any of the outrageous number of advertisements. However, something about this ad irritated me. (I blame it on my Women’s Studies class and my Theorizing Communications class. It pictured a man holding a woman in his arms with the slogan, “Give him skin he’ll love to touch. ” I thought to myself, “Why would I ever buy a lotion in attempt to provide a dude with a smooth-skinned chick? ” At first, the idea seemed absolutely ludicrous! But after pulling together the knowledge I’d acquired from my Women’s Studies class and my Theorizing Communications class, I realized that this advertisement, in fact, made perfect sense and it all comes back to the concepts of “social norms” and patriarchy.

Social norms are cultural expectations. They are institutionalized and patterned into organizations that shape what you think, how you behave, and how you look. The norm is used as a focus point to measure the degrees of its variation present in society. Some norms are difficult to alter and take a long period of time to change. For example, the “mythical norm”, white, middle-class, heterosexual, and abled, has been normalized in society for decades. They are difficult to modify because normality reflects the identities of who ever are in power.

Therefore, the mythical norm still is present because white, middle-class, heterosexual, and abled people have had the majority of social power in past years. This concept has not been recently introduced. Social norms have forever created systems of inequality and androcentrism has played an enormous role in developing these patterns. For much of human’s existence, women have been taught that their thoughts and bodies come second to their relationships and responsibilities to others.

Androcentrism heavily shadowed a female’s upbringing; even today, the words “man” or “men” are synonymous to “human” or “people”. I believe that religion played an enormous role in developing systems of inequality. Christianity has been a dominant and influential religion in history. Christians lived by the Holy Bible, which established patriarchy as the proper lifestyle and the female body was treated as a commodity. Today, patriarchy is still the underlying system that guides all aspects of our society.

Because men run and govern our society, they are able to turn their “wants” into reality. Social norms are changing due to men who have created a hierarchical ranking of differences. Some social norms are able to change often because they fall outside the identities of the people (men) in power. Women’s beauty ideals are completely constructed through social processes based on men’s preferred appearance of women. After thinking all of these concepts through, I reread a few of my fashion magazines to see how they all are being applied. Fashion magazines are literally a “book of ideals. These magazines include fashion tips, skin and cosmetic tips, relationship advice from men and women’s perspectives, celebrities’ make-up and fashion successes and failures, and an outlandish number of advertisements. They are centered on the socially constructed concepts of physical perfection; they point out what makes our bodies different than others, why it is undesirable, and how we can change it. Women in society have become so obsessed with obtaining a physical ideal that every part of the body has an ideal version to it, even down to one’s eyelashes and hairline.

Because it is always changing, we are never satisfied with ourselves and are continuously looking to change another physical aspect. The majority of women turn to these magazines when they need directions or advice on a topic (almost always relating to make-up, fashion, or men). However, often time magazines bring up issues women are not aware of as being an “issue”. “No one wants to be seen in public having horrible cuticles! This nail kit is essential to any woman- no matter if you are a stay at home mom or a CEO. Fashion magazines compete with one another to be the first place that introduces readers to something new or to give advice on something that is actually a “major” deal while the audience is commonly completely ignorant to its existence as an issue. They seem like they are “looking out” for women, instructing them on how they can become beautiful. However, they’re interests only lie in making a profit. Who says long hair looks better? Why does it? What constitutes a body as “hot”? Why is it? Our culture has developed into a society that views the female body as an object, free for the public to use, view and judge.

Yes, fashion magazines help sustain the image of beauty, but they only publish material that will sell- material women want to read. Women read the articles and advertisements in magazines to improve themselves physically for men. This is why many of the advertisements targeting women, like the Nivea ad, imply that they will seem more attractive to men if they use the product, or that they should use the product because he would love it if you did. The human body is a biophysical being, what our bodies mean and how they are experienced is connected to the meanings and practices of our society.

Forget improving your body for your own interest, the instructions, advice and ads in magazines are directed toward the improvement of your body for men’s satisfaction. This is why the pornography industry has played a large role in influencing women. Yes, the majority of women see porn as disgusting and disrespectful to women, but that doesn’t mean those same women do not feel pressured by it. Yes, (heterosexual) women want men to like them for our character and personality, but they also all want to be sexually appealing to men.

Porn puts pressure on woman because many see porn stars as having a common characteristic, a sexual “it” factor, that the average man would not be able to turn down. Following the same concept, fashion magazines make their products appealing by sexualizing them. Most of the time, an advertisement will have nothing to do with sex (i. e. toothpaste, chewing gum, and shampoo), but by associating the product with an attractive man, woman make a correlation between their use of the product and the attention it will bring from a man similar to that in the ad.

Advertisers use sex as an instrument for selling products because (heterosexual) women want men to desire us sexually. A peer of mine in my Women’s Studies class once stated, “Women voluntarily pay money for products that go on their bodies, in their bodies, or have a doctor cut them up so they can create or sustain an image men want. Men are the mirror. ” Products we put on or inside ourselves are not enough anymore; we have turned to surgically altering our appearance.

There is nothing people won’t do to themselves anymore to reach perfection: starvation, illegal substances, plastic surgery. Advertisements promoting products for your hair, skin, muscle gain, and fat loss are in every magazine and show in every television commercial. Even movies and television shows promote social ideals without the direct mention of them. The media, guided by men, make sure that social standards are everywhere we look so we can always be reminded of the right way to look or act; specifically, they remind women daily in what ways they are flawed and far from perfect.

Our society needs more campaigns promoting natural beauty for the physical and mental health of its women. We need to start re-establishing what it means to be beautiful: intelligent, kind, and compassionate. We also need to re-assess the rankings and values of different aspects in our lives. If the society I live in transferred the amount of effort and attention it gives to attaining beauty toward family and personal health, I think it would have a huge impact on the systems of privilege and inequalities present today.