The average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches and 166 pounds. The average American model is 5 feet 10 inches and 110 pounds, according to the University of Minnesota’s “Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services.”
The media distorts our perception of body image. Shouldn’t models actually be what their job title describes and model the appearance of the average woman in the country they represent? There’s a worldwide epidemic plaguing the First World, and America plays a big part in enabling it.
The media’s depiction of unrealistic standards for body shape affect younger people every year. Altering images with Photoshop and using incredibly skinny women in fashion and pop culture perpetuates low self-esteem among young girls, which often leads to extreme dieting.
“In large scale studies, approximately 30 percent of boys and over 55 percent over girls report using unhealthy weight control methods such as vomiting, laxatives, diet pills, cigarette smoking, and diuretics in effort to lose weight,” Jillian Croll wrote in the chapter “Body Image and Adolescents,” in the “Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services.”
American society teaches people that one can do whatever one wishes as long as one puts in the work for it. This could play a part in how eating disorders became such a problem in the U.S.; people work so hard for the body they want and don’t see results fast enough, so they end up developing disordered eating habits.
Children are being taught false beauty standards from all fronts. Parents talk about dieting around their kids and about how they hate their bodies. They use anti-aging creams and dye their hair because they are unhappy with how they look. Since children learn through watching and mimicking, it is inevitable that they will pick up some of the habits of their parents.
Television shows often display actors and actresses with tiny waists. Even children’s toys affect their ideas of an “ideal body.” Barbies, Bratz, Monster High Dolls all show girls with disproportionately slender bodies. Similarly, G.I. Joes, superheroes and video game characters give young boys false ideas about what men “should” look like.
Schools try to help with how young people see themselves, but calculating body mass index in class is not the way to do it. No matter how many times they say BMI doesn’t matter and the only reason they did it was to learn about a concept, those numbers affect students negatively if the number they calculated wasn’t “ideal.”
Steps toward ending body shaming are being taken in certain countries in Europe and the Middle East. “The French government has passed a bill decreeing that models working in the country must possess a medical certificate deeming them fit to work,” announced British Vogue from December 2015. France is taking a stand against the use of “excessively thin” models in the hopes of promoting a healthier body image to the public. Israel has passed a similar law that bans unhealthy models and requires a doctor’s approval for a model to be able to work according to another British Vogue article. Both countries have also required that photographs with digital modifications be labeled as such.
What if restrictions like the ones in France and Israel came to the U.S.? The U.S. has a huge influence on the rest of the world. If it starts with models needing health checks, then eventually toy companies might be required to make dolls with realistic bodies. After that, digitally altered photographs might be banned along with the fashion industry’s obsession with zeros.
In the preface to the 10th anniversary edition of her book “Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body,” Susan Bordo wrote about the influence of American media on body image throughout the world. Bordo elaborated that prior to the introduction of television that only showed American, British and Australian shows, Fijian women were comfortable with their bodies and eating disorders were practically nonexistent in the area. Disordered eating habits increased three years after TV was introduced in Fiji in 1995.
If people are taught at a young age how to love themselves for how they are and are not taught that their body determines their worth, the number of people with eating disorders would drop significantly. Healthy and happy is all that matters whether someone is curvy or skinny.