By Katie Hosket and Carly Tovell
From waiflike models to rail-thin celebrities, the media’s message that ‘thin is in’ shapes many girls’ perceptions of their bodies—and their self worth.
The flat-screen TV flickers on just as the clock hits 10 p.m. Tyra Banks dances across the screen to the electric beat of her show’s theme song. As junior Katie Dunn’s stomach grumbles for a late night snack, she distracts her hunger with her number one guilty pleasure, competition and reality show, America’s Next Top Model. Over the next hour, Dunn studies the emaciated bodies of the reality show contestants. Mesmerized, her thoughts wander to how she can improve her body and be more like them.
She begins to ponder: What is true beauty? In the media, beauty is depicted as skinny runway models and bony celebrities. It is a relentless force, defeating body image confidence in some girls or revamping it in others.
An Altered Outlook
For Dunn, body image was something she thought about regularly, affecting not only her daily life but also her future plans. With dreams of someday working in the fashion industry, she strove for an ideal look, one that fit the media’s unyielding standards of beauty. Every morning and before each high school eventshe would plan and perfect each and every outfit, hoping to accentuate her slim figure.
“The media advertises beauty as correlating with being skinny,” Dunn said. “Since I really want to work in the fashion industry someday, I feel like in order to pursue that dream I have to be the ‘perfect’ size.”
Other students agree with Dunn’s view that the media displays unrealistic standards of what a beautiful woman should portray. From the scantily-clad, skeletal models plastered on the pages of the glossy magazine pages to the razor-thin actresses on various television shows, the growth of the media’s version of “true beauty” continues to impact the bodies of young girls.
Freshman Anna Cecutti said the media skews teenage girls’ views of what characteristics define beauty. She noted that magazine advertisements aimed at adolescent girls are particularly problematic.
“I feel like when I’m looking at magazines, they send the wrong message towards teenage girls,” Cecutti said. “Like showing that all these girls are tall and skinny, and that you need to be like that in order to be pretty.”
The TV show America’s Next Top Model has always had contestants with a multitude of looks, but with one common size: small. In the Aug. 16, 2010 article “America’s Next Top Model’ Contestant Shows Off Shockingly Thin Waist,” Sheila Marikar of ABC News wrote about the frail frame of Ann Ward, a 19-year-old contestant measuring six feet, two-inches tall.
“An adult’s hands [could] easily fit all the way around her waist, as judge Miss J. Alexander [demonstrated] in a trailer released from the show,” Mariker said.
As one of the smallest sizes ever seen on the show, Ward later went on to claim the title of America’s Next Top Model, thus sending the message to viewers that being skinny is beautiful.
Dunn explained how the popular TV show glamorizes the petite sizes of the contestants, transcending the message that body weight and looks can directly affect one’s personal success and eating habits.
“The more I watch the show the more I want to look like the people I see, so I think it has definitely started to affect how I see myself weight-wise and impacts what I eat,” Dunn said.
America’s Next Top Model compelled Dunn to begin various diets to maintain her figure. In one of these diets, she had to count each calorie she ingested. Dunn admitted that she quickly became tired of the regimen, and discovered new ways to satisfy her image infatuation. One of these alternatives was exercise.
“Trying to get away from dieting, I chose to start working out more,” she said. “I take a lot of various workout classes including spinning and body combat at my gym now, which improves my self confidence of staying fit without having to go on a diet.”
Mashing the media
Dunn is not the only UAHS student with the goal to be a high-heeled-wearing “fashionista.” In Manhattan, junior Abbi Jackson took the first steps in pursuing her modeling career.
For Jackson, the “perfect image” of the models seen on the CW’s top-rated modeling show, ANTM, was not any different from the ways of the Manhattan modeling world. Jackson used her confidence, bold personality and modeling heritage to become successful in the industry.
After booking photo shoots frequently, Jackson met with her current agency, Wihlemina Models, in the pursuit of taking her talents to the next level and with the possibility of shoots and shows in New York City.
“When I met with [Wihlemina Models] they said that my look, height and personality were perfect for what they were looking for, but that if I wanted to have more opportunities in the city, I would have to lose ten pounds,” Jackson said.
Health and Physical Eduacation teacher, Stacy Hoover, discussed her thoughts on societies’ pressures to be thin and the larger effect it has on girls who live in bigger cities, due to the extensive amount of advertising and the large consumption groups in urban areas.
“I think that girls in cities feel the pressures of society more so than in rural areas [and] fashion trends come more quickly,” she said. “What I mean by fashion trends is not just even the way that we dress but the way that we are expected to be physically. The pressures trickle down slower into the rural ares, but I do believe that city girls probably do feel it more quickly.”
However, Jackson used her confidence to combat the media’s influence. She took pride of who she was and what she stood for, and decided she wasn’t going to let the media alter that.
“I feel like it’s hard to meet genuine people in the modeling world, people feel like they need to play a certain role in the industry and I’m not going to become like that,” Jackson said. “One thing my dad has taught me from his experience is that in modeling you have to always remember that you are representing yourself. I feel like if I change my personality to be a part of the industry like so many of my friends have, I will be representing what I should be like, not myself.”
Like Jackson, senior Jackie Hobson disregards the media’s influence on weight and body image.
“I don’t base myself off the media because I don’t believe it’s right. Everyone is their own person and just because magazines and TV shows may make certain things out to be cool and ‘in’, that’s not how I see everything,” Hobson said. “We should be ourselves and not someone else created by [the] media.”
Despite her claim that the media impacts how teenage girls think about their bodies, Cecutti is in support of Jackson’s claim: to not live through the messages the media is sending. She explained how she acts in response to the media and why.
“I know people who aren’t very confident and base their own views entirely from the media but for me personally I don’t really try to be that way. That’s mainly because of the people I know, and what they’ve been through,” she said. “By being involved in their problems, I don’t want to have to deal with them, so I try not to go off of the media.”
Jackson’s motive of being her own individual may not be what the media is trying to get across to young girls, but it is what makes her who she is. She discusses the importance of her personal identity.
“I don’t wear the labels, or act the way the media says I should, I just do my own thing, and I like the way I am, so I’m not going to let the media define me,” she said. “If that means that modeling can continue to work out for me then that’s great but I’d rather lose my modeling jobs then lose who I am due to the media.”
After considering her options and applying a levelheaded approach to the situation, Jackson decided on pursuing her career the way she was, without caving into the expectations from the media. With assurance in her look and what she stands for, she disregarded the fashion industries artificial poster child of beauty.
“I know what my potential is in modeling, and I think that I can be successful throughout my career without having to change who I am,” she said.
Coming to terms
Once coming around to Jackson’s perception and recognizing the harsh rules the media lays out for young girls today, Dunn grasped the concept of what beauty actually meant to her. She admitted that the industry she once greatly longed to be a part of was slowly breaking her apart. In response, she put more focus on aspects of her life that prove more significant than body image.
“I feel like after getting over the dieting and talking about it with the people I’m close with I started realizing that my friends and family are the most important thing,” Dunn said. “ I realized there are so many other things that they like about me. I always knew that everything wasn’t just about looks and now its just not as much of a concern of mine.”
While the unrealistic illustration of beauty displayed by scrawny models and celebrities may alter the body images of teenage girls, UAHS students have discovered ways of portraying “true beauty”— a concept that is not refined by the media’s grueling tandards.
“I know now that there is so much more to being beautiful, like intelligence, kindness and humor. I am determined to make it in the fashion industry but I am also determined to not let the media define me,” Dunn said.
Hoover reiterates the thoughts expressed by Jackson: body image is only skin-deep and inner beauty is what really shows.
“Girls in high school need to know that there’s a lot more then just looking good,” she said. “It’s about being confident and feeling good about who they are inside.”