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Corseted beauties

Part 2 of Chapter 1 of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

This section is a short history of eating disordrs.

You may ask if eating disorders are nothing new. Have they been along for a while? Really?

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

The famous French heroine Joan of Arc had anorexic tendencies. She starved herself to make a point, not because she was obsessed about her weight. Greek feasts involved bingeing and purging. This, however, was debauchery rather than bulimia.

However, during the 1870s, doctors in France and England were faced with a group of girls who rejected food altogether. The doctors were stumped over what to call this condition. Eventually, France won with the name “anorexia nervosa” which is used to this day.

The pictures that the doctors drew of these patients are eerie.

A proper Victorian lady

A proper Victorian lady

That was during the Victorian era. Perhaps it’s not surprising that that period marked the birth of modern eating disorders. Control and thinness were characteristics of wealth and beauty. Ladies had to be restrained (no screaming and running around. No indulgence! Eat daintily, don’t stuff yourself) and thin, with tiny corseted waists. Meat was considered carnal. The perfect lady had to be prim and proper. The picture on the right is an excellent example of one. Note the tiny waist.

pinksateen3These tiny waists were produced not merely by restraint in all things food, but with a corset, not unlike this antique corset.

The word “image” first appeared in American girls’ diaries in the 1920s. In this period, movies became an obsession. Actresses changed their identities and looks faster than people could keep up.

All the same, anorexia was not familiar until much later. Even in 1965, the term wasn’t used often. Eating disorders weren’t talked about. They weren’t normal. Strange. Rare. They were not seen as a disease but rather an exotic condition that only some different people got.

Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter

One of the first public memories related to this disorder  is of the singer Karen Carpenter. By the fall of 1975, she only weighed 80 pounds. She collapsed on a Las Vegas stage and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Carpenter died in 1983. It turned out that she had heart failure due to complications of the illness. Her heart was weak from the years of restriction, and a sudden weight gain of 30 pounds strained it further. The coroner gave the cause of death as “heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa.”

The 1980s was the era of fitness and food obsession, Martin continues. It was during this period that eating disorders became more common. The famous actress and fitness trainer Jane Fonda produced many fitness videos during this time. It was unknown that her fit body was the result of obsessive exercise… and… bulimia.

Back to the present. Eating disorders are nothing new, that’s true. But now they take an extreme form which is unique to this present age. It’s not just restricted to rich white women, but to anyone. Black women and Latina women have eating disorders. So do working class mothers.

Oprah

Oprah

At the same time, excessive exercising, plastic surgery addiction, and laxative abuse are common things. They’re no longer something that’s normal or not rare. Celebrities like Tara Reid are covered by the media. Diet and fitness, not wellness or authentic health, are upheld. Even Oprah is freaking out about her body. We’re conditioned to believe that the barrier between us and perfection is us.

This is a very modern and dire epidemic. While this world professes to give more rights and powers to those who have been formerly oppressed and persecuted, this world is sicker and more broken. Oprah started a school to help African girls learn empowerment and skills for the working world. At the same time, she stresses out about her appearance and binge-eating episodes. Her person trainer, Bob Greene, once remarked that Oprah had never learned what it means to be happy.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

We see our mothers, aunts, and sisters hate themselves and their bodies. We learned from them.

The cycle continues.

The 7 million diagnosed with eating disorders is merely the tip of the iceberg. This book is about that borderline behavior. The behavior that’s hard to diagnose, yet involves self-hatred and depression. It’s not normal. You were never meant to live this life full of self-hatred, sadness, obsession, and depression. This cycle is taking away from the quality of life that you could have. It’s taking away our freedom.

We’re not our bodies.

Marti talks about a friend who was asked how she was. “I’m fine, just feeling fat.”

“But how are you?” the therapist persisted.

“What do you mean? I already told you.”

mountain-top-meets-cloudsFinally, he explained. Our bodies are not us. Bodies are only one aspect of who we are. We make the mistake of identifying ourselves with our bodies. That’s why we tell ourselves that life will be good once we lose the weight. The fact that we are not our bodies means that life will not improve.

To a lot of us, it doesn’t matter if we have a great spouse, a successful career, lovely friends, and a beautiful home. If we’re 5 pounds above the desired weight, we’re unhappy.

We’re cheating ourselves out of a full life. What’s the use of getting three degrees if you’re going to spend a chunk of your time obsessively thinking about the shape of your thighs? That’s too much time. We only have 24 hours a day. We could be bettering the world. We could be doing so much more.

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Power Play

“Our bodies are the places where our drive for perfection gets played out.” With this statement, Martin sums up the struggle that many young women face, as they’re flooded with information about effective workouts, the best ways to lose weight, and the best diets.

314510824_a9feb9407cWe like to look at pretty faces. Friends are chosen based simply on whether a potential friend is attractive or not. We want to do business with pretty faces. And we want to marry an attractive person. Gordon L. Patzer pointed this out in his book Looks, and all this stuff is supported by research, sad to say. Teachers like pretty students because they feel that the more attractive students show the most potential. Pretty babies get more love and attention first from nurses at the hospital at birth, and then at home with their mothers. Pretty people seem to have an easier time in life. Employees hire pretty people to make their firms successful. Freelancer Jenna Glatzer writes in her book You Can Make a Real Living as a Freelancer that Cosmopolitan once cut an article: a profile about a modern day wonder woman. Why? Because the “wonder woman” turned out to be overweight.

So we keep chasing after perfection Where does it lead us? Nowhere, except to pain.

Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks

Martin writes that we see beauty as the first impression of total success. She goes on to explain that we see one aspect of a person — nice hair, for example — and assume that she is wealthy and powerful. How many times have we told ourselves that if we are thin (thin = beauty), our lives will be perfect? Beauty will solve all our problems. It will get us the desired man, the desired job, and the desired home. Or perhaps all three.

Martin uses Tyra Banks as an example of a beautiful woman who build her own empire.

I find this coincidence because I stumbled on the Tyra Banks show the other day. She was running something about Botox for a medical condition in a woman’s genitals. SUpposedly it’s supposed to improve some condition so women can have sex again. Then Tyra asked a doctor in the audience, “What do you think about using Botox for this condition?”

The doctor said, “Well, it’s not FDA – approved…”

Ok, remember this post?

3035405786_aa0a472929Moving along…

We see weight as something that we can control. We thus believe that if we exercised a little more control, counting calories, strict diets, strenuous exercise, nice clothes; we would be happy. We just have to “stay strong” and “starve on.” You’re not happy? You’re not “strong” enough. You have to be stronger.

The writer gives a description of a typical “perfect girl” in a typical American town. It’s a good description, and pretty accurate. Yes, we are living contradictions. Yes, we are relentless, while judgmental towards ourselves and forgiving of other people.

We are the daughters of feminists who said, “You can be everything” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”

We grow hungrier and hungrier with no clue what we are hungry for. The holes inside of us grow bigger and bigger.

We are our own worst enemies. It’s that “starving daughter” who must be killed off.

2236055781_25b5fdba44Martin goes on to say that a “starving daughter” is at the center of every “perfect girl.” The face we show to the world is an outward mask that says to our friends that everything is going well. Inside, we’re starving for a lot of things. We’re empty and in need, and they don’t know.

She wants attention. The perfect girl says, “No, you shouldn’t want that.” She is the one that brings us down. She gets scared, nostalgic, sad. The perfect girl wants no part of that.

No one likes this part of them. They view it as a side that is too weak. Meanwhile, they don’t talk about their problems. They fill the black holes in their spirits with the forbidden fruit. Yet they continue to feel empty. We struggle with this. I know girls in my church who do, but are too confused and frightened to speak about it, let alone come face to face with a darker side of themselves. They don’t want to let go of their facade.

185980331_3e8ade3c79And our bodies take the ensuing abuse.

Some people are subtle about the abuse. They pretend to be above such trite things as calorie counting and purging. Such stuff is embarrassing.

Others talk about how horrible their body size is and how fat they are and how much they hate themselves for being so weak. And then they forget about their issues for a while. Their disordered eating is seasonal.

Then there are the diagnosed eating disorders. Go here for a list and description of the three diagnosable disorders as noted by health professionals. I also noted in the same post that several people do have a mix of both bulimia and anorexia and binge eating.

There is EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) which we haven’t talked about yet. These are the people who have an eating disorder but don’t have the required symptoms. They may purge once a week as opposed to three. Some starve but don’t lose their periods or drop in weight. Some have a partial syndrome. They obsess, and have a nagging preoccupation with their weight that they think is normal. They feel that they obsess too much but don’t work out enough.

We don’t consider that maybe we don’t have to live with the obsession.

The media is no help. They show skin-and-bones models and gasp about shrinking celebrities, making us feel that if we’re not dropping out of school, throwing up all the time, or become skeletal, then we’re fine. Our condition is fine. Never mind that we’re miserable.

3061919849_fbbf4783b7Some doctors encourage the attitude. They’re so tired of the obesity epidemic that they’d do anything to get their patients from that extreme. They forget that there is another extreme at the other end. These doctors want rigorous exercise with restraint in diet, no matter who the patient is. Martin interviewed a girl with an eating disorder. This girl saw a doctor in college. She hoped that he’d notice her weight going down and maybe help her. However, he told her to “keep up the good work!”

The author states that an eating disorder merely is a more extreme version of what girls and women face on a daily basis. There’s always some degree of obsessiveness about food and our bodies in everyone. (I don’t think all, but most. Most are still too many.)

We find comfort in being almost as screwed up as everyone else.

Waiting to be Filled

I started a book, but never finished it because I felt that it was too heavy. And it made me depressed for a while because it didn’t talk at length about the solution to the problem but rather focused on the problem itself. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it just didn’t suit me. I recommend this book to anyone struggling with an eating disorder. I really think it’s a good book. Just heavy and packed with information.

400000000000000052548_s4Also, I’m not feminist. That’s another thing.

Here’s what I wrote. This is just from reading the introduction.

The book is titled Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: the frightening new normalcy of hating your body by Courtney E. Martin. You can check out the writer’s website at www.courtneyemartin.com. This book was published fairly recently, in 2007.

Martin writes in the introduction that eating disorders affect more than 7 million American girls and women, 70 million people worldwide. Over half of the females between ages 18-25 surveyed would rather be mean or stupid. Anything but fat. A survey of parents found that 1/10th of them would abort their child if they found that he or she had the genetic tendency to be fat. (Thanks, Mom and Dad. They were your genes to start with.)

She states that we live in a time when getting an eating disorder, or at least being obsessed over weight, is thought of as a rite of passage. The writer talks about her many friends who bought into this kind of thinking. They sound like my friends. Many women use what they put into their bodies or/and the amount of exercising they do to define their worth.

It is not our kindness, or courage that we count at the end of the day, it is our calorie intake.

310967011_2dcab45a8bI, too, know people with really screwed up ideas about health and fitness. There are the girls who believe that any food is bad and that they have to exercise to get the Tic Tac or chip out of their system. There are my friends who daily post stats on how much they eat per day. Their limit is 210 calories. Not per snack. Not per meal. For the whole freaking day, they restrict themselves to 210 calories. What goes in those 210 calories? An apple.  A 60-calorie lollipop. That’s it. It’s not about eating healthy, it’s about eating less. Then there’s the miserable girl who eats food – lots – when she’s depressed, and then purges it later.

I know girls in my church who struggle with this as well. There’s one who exercises often. She’s 13, goes to the gym, and does weights. In front of people, she talks about how fat she is, and picks at her food when eating in front of others. She always worries that she is too fat, even though everyone else could tell her that she isn’t.

364637840_761d56792dIn fact, I recently talked to one who was stressed out about her homework. She’s 12. She said she was eating like a pig and was fat. I told her she wasn’t fat. “Ask your big sister,” I said.

She replied, “She says that I’m fat.”

I think this kind of thinking is so ingrained in our culture that we cease to notice it.

Martin puts it well when she writes that we’re not apathetic, we’re distracted. What about the starving children in Africa? I’m thinking about whether to have a granola or skip lunch altogether. She continues that we can’t see the the needs of others because we’re too busy looking at ourselves in the mirror. We don’t want to go to the beach because we don’t want others to see us in bathing suits. It’s all about us and how we feel.

What can we do about it?

This is a social problem as well as psychological. Some people believe that this is normal. I say that our culture must be pretty messed up, then. I knew a bulimic girl who wrote on her public food diary, “I don’t want to be normal. I don’t even know what normal is.” It seems that “normal” nowadays means women and girls stressed out about what goes into their mouths.

3346503419_5ede7a6039

Something you should eat and not compare your body to

Martin says that womanhood “was about something solid and beautiful right in the core — a vulnerable yet unbreakable center of strength and openness.”

I can identify with that. That sounds like the definition of a woman from the Christian book Captivating. Except that God is our core.

Martin continues,

At the center of most of the young women I know today are black holes.

On the outside, we’re busy and active. On the inside, we’re crumbling. We have these holes that we try to fill with anything and everything. But they’re still there. We’re starving, because the distractions are never enough. We’re just not enough. Not good enough. We have no control.

131_BlackHole

Black holes at the center of us

Our ultimate goal is “effortless perfection.” We’re to be everything we’re supposed to be, without showing any apparent effort. Of course, this is impossible. I know another girl who said, “I want to be able to fast for days at a time without struggling. I want to be able to have no desire for food. I want to be able to stay skinny without such hard work.” Effortless. Perfection.

The perfect part really does get us into trouble, either with an eating disorder or with an unhealthy obsession with food and exercise. It really turns out to be such hard work.

The truth is, we waste a lot of time on our bodies. How much time do we spend thinking about what to eat when we could be organizing a fund-raising event devoted to some cause?

Martin puts forth the mission of this book: a call to action. She wants this book to move us to admit that we are sick, but also tired of  being sick and ready to do something about it.

530700707_9580740548

The price she paid was her dancing.

Note that this isn’t a purely American problem anymore. I remember the ballerina from Denmark. She had been struggling with anorexia for some time. The disorder came to a point where her bones were too weak for her to stand on her toes. I’m a ballerina too, and to stand on your toes, you need to have very strong bones. Because of the disorder, the calcium was steeped out of her bones, leading to brittleness. She loved dancing. Really loved dancing. But what could she do? This was the price she paid, and she felt that she couldn’t do anything about it.

There was the girl form Brazil and the girl from Taiwan. There was the girl in Spain and the girl from Wales who messaged me on facebook begging for help. There was also the girl from Qatar, a country so tiny that people don’t even know it exists.

The Independent, a London paper, reported that 1 million in Britain have eating disorders.

Martin closes the introduction by saying that she believes “in the possibility of a world where a girl doesn’t learn to count calories at the same age she learns algebra.”

That’s the world I’m fighting for, now.

2763031373_188f1d4abe

Look at the Shiny!

Part I of Chapter 11 of the book Looks

Chapter 11 is about the profitableness of the beauty industry — not to us but to them. It’s an extremely profitable venue, especially if you have the ability to devise new products and services AND the skills to market them. How many people can think of cool new made up names to describe imaginary vitamins and minerals? Or non-existent secret ingredients? Or vitamins that do nothing to your hair because your hair can’t absorb vitamins?

Dr. David Matlock’s speciality is the Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute (LVRI). This procedure is extremely popular, and yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. He decided to profit not only from himself using his techniques, but from anyone else using his techniques. The procedures are patented.

boundsoffice1

A typical plastic surgery clinic

Next, Dr. Matlock started an “Associate operation.” This wasn’t unlike a franchise, and put 3 million dollars into his pockets.

He made the people who used his methods pay a license fee. Dr. Matlock stated that he was merely defending his intellectual property. Of course, he says his job is “to empower women with knowledge, choice, and alternatives.”

Now let’s go into a little history: until the middle of the 1900s, cosmetic surgery was actually reconstructive surgery for the horribly deformed. Take the deformities caused by World War II, in Japan. Many were burned by the atomic bombs and fire bombing. Some were brought to the United States to be brought to some semblance of normality. There were also the thousands of American soldiers disfigured in the wars. After this died down, these skills and techniques were used in the pursuit of beauty.

051215_laser_100x90Doctors during the US occupation of Japan injected young women’s breasts with transformer coolant to enlarge them. By the 1960s, topless showgirls in Las Vegas had liquid silicone pumped into their breasts. The American Society of Plastic Surgery described small breasts as a deformity and a disease.

In every US state, any physician with a license can perform any medical procedure whether they’re board certified or not. Even if they haven’t had special training in that procedure. A psychiatrist has a medical degree, therefore he/she can do liposuction and facelifts. Dermatologists and obstetricians are starting to expand their options, earning money from doing facelifts and Botox injections.

This is, however, not limited to physicians. Some dentists want to do rhinoplasty. I have an oral surgeon friend who does Botox on the side for extra money. He also does procedures to take away moles.

14399412ab_i

An example of an ad for a clinic

These doctors find their patients using slick ad campaigns. Filmed commercials really do help. A brochure targeting surgeons said, “More and more, consumers are choosing the better marketer — and not the better surgeon.” According to Economist, in 2003, the beauty business spent between 32-40 billion in advertising, but took in 160 billion in sales. This is a huge business, and it helps that people are attracted to products and procedures that are marketed to look really really good. Ooh, look at the shinee!

Nowadays, a typical plastic surgery center is more like a restaurant. They focus on moving endless lines of patients through their operating suites ASAP, and then marketing things like skin care and counseling to get more bucks.

This also helps the companies that make the equipment the doctors use. A good example is the laser systems for removing tattooes and wrinkles.

Heavy Makeup

Part 3 of Chapter 10 of the book Looks

106376261_ukhTN-S-3Consider those addicted to plastic surgery. These are the people who risk their lives and spend millions to chase after what Dr. Patzer calls artificial perfection. They are the people who appear “abnormal” but look forward to their next procedures.

There’s the case of the 34 year old porn actress “Jen X.” She had Botox multiple times, a chin implant, and breast augmentation. She reported to Hustler magazine that she was afraid that she was getting addicted to plastic surgery. She still pays monthly for silicone injections to her lips, a highly illegal procedure which is fraught with danger. She knows, but is driven by the need to compete. Jen X said, “The more surgery everyone else gets, the more I have to get to keep up.”

Only in your mind, sadly.

There’s also Rhiannon, a woman in quest for bigger boobs. Her breasts now weigh 10 pounds each. That’s 20 pounds total! Talk about back pain. Their size is 48MMM. This began in 1991. She has had 30 surgeries on her right breast alone. 

There’s something about my personality that big is never big enough. If I’m going to do it, I’m going all the way.

She added that she wants still-larger implants.

Another good example is the Beverly Hills realtor Elaine Young. In 1979, she saw a silicone injection in the face of a friend and wanted it. She went to her friend’s doctor, who told her that he’d make her beautiful. That was all she had to hear.

At first, Young was pleased with the results. However, the silicone migrated and interfered with her facial nerves. When the doctor tried to remove the silicone, the surgery left the left side of her face paralyzed for two years. Young blames her silicone injection for the downfall of three of her six marriages. The doctor who injected her committed suicide.

brokenwindowYoung said,

It’s typical insecurity that leads women to [cosmetic surgery]. I don’t care what they say; most of the women who do it are either aging, and they want to look younger, or they’re very insecure.

Read the entire, original Hustler article here.

Many people addicted to plastic surgery suffer from BDD (as written in an earlier post). They often look for ways to deal with an imaginary or trivial defect in their appearance. They can spend lots of time and energy picking at their skin or looking into a mirror. Or wearing a hat or heavy makeup. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology reports that as many as 3 million Americans may have this disorder. Among them are those with the money and resources to pay for countless surgeries.

A spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons said that there are some well-balanced people who have many surgeries. But at the same time, another group is not happy with whatever you do.

katharine_hepburn1

Katharine Hepburn went to see him after her bout with skin cancer

Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc sees these addicts frequently. His practice has attracted notables like CEOs and even Katharine Hepburn. Most of his patients are the ultrarich who live in opulent homes near his offices. His book describes the reality of dealing with a society that more and more wants to be perfect in appearance. Some patients lie about their medical histories. Some lie about the  medicines they’re taking.

One male patient was taking steroids but wouldn’t tell me. He wanted a facelift and nothing would stop him. I’ve never seen a patient’s face bleed so much in my life.

Scalpel_smallIn cases like this, says Lorenc, the plastic surgeon is to refuse to do surgery. He gives another example, this time of a guy who thought he had an awful acne scar. Dr. Lorenc saw nothing. The worst thing he could have done would have been to operate, because then the poor guy would have had a real scar.

Maybe we are growing into a culture that is endlessly fixated on appearance. Seeing media images refuels and reinforces the notion that physical attractiveness must be had at all costs.

A Beautiful Disaster

Chapter 9 of the book Looks

File0444Have you ever seen the billboards by the side of the road glorifying a sculpted male body? Or the covers of Men’s Health magazine… or the washboard abs perfume by Abercrombie and Fitch… or the steroid pumping body builders…

Men have their own set of problems. These are termed the Adonis Complex. Due to the slew of idealized male physiques everywhere they look, many men are insecure about their appearance.

Harrison J. Pople, Jr. and Roberto Olivardia of Harvard Medical and Katherine A. Phillips of Brown studied anything from action figure toys to Playgirl spreads to body builders and concluded that the U.S. media presentation of the male ideal is a very very muscular body.

Our very own GI Joe

Our very own GI Joe

It started with our familiar G. I. Joe. These researchers noted that the action figure in 1964 was unremarkable. Sure, he was trim and athletic, but rather ordinary in that respect. By 1991, he became pumped up like a body builder. Sadly, this also happened with the Star Wars action figures of Han and Luke. In 1978, they appeared unexceptional but trim. In 1995, they appeared to have been drinking a morning cup of steroids with their breakfast cereal. As a Star Wars fan, I was horrified to hear about this development. What’s next, bulked up Wicket?

15-20 years back, if you wanted a current issue of a fitness or body building magazine, you would have to live in the big city. Even so, you were limited to two or three publications. Now, just run down to the nearest convenience store and you’re bound to find at least five. As any freelance writer for magazines will tell you, fitness and health are big topics nowadays. People want to read about how to get healthy, but they also want to read about how to gain muscle. As a result, this is the holy grail of freelance writers. 

abercrombie-billboardWhat about the billboards? This Abercrombie and Fitch billboard is an excellent example of what you might find.

Dr Patzer says,

Buy a copy of almost any general-interest magazine and you are treated to bare male chests, rippling muscles, and tanned, chiseled, hairless forms.

Don’t forget the romance novel covers! Some time ago I published something mocking this trend. You may find it here. You’ll see that shaved pits really are the way to go.

 

 

 

Rich Herrerra, a male model for Cosmo

Rich Herrera, a male model for Cosmo

 

 

Cosmopolitan magazine is one of those magazines that seem to be mainly about sex from their front covers. They offer tips on how to do it right, how to get good results, and how to get a good man. They also illustrate their articles with pictures. All the male models are happy,  hairless, and naked.

They are also buff. Pope and his colleagues found that the number of naked males in Glamour and Cosmo had tripled from less than 10% in the 60s.

dumbbellsAlong with these findings, Pope and his researchers interviewed men suffering from what they call “muscle dysmorphia,” which is sort of like “reverse anorexia.” While an anorexic girl looks at herself in the mirror and sees fat even though she is shrinking, a male with this disorder looks at himself  and says, “Not buff enough,” even though he may have muscles where no man should have muscles. A fellow whom they called “Kevin” believed his own arms were sticks even though his body bulged with muscles in strange places. He became a near recluse because of this disorder.

These three researchers concluded that American men are being manipulated. They are exposed to more supermuscular images, all in service to diet aids, fitness programs, hair-growth remedies, and anything in between. These industries prey on men’s insecurities, and can be compared to how women are being preyed upon by the media.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an intense preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. It seems to arrive during adolescence or young adulthood. It may also coexist with other conditions, like social anxiety or OCD. The only effective course is psychiatric or psychological counseling, along with anxiety medications.

Those with this disorder are only a small fraction of the population, but millions more devote an inordinate slice of their time to worrying about appearance, notes Dr. Patzer.

LS015824Barbara L. Frederickson of the University of Michigan did two experiments to document the psychological costs of raising girls in a culture lik eours.

One study revealed that what a woman wears can heighten her preoccupation with how her body looks. This is at the expense of her mental performance skills. It’s not just low-cut dresses or bikinis that may cause this preoccupation. Any clothes or circumstances that make her feel self-conscious have this power. It reduces the mental energy that she could use to solve calculus.

evening-20dressAccording to this researcher and social psychologist Tomi-Ann Roberts, the tendency to value physical appeal and sex appeal as body identity rather than their health, strength, energy, etc leads to more than an eating disorder or diminished mental performance. It could be linked to high prevalence of depression and sexual dysfunction among American women.

As we have seen, the mass media has had a huge effect on fostering attitudes about physical appeal. They’re enormously influential in governing what we say and feel about ourselves and our appearance.

From Kurt and Gladys Lang’s essay “The Mass Media and Voting”:

The mass media forces attention to certain issues. They build up public images of political figures. They are constantly presenting objects suggesting what individuals in the masses should think about, know about, have feelings about.

So my theory that we also listen to what the media tells us to do wasn’t so far off after all.

Dr. Patzer concludes that ill health offsets beauty benefits. However, people would be willing to sacrifice their health or money to improve their physical appearance.

As an anorexic acquaintance wrote on her blog, “I don’t care if this kills me. At least I’ll be beautiful.”

Pretty People over Important News

Part 3 (i think?) of Chapter 8 of the book Looks

The influence on views of physical attractiveness is by no means limited to advertising. TV has idealized images of manhood and womanhood, both in entertainment and in the news. 

TV as a mass medium was demonstrated in 1939. By 1945, it was publicly available. Like magazines, it used pretty young females to attract its viewers. They announced commercial breaks or delivered program information. Or they were simply ornaments that silently showed off products in game shows, much like today. Women were presented as glamourous objects.

Things haven’t changed much.

Days Of Our Lives: A popular daytime soap

Days Of Our Lives: A popular daytime soap

Every station’s schedule has feature films, TV movies, hour-long dramas, sitcoms, and reality TV. All of these feature beautiful actresses and handsome actors. The less attractive are delegated to supporting roles, like the bad guy. Only 12% are overweight.

Speaking of weight, that is the thing that is most noticeable in a TV performer. It’s extraordinary to have overweight actors or actresses. Dr. Gregory Touts, a professor of psychology, studies TV and its effects on us. He examined body weights for 37 central female characters, negative comments from males about their weights and bodies, and audience reactions. He found that thin people were overrepresented. The heavier female had more negative comments said about her or to her. This was also associated with the audience reactions or laughter. In earlier research, Fouts and a colleague found that the thinner the woman, the more positive comments she received.

Cast of As the World Turns, another popular soap

Cast of As the World Turns, another popular soap

What about men? Fouts did the same evaluations. He heard negative references like “You’re too fat to wear that in public,” as well as comments by the overweight character himself. “I need to diet.” He found that overweight males are under represented in sitcoms. It’s more acceptable, however, for men than women to be overweight on entertainment TV.

Regarding laughter, while most sitcoms are shot before a live audience, this audience is prepped by personnel. They’re encouraged to laugh at every punch line and cued to applaud on command. So what Fouts and his colleagues heard were not faithful expressions of how people really saw the show, but rather what the show’s producers wanted them to hear.

fox_newsWhat about TV news? You probably might have noticed that these men and women are garbed perfectly, with perfect makeup, teeth, and hair. They’re also trim, not fat, and good-looking on the whole. I also noticed that in Fox news, most of the females are blonde and blue-eyed, with fair skin.

Not only that, screen time is used to emphasize stories about attractive people.

Crime stories are always a big thing. Every year, people disappear, are murdered, or are raped. However, few of these stories can be mentioned on TV. 

pl_jonbenet_060817_ssv

JonBenet Ramsey

Consider the case of JonBenet Ramsey. She was a six year old who was entered in many beauty contests. She was exceptionally pretty. JonBenet was photographed and videotaped many times in high heels, adult makeup, and professionally styled hair.

She was murdered in 1996.

The media went nuts.

JonBenet

JonBenet

The crime was never solved, but even after 10 years, images of this first grader are still shown on TV. 

In December 2002, lovely Laci Peterson went missing. The story led broadcasts for days and days. This became a national event. Even I remember the headlines that continued months and months after the actual event. Magazines, gossip columns, and TV all talked about it. Her husband, a fertilizer salesman, was arrested and tried for her murder.

Jennifer Wilbanks

Jennifer Wilbanks

In April 2005, Jennifer Wilbanks was a runaway bride. She spun a wild tale of kidnapping and sexual assault. It was all untrue. She just had the jitters. This story was repeated for weeks and weeks. Why?

She was tall, thin, but curvy. She had big eyes and full lips. A lot of people thought that she was hot. I don’t.

Dozens of people disappear all the time. How many women are murdered every day? How many first graders are murdered or disappear? These cases all had one thing in common – the females were all beautiful.

Trond Andresen of the Norwegian Institute of Technology thinks it’s time for a change. He told a local newspaper in Norway that “journalists, photographers, and TV producers discriminate against the ugly and emphasize beautiful people whenever possible.”

Ugly people should be spotlighted in the media in the same way that the media wishes to emphasize persons from ethnic minorities.”

LACI

Laci Peterson

So what’s the harm in showing viewers attractive people?

First of all, when magazines or newspapers sell more advertising than expected, they can add pages with more editorial content and articles to balance this out. However, time is limited on TV. There’s no way to balance this out in TV news. There simply isn’t enough time. Even big programmers like CNN have to limit their news programming to about an hour a day.

It seems, says Dr. Patzer, that media companies are licensed to serve the public. However, what’s important is that their primary role is to choose what stories to tell, which not to air, which to follow up, and which to ignore. Nowadays, with the decrease in TV news viewership, news is regarded as being no different from entertainment. It has to earn its own way. Decisions are made by considering which stories would attract more viewers.

They are choosing now to air stories about people such as JonBenet, Laci Peterson, as well as celebrities like Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, important news are being ignored. Dr. Patzer had a list of important news that they skipped in favor of these stories.

crbs0691455From a journalist’s point of view, the role of news programs is to inform the public about what’s going on in the world around them, instead of running repetitive stories about attractive people. This is a shameful use of network time. Dr. Patzer agrees, saying that a democracy functions because when something goes wrong, the press brings it to the public’s attention so they can correct this problem at the ballot box.

Do TV news executives believe that audiences prefer watching good-looking people to learning important facts?

Les Moonves

Les Moonves

As it turns out, Les Moonves, the president and CEO of CBS, made it clear that he makes no distinction between news and entertainment programs. He told a New York Times reporter that if hiring an attractive woman to read the news while stripping would increase news viewership, he’d do it. Gladly. Because “his job is to give audiences what they want.”

The problem with this reasoning is that perhaps the audience doesn’t always know what they want. Instead, a lot of us might be waiting for the media to tell us what we want, and we’ll go along with it.