Women and Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Media Essay
In all ages, women tried to do everything they could in order to look more beautiful and in such a way attract representatives of the opposite sex and arouse envy in other women. The society and the mass media tend to dictate the way a female should look in order to be considered beautiful. Women’s ‘pursuit of beauty’ has turned into a competition with their own bodies since, while trying to look perfect, women resort to such radical techniques as plastic surgery, liposuction, starvation, and many other methods to achieve the most obvious result. Often their transformations lead to serious health problems, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, overeating, complications after surgery, depression, and others. Being exposed to a distorted idea of beauty, women strive for a perfect body ideal that was created by the society and mass media, which does not exist in real life, though.
These days, the society is more preoccupied with appearance than it used to be in ancient times. Of course, in the past women took care of the way they looked, like they do it now, but they were not so preoccupied with appearance in those days. Appearance has become the factor that always draws attention and can never be neglected. Brumberg states that nowadays girls are preoccupied with a “bad body fever”, making the society focus more on external perception of beauty and appearance (3). Brumberg implies that women make others concerned about the way they look, without paying attention to moral values. Although one can agree with the author, the reality shows that it is the society and mass media that make girls obsessed with their appearance, not the girls themselves. Monteath and McCabe consider that the perfect body image is created by the society, and therefore they refute Brumberg’s assumptions: “One way that societal body ideals are conveyed to the public is through stereotypes related to appearance. In Western society, an extremely negative stereotype of overweight people exists” (711). The society forms some stereotypes and the mass media conveys them. If the community as a whole thinks that the nation is overweight, almost all women are afraid of becoming obese and go on a diet or take exercises in order to correspond to the ideal image that the stereotypes create. The approach suggested by Monteath and McCabe explains all changes in preferences for female appearance that people had in different époques: thin waist, big breasts and hips, huge hairdo, pale skin, and many others. Therefore, one may conclude that the society forms stereotypes concerning female appearance and imposes them on women through the mass media.
The mass media is often regarded as not only the method of transmitting information to the audience, but also shaping its tastes, preferences and attitudes. In terms of creating beauty standards, the mass media has always been the leading factor of perfect image formation. The huge mass-media industry does not want to create some perfect image just for the sake of its creation. It wants people, especially women, to endeavor to look like the person in the image does and thus buy products or services that will make them look that way. For example, billboards exhibit pictures of girls with perfect shiny skin, which becomes the dream of every woman since men, as it is known, like women with good skin. Striving for the flawlessness of the girls in the image, females spend huge sums of money on products that, according to the guarantees of manufacturers and the satisfied smile of the model on the billboard, should endow them with perfect skin color and gloss. Wolszon claims that “advertisements invariably exhort women to defy any material limits on the body, including the natural aging process. They tell us to “be all you can be,” “choose the body you want to have,” or, as Fitness magazine put it, “create a masterpiece, sculpt your body into a work of art” (550). In this quote, Wolszon suggests that the purpose of the beauty industry manufacturers is to make women believe that their bodies are far from perfect. Moreover, advertisements in the mass media are intended to stimulate females to think that they are fat or old and the products advertised can change them completely, creating a reflection in their mirrors that does not differ much from the suggested image. The intention seems to be harmless at first, but it turns out that the artificially designed photoshopped images make women not only believe that they are ugly, but also induce them to radical methods in order to become similar to the models on the billboards or fashion magazine covers. However, Amos Owen states that even though women can be “whinging” that their excessive attention to appearance is caused by media, the real reason lies in the lack of other problems (25). Although Owen is right to some extent, it is difficult to agree with him completely since the media imposes beauty stereotypes to females. Men want their women to be slim, have perfect skin, hair and legs. They pay attention to appearance first, and if a woman is not attractive enough, many males would like her to make slight chances to her look. Trying to correspond to their requirements and preferences, females do everything in order to meet standards imposed by the mass media. The reality shows that on the basis of permanent stress and anxiety over their appearance, many women develop body dysmorphic disorder.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is associated with the excessive concern about body image. BDD is a condition that appears due to psychological concern about physical appearance. Many people, especially women, suffer from the condition, thinking that they do not even remotely correspond to the perfect image imposed on them by the mass media, but and therefore cannot combat the feeling of shame at their bodies. The point is that all people are unique, so they do not need to strive for some parameters or physical characteristics that other people like famous TV-stars possess. Being told that looking like Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Audrey Hepburn, or any other celebrity is the way any woman considered to be pretty should look like, women starve, go on diets, undergo plastic surgeries and other interventions that prevent them from living normal lives and valuing what the nature gave them. The major problem is that “concerns about body image represent a source of distress for a majority of American women” (Peat, Peyerl, and Muehlenkamp 343). Therefore, Peat, Peyerl, and Muehlenkamp imply that the image of a perfect body in a woman’s head, which is created by the woman herself under the influence of stereotypes formed by the society, makes a female worried about the way she looks (343).
More than 50 percent of all females in the United States are anxious about their appearance (Peat, Peyerl, and Muehlenkamp 343). The reality is that one can hardly come across any woman who is satisfied with the way she looks. Every female is concerned about some minor shortcomings in her image even if people, especially males tell her that the drawback the woman pays attention to is actually her pride. Amos Owen, talking about the excessive preoccupation of women over their appearance, states that even models have some problems with the perception of the way they look: “Joanna is a model, but even she has a whinge. Her breasts, she reckons, look old. But it's not her fault – she’s got a disorder. Her private doctor comes on to confirm it: it's called body dysmorphic disorder, or something” (25). Even though the author provides this example to prove that unhealthy preoccupation with appearance often does not have objective reasons, he wants to imply that the only problem with the disorder is ‘whinging’ and a lack of other things to take care of. Therefore, he suggests women to think of hungry children working hard to get water (Owen 25). Clearly, Owens tries to show that the BDD is not as serious as it is thought to be. However, the condition is very serious as it may have severe consequences that women rarely are able to cope with without the help of healthcare professionals. The statistics provided by Peat, Peyerl, and Muehlenkamp proves that the issue cannot be treated with negligence as it gets even more sophisticated with time (343).
The causes of BDD are very diverse. Even though a person sometimes has reasons to worry about appearance (for instance, being teased at school about big ears or nose), in most cases body dysmorphic disorder stems from ungrounded psychological concerns. Women always try to look more attractive than they are. Worrying about the straightness of their hair, thinness of waist, size of breasts, state of skin, number of wrinkles, body weight, and many other physical characteristics, females tend to emotionally overreact to what they see in the mirror as the real picture is different from the image existing in their heads. For example, a woman sees that all models have flawless skin and therefore is anxious about the state of hers. She feels less beautiful than models whose photoshopped pictures she comes across on TV, in the Internet and on the billboards every day. The anxiety about appearance makes women look in the mirror many times per day, imagining and visualizing the problem that does not exist. Katherine Phillips, talking about a medical school student having BDD, states that the girl can get stuck in the mirror for hours trying to do something about her hair in order to make it look the way she wants and moaning about the way her thighs and legs look (15). The thing is that a young woman formed the image that contradicts her inborn natural characteristics and tries to create it in real life. Even though her natural features, according to Phillips, are more attractive and do not look strange or ugly, she feels extremely anxious about her appearance (13).
Women often try to follow the trends offered by the mass media, thinking that they are the beauty standards. Looking in the mirror, they see that their reflection differs from the picture seen on TV and become frustrated. Regarding the reaction a woman has to the picture seen in the mirror, Peat, Peyerl, and Muehlenkamp claim: “A negative body image has been associated with low self-esteem… Negative body image and body dissatisfaction have been implicated as risk factors for various forms of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety, and disordered eating” (343). Therefore, being dissatisfied with her reflection – negative image – a woman develops low self-esteem. Low self-esteem leads to depression, which, as a consequence, causes anxiety and problems with the diet. Being depressed, females as well as males either overeat or do not eat enough. Estimating that a psychiatric condition like BDD occurs as a result of psychological problems – anxiety and depression – one may agree with the idea that negative body image or, rather, negative perception of the reflection is one of the factors leading to body dysmorphic disorder. If psychological causes of the condition change into psychic ones, the outcomes can be extremely serious.
The consequences of body dysmorphic disorder caused by the ideal of female body imposed by mass media are often extremely serious. Like any other mental condition, BDD cannot be neglected. Since a person suffering from the condition tends to transform his/her body to achieve a desirable look, he or she can develop serious health problems like anorexia or bulimia. Changed clothes or haircuts do not affect health, but starvation directed to weight loss, overeating appearing on the basis of depression, or infection acquired during some cosmetic surgery (change of nose shape or obtaining breast implants) can lead to severe health problems. The evidence shows that females tend to use radical methods to change their appearance more often than men do. Wolszon states that “anxiety about body weight and shape, and related attempts to diet, start at an early age for females, and frequently take a serious toll on girls and women’s mental and physical well-being” (542). A young woman feels anxious if she sees pretty skinny models on TV, who capture public attention, get high salaries, date influential men or celebrities (sportsmen, musicians, actors), appear on the covers of the fashion magazines, and does not consider herself to look the same way. The reality is that most girls who starve to have lower weight do not need any diet as they look fine the way they are. When a young girl (around 16) follows a strict diet avoiding anything that has more than 2 calories, her organism becomes exhausted and cannot function in a proper way. On this basis anorexia or bulimia occurs. The stomach cannot digest food, and the organism does not obtain enough nutrients in order to function properly. News often report on girls who died of starvation. Katherine Phillips informs that “The eating disorders anorexia and bulimia share with BDD a preoccupation with appearance, body dissatisfaction, distorted body image, and an excessive influence of appearance on self-esteem” (247). Moreover, she adds that each condition (anorexia, bulimia, and BDD) have severe body image symptoms: people suffering from these disorders do not feel attractive and have low levels of body satisfaction (Phillips 247). Women who have psychological or psychiatric problems related to their appearance do not feel satisfied with their bodies and tend to change them in any possible way. Often females are concerned about their weight. Observing skinny models walking on the runway and enthusiastic males looking at them, women feel fat and thus resort to diet, liposuction, or physical exercises. And if physical training does not make any harm to the organism, except for cases of severe overtraining along with a diet, starvation makes women look similar to those skinny models, however there is nothing beautiful in that image.
To conclude, the society creates stereotypes regarding the way a woman should look like. These stereotypes are imposed on females through the mass media. Women try to do everything in order to correspond to the broadly advertised image of a perfect body since, in their opinion, it will make them more attractive to males. On the basis of constant stress and anxiety about appearance, many women develop body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which is a mental condition based on the unhealthy care of appearance. Psychological and psychic deviations of the condition can make women desire to change their appearance in order to correspond to the ideal image the mass media imposes on them. They can resort to severe dieting, plastic surgeries, buying beauty products, and other techniques in order to remain young and beautiful. As a result, some health problems occur since cosmetic surgeries can cause complications that make the woman look ugly and uncontrolled dieting can lead to anorexia, bulimia, and sometimes even death. Therefore, the mass media makes women consider their bodies ugly and try to transform them, and the distorted perception of their looks leads to BDD.