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Chloe Thistlewaite

on 23 April 2010

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Topic: Body Modification
Title: Perfect/Imperfect: Cultural values & the body
Issue: Ugliness/Beauty
The ugly truth about the beauty industry & the media It’s impossible for us to avoid advertisements and popular culture. Images of idealised women’s bodies selling virtually anything are everywhere on every high street, in every magazine and on every television channel. These images of women we are exposed to are commodified, objectified and sexualised. We live in a society where every day we are saturated by media influences. The media is a form of socialisation teaching us how the world works. It dictates and imposes standards which soon become the norms and values of our society. Therefore, it is inevitable that media influences impact on our thoughts, behaviours and expectations of others.

Theodor Adorno, a member of the Frankfurt School, suggests that the media has significant power over us. He argues that the media helps to maintain the status quo by encouraging conformity and diminishing the scope for resistance. (10)

Conventional ideas about beauty are ideological and the mass media, a form of ideological state apparatus, dictates the definition of beauty. The media promotes a consumerist agenda where the values being promoted are economic. A woman’s worth is reduced to her looks and beauty ideals reward women who look good and say little. Women are objectified and disempowered. Reference list Pressure ugly fat damage DANGEROUS DESTRUCTION TOXIC OBSESSED FAKE HOW DID OUR
DISTORTED? Trapped Is it because your worth it or is it because its all you're worth? The L'Oréal group is the world's
largest cosmetics and beauty company
and with 25 brands, the group
accomplished a turnover of 17
billion euros in 2007 (7) The onslaught of messages about beauty and dieting commands women that they are always in need of adjustment ensuring they lack self confidence and belief in their own value. The media depicts the female body as an object to be perfected; ensuring value is placed solely on appearance. The ideologies promoted justify inequality and the continuation of patriarchal gender roles which devalue women.

In John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ he argues that ‘men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.’ (2) Suggesting that women are constantly judged by their appearance and are often reduced to sexual objects and instruments to pleasure men. In her work on the sociology of the body, Efrat Tseelon analyses the ‘no win’ situation in which dominant culture places women by imposing contradictory sets of expectations upon them. She uses the example of how a woman is supposed to represent timeless cultural fantasies about beauty, but is not ‘more naturally attractive than a man. Her special beauty is at best a temporary state, and it takes hard work and concerted effort to maintain.’ (2)

Feminist writer Naomi Wolf (8) argues that images of beauty are used against women. She claims that contemporary cultural products are full of examples of a sustained patriarchal attack on women’s bodies. The glamorized images that we see all contribute to women’s low self esteem, mental and physical illness, eating disorders and dieting.
Feminist Arguments Advertisements Edward Bernays was one of the first to recognise the power of psychological techniques in advertising and manipulating public opinion. He used the idea that advertising should operate at the level of feelings and emotions. He realised he could make people want things they didnt need by linking goods to people's unconscious desires. He argued that products should engage with people's emotions and make people feel better about themselves. (2)

Advertisements work on a superficial level emphasizing the importance of physical perfection. The media imposes a set of beauty criteria we must conform to. We are told we should be disgusted by our imperfections which must be fixed and then convinced that mass produced products which will ensure we achieve this. How can they when impossible expectations and pressures are inflicted upon us?

Our culture's beauty ideals have become inhuman. Yet Computer generated images are promoted as a reality we are expected to replicate. We are convinced and believe the lies that the beauty industry and the media tell us constitute beauty. We strive to achieve the ideals through the purchase of advertised products which promise to make us beautiful by the industry’s standards, but of course they don’t. How could they? By presenting an ideal impossible to achieve, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. The overwhelming presence of manipulated media images means that real women’s bodies have become invisible and everyday women are altering themselves everyday to fit what the industry insists is beautiful. Individuality is being replaced by conformity Marxist arguments THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY IS DANGEROUS Although the beauty standard set by the industry will inevitably never be met it does not stop our attempts with pressures on women to be beautiful leading to serious consequences. We develop distorted perceptions of ourselves leading to obsessive and self destructive behaviour. Eating disorders Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other type of psychological illness.(4) “I didn’t eat yesterday,
And I’m not gonna eat today,
And I’m not gonna eat tomorrow,
Cause I’m gonna be a supermodel!
So Beautiful!”

The beauty industry and the media lead to unhealthy body image through the promotion of emaciated physiques. According to a report by the British Medical Association, ‘The degree of thinness exhibited by fashion models is both unachievable and also biologically inappropriate.’ (5) However, women starve, vomit, turn to laxative abuse, diet pills, have their fat sucked out and their stomachs stapled all in attempt to meet the beauty criteria set so readily promoted by the media. (Lyrics to Jill Sobule’s song, “Supermodel”) Cancer? Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer
than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast,
prostate, lung and colon. (12)

Sunbeds are estimated to cause around 100 deaths
from melanoma every year in the UK (3)

Therefore,Our efforts to conform to beauty ideals
can increase our risks of cancer.

Plastic Sugery According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons The number of surgical procedures last year exceeded 36,400 (11)

Thousands ofWomen are risking their lives undergoing violent, often painful, surgical procedures just to be considered beautiful.

Media images teach us we need to inject collagen into our lips, get implants as we need larger breasts, liposuction because we’re too fat. We compromise the ability to show emotion with our faces by injecting Botox to iron out our wrinkles.
The body image of beauty is constructed by the media, mainly to sell products related to the insecurity and unhappiness that it generates. The global cosmetic, toiletries and fragrance industry is worth around £6.2 billion. (9)

Marxists would argue that we are kept in a state of ‘false consciousness by the strength and power of ruling class ideology. They argue that the mass media are owned by the ruling class and are used to programme the working class into the belief that capitalism and its values are good.

In other words, we are manipulated by the owners and controllers of the means of production via ideological state apparatus such as the media into believing we need the products they offer to improve ourselves and our lives.

The media promotes impossible ideals to make women insecure about themselves so they are more likely to buy the products that promise to solve their imperfections all with the specific purpose of profit. Here are some pictures
demonstrating the amounts of
makeupwomen are applying
everyday in order to cover up their
flaws and to be considered beautiful 1.Bennett, P & Slater, J. (2008) Communication and Culture the Essential Introduction AS. Routledge, Oxon.
2.Bennett, P & Slater, J. (2010) Communication and Culture the Essential Introduction A2. Routledge, Oxon.
3.Cancer Research UK (2009). Sun beds http://www.sunsmart.org.uk/advice-and-prevention/sunbeds/
4.Disordered Eating (2010) http://www.disordered-eating.co.uk/eating-disorders-statistics/eating-disorders-statistics.html
5.Gauntlett, D. (2008) Media Gender and Identity An introduction. Routledge, Oxon.
6.Harris, S. (2010) Airbrushed pictures ‘need warning labels’ to prevent insecurity in young girls, government report warns. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1252361/Government-advisor-Dr-Linda-Papadopoulos-Airbrushed-mags-come-warning-symbols.html
7.L’Oreal Because I’m Worth it. (2009) http://m1mk-iae-loreal.blogspot.com/
8.Naomi Wolf. (2010) http://naomiwolf.org/
9.PR Newswire Europe Limited. (2010) Cosmetic and Beauty Industry Insiders Celebrate the Beauty Oscars http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=169212
10.Theodor Adorno Archive. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/adorno/index.htm
11.The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. (2010). Britons over the moob: male breast reduction nearly doubles in 2009 http://www.baaps.org.uk/about-us/press-releases/584-britons-over-the-moob-male-breast-reduction-nearly-doubles-in-2009
11.The Skin Cancer Foundation (2010). Skin Cancer Facts http://www.skincancer.org/Skin-Cancer-Facts/
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