A nip here, a tuck there. Smooth out the rough spots and behold the perfect woman because beauty is in the eye of the media.
Because modern media’s attention to beauty and ultra-slim body ideals, college students have a harder time being comfortable with their own body images, said Steven Schandler, senior psychology professor. With more positive image campaigns and the open criticism of extreme photo manipulation in advertisements or magazine photos, the public is redefining body image.
Citing the media as a major reason why students may have a negative body image, Schandler believes the media show people how to think and look.
Last weekend, former plus-size model Gwen DeVoe hosted the Los Angeles Full Figured Fashion Week(end) event to address the lack of plus-size clothing options for curvy women.
“Not only does the media tell us to conform to a certain body type but to reject all other body types,” Schandler said. “And those different than us must be ridiculed.”
The Renfrew Center Foundation, which supports the education and treatment of eating disorders, says that 5 percent of American females have the “ideal” body type portrayed in advertising.
“College students tend to put more attention on what the media says. If they’re still not comfortable with who they are, they’re going to turn to what everyone else is doing or saying,” said Meghan Prout, sophomore psychology major.
Recently, the magazine industry has received criticism for altering cover photos excessively with software programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
Most notably, in August 2009, Self Magazine was judged for airbrushing and retouching Kelly Clarkson’s cover picture to make her look thinner. In response, the publication said that it tries to make all of its cover models look their best, even if it means shaving a few pounds off the person’s frame in the photo.
Prout thinks manipulating pictures perpetuates the idea that being anything but skinny is bad.
“I think magazines Photoshop images to fit the thin ideal we have in our culture,” Prout said.
Ed Fox, associate director of student psychological counseling services, thinks that college students are more at risk of developing a body image problem or an eating disorder than other age groups because of an increase in stress and rapid changes in lifestyle.
“Studies show that around 85 percent of college-aged women believe that they are slightly or seriously overweight, but, in fact, the typical college woman is 5 percent under her ideal weight,” Fox wrote in an email.
Sarah Burney, senior psychology major, battled anorexia in middle school and high school but is now recovered and healthy. To put a positive twist on her body image, she doesn’t pay attention to the portrayals of women in the media and believes the media do not cause body image problems.
“I don’t think media could cause you to have an eating disorder, but if you already had one or [had] problems, it could make it worse,” Burney said. “It changes your perception of what normal is, but only if you let it.”
DeVoe started Full Figured Fashion Week because plus-size designers are left out of traditional fashion week events and to inform consumers of the plus-size options available.
“I’ve been told several times that no one fantasizes about being a plus-size woman, and that’s probably true, but the fact remains that you have to work with what you have,” said DeVoe in the New York Times in June.
While Prout agrees with Burney that you have to change the negative image to a positive one, she also believes that colleges should do more to help students with their body image problems.
“College campuses need to emphasize that being healthy and being active is much more impacting and more valid than this whole idea of ‘you need to be skinny to be popular,'” she said.