Category Archives: body image

survey analysis: part 4

Did you miss part 1, part 2 or part 3?

When talking about body image nowadays, people assume that the media has something to do with it. I know personally the media had nothing to do with my eating disorder so I thought that I’d try to ask people about their experience with eating disorders and how the media played a role in that experience.

Eating disorders are not necessarily about body image. While images in magazines may distort our ideas of what is considered to be an ideal human body, they have little to do with eating disorders, at least in my opinion. Eating disorders are manifestations of deeper-seated psychological issues.

That was my experience and one that’s been echoed in this study among the 39.2% of respondents who either have or have recovered from an eating disorder. That’s a large number and to make things worse, another 38.4% of women have known someone close to them who’s struggled meaning that 3 out of 4 women have been affected by eating disorders in some way.

Six percent preferred not to answer this question and while direct assumptions can not be made, guesses are that the question was an emotional topic for them maybe because they’re in denial themselves, are helping someone now or have lost someone from this disease.

The media could be triggering, but there wasn’t a direct link between their feelings of themselves and their media intake. “It was a way for me to have control–an idea not given to me by the media. So, yes I feel the media does play a role in determining how women feel about their bodies and what is beautiful, but they are not the only factor.” These disorders are more because of perfectionism, being rewarded, and other emotional events like divorce or abuse. “Speaking from my own experience, the media didn’t have much to do with my ED. Mine was due to pressure from the sport I competed in my whole life (think gymnastics, although that’s not what I did). Rather than feel influenced by the media, I felt I had to be stick thin because I was rewarded the most when I was that way. I was second at nationals when I was at my smallest, gained a little weight, started not placing so well, lost the weight through starvation, and started winning again.”

The triggering, but not causing relationship was also shown by this woman who said, “I hardly ever read beauty/health magazines (except at the doctor’s waiting room, maybe), read ‘the right kind’ of blogs (ED-recovery oriented, health food blogs etc.), don’t really watch TV etc. and still suffer from anorexia nervosa. Media might play into it a little, but it is definitely not a large factor in this mess I am in.

Conclusion: What does this tell us? What can we do about it?

The cycle of negativity, disordered eating and eating disorders can also trickle down from mother to daughter and media to consumer. “Because I think confidence comes from within. My negative body thoughts originated because my mom is constantly on diets and unhappy with her body, so she passed that self-hating attitude to me and was always telling me to go to the gym, not eat dessert, etc. Yes, I look in magazines/movies and used to see the image of what I wanted/felt like I should be and it hurt even more, but that was only a contributing factor, not the main cause. When I beat my ED, I didn’t stop reading magazines, I simply stopped comparing myself and cut out the negative chatter.” Across generations, body issues have been a problem and if our mothers are showing their daughters these behaviors, they’re ultimately going to follow. Likewise, we continue to tell other women they aren’t good enough, they will feel that stress.

Because of this, instilling prevention programs at a young age (middle school and older) to women to learn about media literacy and also proper nutrition is key. Nutrition is really a glazed over topic in health classes in middle school and high school that just show the food pyramid. While this is a start, it doesn’t tell women why we need certain foods or even other options if you follow different lifestyles like vegetarianism or veganism. Obviously in a health class, they cannot get into too much detail, but it’s been said that many women try a vegetarian diet or even vegan to just be able to cut things out and in turn, eat less. That only starts a downward spiral. Along with that, media literacy in a health class would be recommended because health is not just physical health, but mental health. If we can talk about airbrushing and some of the standards prevalent in society, girls may be able to grow-up trying not to compare themselves to a standard models and celebrities can’t even achieve.

For magazines, the primary thing I would recommend would be to start using a diverse set of models interchangeably in the pages. There are always the “size” issues, but those just further show that seeing different sizes can only be a special occasion when it should be the norm. If we show women that they can grow up and be whatever size, it won’t cure eating disorders, but it won’t be a trigger and certainly will lessen body dissatisfaction and negatively comparing each other. Is it so bad to tell someone they’re beautiful? I don’t think so!

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All done! I can’t believe this project is complete- or at least for these immediate purposes. This last section is what’s really pushing the new blog and I hope you guys enjoy that too.

Was there anything you were surprised about reading or that you learned?

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PS: I can’t wait to launch the new blog, but it still might be under construction. I have some general things but my friend is helping with illustrations and I don’t know when she’s going to be done.

A formal announcement will be very soon!!!!

survey analysis: part 3

Miss part 1 or part 2?

Along with the media, there are advertisements. I wanted to see what women said about the images they saw to get a better understanding of how they perceived the models.

In the survey, there were three advertisements that were shown to the respondents- one ad of 5 plus-sized models, one of an ad that was shot with one straight-sized model and one plus-sized model and one of Demi Moore in an ad with a picture beside it of her naturally.

The first photograph is below and the question asked with it was “What do you see when you look at this ad?”

With or without an experience with eating disorders, the responses were close to the same. There were two types of comments, ones that said they were beautiful and looked normal so that probably meant they were plus-sized models and ones that commented that they had on too much eye makeup and looked bored, sad, and aloof. I found these comments surprising since I was afraid there could have been a slight bias with the questions that proceeded. We’ve been talking about body image, eating disorders and the media and while some did pick up on the fact that they were plus-sized models without a prompt, most were so concentrated on their eye make-up and how they showed themselves. Many called them “beautiful” and said that they saw themselves being represented which actually made them feel good.

Which leads to the second photograph, which was a set of photographs of Demi Moore. The one on the left was of her airbrushed for an advertisement and the one on the right was her naturally at that photo shoot.

About 75% percent of women said they like Demi Moore naturally (on the right) then her airbrushed. Maybe magazines and ads should use less airbrushing and less fake looking people? I’m not sure what the respondents were thinking since I didn’t get written responses from this question, but it’s clear that people love the natural look which is good for Marie Claire since they recently did a whole spread on Jessica Simpson un-airbrushed this past month.

The last set of photographs was with two models, the one on the left is straight-sized and the one on the right is plus-sized, but to me, this was the most telling.

It was too close to say which photograph was preferred the most or which way the industry should take to advertise to women. Women loved the left (49.9%) just a fraction less than the left (50.1%), which was actually a different of only one person! So while this didn’t make a huge conclusion on the surface, it brought up the fact that whether a company uses a straight-sized model or a plus-sized model, it will give the same reaction- half will love it and half won’t.

This is also telling because a recent study conducted by Arizona State University concluded by saying that plus-size models could be detrimental to female consumers. Quoted from a previous blog post I wrote on this study, “the actual finding showed that women with a low BMI showed a boost in self-esteem when they viewed all advertisements because they identified positively to the thinner models and felt different from the heavier models. On the other hand, high BMI showed a decrease in self-esteem when they viewed the advertisements because they weren’t able to identify with the thinner, “idealized,” models, but could to the overweight models.”

“This study also found that the women within the normal BMI range had the greatest shifts in self-esteem depending on what advertisement they were shown. For example, if they viewed a thin model, they felt similar and good and if they saw a moderately heavy model, they worried they were similar and overweight.”

I don’t discredit this study or say that their findings were wrong, even though I found a few flags in the study write-up itself, but based on my survey, their findings didn’t hold true. Like the previous set of photographs, I do not know the actual feelings of the respondents since it was only a “left” or “right” question, but that also makes the answers more definite.

survey analysis: part 2

Did you miss part one? We talked about viewership of magazines, beauty definition and body image, but now it’s about…

… the Media

Unfortunately, whether it’s the media’s fault for making women feel not good enough or the reader’s fault for buying the magazine in the first place, 46% of women said that the media affects their feelings of their body a little while 41.6% said it has a lot of influence. “Unquestionably, society has an obsession with women’s bodies (and criticizing them). [It] boggles my mind.”

Even if women read these magazines, they can become unclear with what the message they are reading into. “Health magazines constantly push the need to lose 5-10 lbs. What is “the media’s” definition of the perfect body? Who knows,” said one reader. Or if it is more defined, is the magazine just trying to make money? Are the writers trying to help us or are they trying to just talk how the companies want them to talk? Another respondent brought up these questions when she said, “I think the media absolutely defines a standard of beauty, often at the behest of companies who stand to make money by moving the bar of perfection farther and farther away so that we buy the products that will make us skinny and beautiful overnight and all that jazz. As much as I might like to ignore that particular brand of beauty, and declare that I don’t subscribe to it, it is difficult when it’s impossible to escape it. From movies and TV shows to advertising to the Internet, I see those images everyday multiple times a day.”

Being bombarded was a trend among respondents saying, “the pressure to be thinner is very much magnified by the media. Specifically, the media contributes to a perception that beauty is formulaic (i.e., everyone needs to look like X to be beautiful), as well as, more tangentially, the perception that it is worthwhile to sacrifice much to be ‘this’ kind of beautiful. For instance, ‘diets’ in these magazines are often not healthful – the message is then that we sacrifice healthful eating for thinness. I believe myself to not be fully sucked in by these messages, but am simultaneously certain that they do have some influence.

That was the saddest thing when reading responses from women- knowing that they knew they were being influenced, but they have a hard time stopping it from happening. “When I answered the following questions it isn’t that I think about the media when answering the questions, however I think that my answers are influenced by the media without even thinking about it, due to the constant pressures to be thin and constantly wearing make up and looking beautiful.” The same goes for this woman who said, “The media is everywhere. Even if I don’t consciously think about its effect on me, I know there’s no way I can be escaping all of the messages.

Researchers have tried to answer the media’s involvement with women developing negative relationships with their bodies, but in my opinion and one that was found through this study as well, the media plays a heavier role in creating body dissatisfaction and disordered eating habits, like some that are presented in the pages, rather then eating disorders themselves. That’s where the media has to watch how it speaks to women and also what they are teaching. Our media has grown in great strides over the past 10 years with magazines, the internet and social media platforms, but with all of this growth, media literacy has not followed so you have women growing up with these messages, but they’re not able to discern what’s good for them or what’s bad.

There are also others who have either struggled in the past with body issues or an eating disorder and because of it, want to try to change the media’s influence. “In the past, I would have said a lot. This year I am making it my goal to be more positive about my self-image. I am finally becoming (still working out a few kinks) happy with my body the way it is. Do I look at models in magazines and think, ‘I wish I was as thin as them?’ Sometimes. More often now I look at the models in fitness magazines and think ‘I’d rather have muscle than be too thin.’ I recently learned that Wilhelmina Models has an athletic division, and I think that is great.

survey analysis: part 1

Ok, here it is! I promised I’d share some of the results I wrote about for the end of my study book so here it is. I think after you read it, you’ll understand why I’m launching the new blog and what it means to me to do so. I’m going to split it into sections, since it’s about 7 pages and I wouldn’t expect anyone to read all of it at once. If you have any questions or want the actual quantitative summary of just the numbers/statistics, feel free to email me.

Also, just for your information, I want to give you some facts about our average respondent.

  • She ages between 18-24 (42.5%) and 25-30 (40%).
  • She’s white (94.8%) and non-Hispanic (96.2%).
  • She probably lives in the Northeast (33.2%); however, there was a good sampling between all other regions of the country- Mid-Atlantic (12.6%), South (19.8%), Midwest (16.8%), Southeast (4.2%)and West (13.4%).
  • Whether she’s single (30.7%), in a relationship (39.2%) or married (28.8%) is unclear, but she does not have kids (93.7%).

Viewership

Seventeen. Glamour. Cosmopolitan. Women’s Health. Allure. Fitness. TeenVogue. Elle. Vogue. Oxygen. Runner’s World. With all these titles and many more, it’s was no surprise that 79.5% of women said that they read magazines on a regular basis, which was characterized as 8 out of 12 months a year. The top five magazines read were Self (62.2%), Shape (59.8%), Women’s Health (45.7%), Glamour (41.2%) and Fitness (41.6%).

What does “beautiful” mean?

created by Wordle

It was close, but 52% said that the magazines they read do not represent their idea of beauty; however readers of the top 5 primarily said that they did. There were some suggestions for these magazines, even the top 5, which included more realistic and more diverse approaches to beauty. “It’s so focused on the outside. You read an article on making ‘body peace’ and ‘loving yourself,’ but then two pages later there’s an article on how to make yourself perfect if only you do these 8 simple moves and buy these jeans. It’s so contradictory,” said one respondent who reads Glamour regularly. She’s not the only one who feels this way. “Many magazines teach us that we aren’t ‘beautiful enough’ instead of showing us how we can appreciate who we are,” said one respondent who reads all of the top 5 on a regular basis.

Some more suggestions included, “no airbrushing” and to see “models/people with cellulite, not the clearest skin, frizzy hair, etc…NORMAL people. Naturally thin, toned, curvy, etc.” But stating what the magazines do is not going to change anything because while the editors are great people, they’re also trying to get people to get advertisements and more subscriptions. However, it was shown that readers want to relate to the people in the magazines. Sensationalized gossip is fun every now and again, but regularly, they want to read the stories about their peers, about who other fabulous women around the world who are making a difference in their own lives or in others lives because that’s more inspiring. Now the question to them is “why do you still buy the magazines if you don’t agree with their content or practices?” But that’s for another survey.

Body Image

When asked how they felt about their bodies, only 19% said that they were happy with their body. Period. Another 6% said that they were generally happy, but would like to tone up a bit and gain more muscle or know they could eat healthier.

That being said, 61% of women said that they think they could lose weight. I was very touched by the 1% who admitted that they are still struggling from an eating disorder and know that they should actually gain weight, but cannot see it for themselves at this time.

Next up: the media’s role, eating disorders and how women view advertisements…

the price of beauty: japan

Tokyo was the next place Jessica, Ken and Cacee visited to look at their beauty customs. I was interested to see it because my parent’s neighbor’s daughter went there for a while after college and spoke so highly of it that ever since, it’s a place I have on my “travel list.” There’s a lot on that list.

The first stop is always to meet the beauty ambassador and this time wasn’t any different. Rio Mori, who was Miss Universe in 2007 and now a model, brought them to the tea house to talk about beauty in the country, but also to learn some Japanese.

She said that while women have more freedom now, there’s a huge pressure for Japanese women to be beautiful because for a long time, women always stood behind the men and were subservient. Cosmetic surgery is big, but not something that’s talked about and the most popular surgery is a double eyelid procedure to make their eyes bigger.

What the other thing is common for an episode? A spa.

The first thing they did was go on a rock walk which is a small pond-like area with rocks on the bottom of it that’s supposed to massage your feet and hit pressure points in your feet. They had a very hard time walking.

They then went to a pool with a bunch of little fish in it. As you put your feet in the water, the fish come up and suck the dead skin off of your feet as a pedicure. It’s funny because I had recently heard something about this a few months ago, but it was so weird seeing it. I can’t imagine how weird it’d feel.

The best part or should I say the most different treatment was the sand pit where they were covered from their chin down by sand. It was supposed to exfoliate and be like a sauna and they just had to lay there for 2 hours.

Something that’s associated with Japanese tradition and beauty is a geisha so their next stop was to learn what it took to be one. They got handed a basket with a kimono, but were asked to strip to their skips to be dressed in one.

Next, the girls got white paint on their face which was traditionally made from nightingale poop. Ken has said this before and I think it’s an important thing to note, but he’s helped many celebrities get ready for award ceremonies and what makes this experience better is the tradition behind  it.

FYI: geishas do not marry. They cannot fall in love.

There’s a very specific way in which geishas must perform tasks. Jessica said the hardest part about being a geisha was the walking.

You must walk very straight and with very small steps, but then there’s also the tea service. You must hand tea a certain way, pour a certain way. Everything has it’s place so it’s not just for fun. And just an added tidbit, did you know that in the 1920’s there were over 80.000 geishas? Now there are about 1,500.

Afterwards, Jessica and CaCee were put to the test of being a geisha for two businessmen.

Let’s just say that the men didn’t want to be served by them again… oh well…

But Japan is not all about traditions and the old world, but the modern day harajuka girls.

It was started to allow women self expression and a free creativity since the traditional women was very oppressed. It was their empowerment.

Before leaving, Jessica really wanted to go to a clinic and meet with a woman who wanted to get the cosmetic surgery Rio talked about earlier in their trip- the double eyelid which make their eyes look more Western.

Here, the bigger the eyes are, the more beautiful.

As an ending, they had a fashion show of all the beautiful looks they had seen during their trip to celebrate. There were all different styles and really showed the girl’s style. CaCee wore a kimono but with nontraditional makeup and hair.

She said it was liberating and fun as everyone in the audience was clapping along to the music and having a great time. Jessica too said that it was empowering when she dressed as a harajuka girl with everyone cheering YOU on no matter how you’re dressed.

“Breathtaking” was the closing adjective to describe Japan but will Rio de Janeiro be the same?

…in other fashion news, here are 8 fashion apps for you to know about 🙂

can we normalize food?

Yesterday I posted this article with a small write-up about how I got it and some questions I had after reading it like can we truly help our young women or is it a battle we’ll always be fighting? As someone who would love to get into programming for young women (high school and college-aged) on how to make food and nutrition fun while also promoting a healthy body image, after I read the story, I felt discouraged that I could never do that in a successful way 😦 So before getting sad, I felt like I’d open the discussion to you before I talked about my reaction. It was nice to hear what you had to say and also like always, it made me feel better 🙂

For background, it was stated that in 2002, a study showed that more than half of high school students had engaged in some form of disordered eating whether it was from fasting, diet pills, bingeing, purging, laxatives or even smoking. My research from the survey I did from all of you (thank you thank you thank you) actually follows a similar pattern because 85% of you either have an eating disorder, have recovered from an eating disorder or know someone who’s had an eating disorder. While I’m not surprised, it was just sad to see it in plain numbers.

But while so many are worried about the state of obesity in this country (and don’t get me wrong, it is an issue), people are not also realizing that some of the obese are actually eating disordered too. The more we talk about the food, the more polarized we’re getting instead on focusing on a true health. Sounds like the past health care talks if you ask me…

So what can parents truly do to help their children grow up in a healthy environment where there are few “good””bad” labels and where food is a normal, delightful and fueling experience rather then one that brings a sense of guilt and shame? Like Elle said, I’m actually scared too about having a little girl one day. Not because I don’t think I could handle it, but because I don’t want to be so nervous about her eating enough to make it a worse experience.

I think the key is to open up the conversation of food, feelings and body image where it’s a safe and comfortable place. My mom always made me feel comfortable to talk with her, it was sometimes MY perfectionism that thought I couldn’t. Which is a whole other issue. Even if we open up the conversation, who’s to say what her perceptions are or herself and others? But I thought the author’s ideas were interesting to when she decided to model healthy living instead of just talking about it.

I’ve tried to forget all I once knew about calories, carbs, fat and protein; I haven’t stepped on a scale in seven years. At dinner I pointedly enjoy what I eat, whether it’s steamed broccoli or pecan pie. I don’t fetishize food or indulge in foodieism. I exercise because it feels good, and I never, ever talk about weight.

But while that sounds like a great plan, she goes on and says how completely unnatural it is and how it actually makes her more conscious about what she’s eating in this “antidiet.” I think there’s a harm in pretending everything fine too because it shows an air of perfection and no one is perfect.

We’ve come full circle with still no answer. Parents are trying to help their daughters by normalizing, but instead un-normalize it by showing a faux sense of health or concern.

To put the cherry on the top, her little girl at six years old looked up at her and said Mama, don’t get f-a-t, O.K.? and while the author said that at least she didn’t hear it from her, what are we truly fighting against? Society or ourselves? which leads me to another great article here that I’ll talk about tomorrow….

How was food talked about in your family as you grew up? Did your parents have a healthy relationship with food? If not, how did it affect you? I have a friend who’s mother used to measure everything she ate and who’s father over-exercises and still doesn’t think he has a problem even though they recently helped her recover from her own eating disorder 😦

what is food and how do we talk about it?

A dear friend and mentor e-mailed me yesterday with a link to an article in today’s New York Times magazine section. She was given this link by a woman who recently lost her daughter to an eating disorder so that first question still circles in her head to this day.

I think this article brings up a lot of questions and one that I want to ask is can we truly help our young women or is it a battle we’ll always be fighting? If we’re not healthy ourselves, we can’t help others, but if mothers do not have a healthy body image or nutrition choices, how can girls grow up against their mother’s actions? Also, where’s the fine line between healthy and obsessive?

I’ll post some of my thoughts tomorrow, but I’d love to hear yours first without my preceding ideas.

…and discuss!