The fashion industry throughout history has created this facade of body-shaming, and in recent years the emphasis on fashion media has created an even more impacting problem. Body image is ‘defined as an individuals perception of their body appearance, as well as the thoughts and feelings that result from their perception' (Cash, 2004:Tiggemann, 2004) ‘Due to their emphasis on appearance and the importance of attractiveness in Western societies, idealised media images place pressure on women to achieve a similar aesthetic profile and can have significant negative implications for body image' (Levine & Murnen, 2009). Therefore, it is how an individual sees themselves and their body compared to what people think. The media is any sort of method of communication between two platforms without it being face to face, in fashion, the most important mass media includes print (newspapers, magazines), electronic communication (television, radio, videos, films) and most importantly nowadays the internet (websites, blogs, social media). ‘With the advent of mobile devices and immediate transmission of images, cellphones are a formidable medium, already transforming fashion dissemination, marketing, adoption, and sales.' (Wolbers, 2015) There are many different sorts of fashion media, the most popular nowadays being the internet and especially social media. These platforms have been advertising throughout the years a unrealistic image of the ‘perfect' body which has been affecting women especially all around the world. In this essay I will be discussing how media, especially in the fashion industry, has affected personal views and opinions on individuals personal body image.
The fashion medias idea of the ‘perfect' body has been brainstormed in peoples minds for numerous years. This unrealistic image is portrayed through different sorts of media. It is nowadays known as unrealistic, as the ‘perfect' body does not exist, it varies from person to person. This unrealistic idea of how the body should be and what is deemed attractive in mostly Western cultures is communicated through media and influence women's attitude towards their own body image. (Frederick et al., 2017) We are exposed on a daily basis to numerous media (television, social media, press, advertising) with the image of men and women that are unrealistically reachable. One of the reasons body image is impacted is because millennials are in search of personal identity, and are highly influenced by what they see in the media. ‘A small amount of research has demonstrated that media exposure to images that are toned as well as thin to promote negative body image, similar to the thin ideal' (Homan, 2010) This is leading to many women feeling like they aren't good enough and body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction is a term that is used to express the emotions an individual can feel on their personal physical appearance. It is stated also that body dissatisfaction can lead to “critical and mental health problems” and people who feel negative about their body is at risk of developing an eating disorder. (Grabe, 2008) The fashion media can negatively effect an individual through the constant showing of the thin ideal, as it is the main sort of image the fashion media exposes. Fashion marketers try to focus on products and services that are meant to improve or enhance a certain consumer's body image satisfaction. One of the primary motivations for purchasing an item is looking good in them and giving the consumer satisfaction when wearing it. An individuals personal body satisfaction is impacted by a number of factors, such as the society they live in, their culture, the media and family and friends. Fashion illustrators have slimmed this proportion of the ideal female figure not comparing to the average women shape. There is also a quite distinctive difference between one's actual physical appearance and their perceived or ideal body image. (Fowler, 2006)
Negative body image is an increasingly important topic, especially amongst the fashion industry. The ideal body of fashion has although changed throughout the years, especially in this past decade. The industry is being blamed mostly for emphasising thinness in women and making is seem highly desirable. This effects women at a very young age, as they are exposed to the fashion media and strive to look like what they see in it. Also, young girls idolise a lot of celebrities, such as models, singers, actresses, and they want to look like them. This is another stimulant of body association. Another example could be fashion events, such as the Victoria Secret fashion show that is highly anticipated every year by girls and women all over the world. This is the only show that is provided through television during the fashion week seasons, and all models or ‘angels' as they are called on the runway have the fashion body image that is being portrayed as ideal to the public. A former Victoria Secret Model, Friederique Van der Wal said the models seem thinner than the previous years, “this unnatural thinness is a terrible image to send out. The people watching the fashion shows are young, impressionable women”. (Hellmish, 2006)
During New York Fashion Week, the Victoria Beckham Spring 2016 collection was targeted in the press as Beckham was accused of using models who were to skinny in her show. It was said this caused the ‘thinspiration' (hashtag used on social media for thin models inspiration) that young girls were getting inspired of and it lead to eating disorders. Victoria had stated in 2010 that she took her role as a fashion designer seriously and “wouldn't use very skinny girls” but still did so in her Spring 2016 show. Lorna Garner, chief operating officer of the charity B-eat that focuses on eating disorders said “We know that some young women suffering from eating disorders take these types of photos and put them inside their wardrobe doors, using them as a goal to work towards.” It is not said that these types of images and exposure create eating disorders, but it does influence and increase existing conditions. Although Beckham stated she doesn't and wouldn't use unhealthy models, the models that were seen at the show was the image they put out. (Topping, 2015). Designers such as Beckham have the platform and the influence on people around the world, and what they portray and show in their shows and the sort of models they use has a big impact on the viewers. “Together with the media and fashion industry, the powerful diet food industry has artificially created a ‘problem' which has resulted in the vast majority of woman in Britain and other Western developed countries thinking they need to diet” (Mair, 2014)
Multiple countries (including France, Italy, Spain and Israel) have introduced since the beginning of 2017 the ‘Skinny Model Laws' which is a way of measuring models to ensure they are healthy based on their BMI - body mass index (a measurement of weight compared to their height). Although not enough countries have instated that law. This is aimed to fight eating disorders and the unrealistic image of beauty the models on the runway give out. Drastic consequences have been taken, if the employers do not ensure that their models are healthy they could face fines up to £64,000 and 6 months in jail. Marisol Touraine, France's Minister of Social Affairs and Health stated “Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-deprecation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behaviour” (BBC NEWS, 2017) Not everyone thinks the new “skinny model laws” initially started in France is a positive thing, Philomela Kwao, a model, writer and humanitarian (Gamble, 2016) stated to Dazed magazine “I was horrified by parts of the policy, more specifically the policing of women's bodies. Size diversity goes both ways and I despise terms such as “real woman”. You cannot determine someone's health by BMI alone. There are many factors that contribute to the health on an individual. If we're going to start using BMI alone, most plus size models - including myself- wouldn't be working”
In a recent body of research, 138 female undergraduate students from South Australia aged 18 to 30 years old (with a mean age of 20) were exposed an investigation where some images were shows to them and the effect it had on each individual on negative mood and body dissatisfaction. (Garrow & Webster, 1984) Three sets of images were given to the participants. 15 attractive peer images, 15 attractive celebrity images and 15 images of travel destinations. Each image set consisted of three photographs of five different people or places. For the celebrity and peer images, the photographs went from full body shots to close up shots of the peoples faces, which are common images you can usually find on Instagram. They were mostly wearing tight or revealing clothing. The people in the travel images were of similar age to the participants, wearing not so revealing clothing and it was not the focus of the image. The peer images were taken of public Instagram pages, the five celebrities included Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Rihanna and Beyoncé, lastly the five travel destinations were Australia, France, England, Egypt and Germany. Each image was viewed on iPads with a title slide and appeared for 10 seconds. Using Heinberg and Thompson (1995) visual analogue scales was used to measure the state mood and body dissatisfaction. They were five moods - anxiety, depression, happiness, anger and confidence and three body dissatisfaction dimensions (weight dissatisfaction, appearance dissatisfaction, and facial features dissatisfaction). The participants were instructed to indicate how they felt before and after viewing the images. The experiment indicated that participants who viewed celebrity and peer images were significantly more in a negative mood than when viewing travel images. This resulted in finding out from this experiment that when exposed to celebrity and peer images the same level of dissatisfaction on negative mood and body image was resulted, than when viewing a travel image. ‘The study adds to our knowledge of the effect of attractive celebrity and peer images on women's body image and also contributes to current understandings of social comparison processing and of celebrity worship'. (Brown and Tiggemann, 2016) In recent studies, the thin-ideal viewpoint the media has been advertising and how this is affecting women has been exaggerated. In a study done in 2009 by Levine and Murnen they stipulate that the evidence shows that the media affecting body dissatisfaction to a certain extent but is not conclusive. (Frederick et al., 2017)
Another body of research done by Eric Stice, Diana Spangler and W. Stewart Agras was done using 219 adolescent females from two private high schools the San Francisco Bay Area that ranged from 13 to 17. They were suggesting that the constant exposure of the ultra-skinny models in the media promoted a behaviour of the thin-ideal body image on females and also could change their mind regarding the average body dimensions of a women (2001). In this research, a physical and mental health survey was done prior the investigation, then ten months later, and twenty months later. Choosing randomly, 45% of the participants receive a subscription to Seventeen magazine (a popular American fashion magazine) and the remaining 55% were the control group, and they received no subscription of the magazine. They had nine measurements for their results which included, magazine exposure manipulation check, body mass, perceive pressure to be thin, social support, thin-ideal internalisation, body dissatisfaction, dieting, negative effect and bulimic symptoms. The aim of this experiment was to determine if the exposure to fashion media could potentially create long-lasting effects on the individuals. When the results were analysed, there were no significant effects to the participants. Stice, Spangler and Agras suggest that they were too old to be affected by the media as they already had this perception on the ‘thin-ideal in their minds. They also speculated that the exposure to constant fashion media could only have short-lived effects, except on “adolescents who are initially vulnerable”. (Stice, Spangler, & Agras, 2001)
Social media doesn't only have a negative impact in this situation, as it is a big platform and issues can be spoken about. Model Charli Howard used her 101,000 followers to address an issue that has affected her personally. Howard is a famous British, curvy model, who considers herself as a ‘body positive activist' and has recently been challenging modelling agency sizeism, as she was body-shammed by her modelling agency telling her she was too big to be in the fashion industry. She therefore annulled her contract with that agency and took the issue on social media to reach out to other individuals who are going through a similar situation. (Gamble, 2016) To be spiteful she posted a Facebook post stating “Here's a big f*** you to my (now ex) model agency, for saying that at 5”8 tall and a UK size 6-8 (naturally), I'm “too big” and “out of shape” to work in the fashion industry. (Edwards, 2015) This exact situation shows how the fashion industry is affecting females and how they view their body. For Howard though, she is proud of her body and backlashed on her modelling agency. She was obviously hurt by what they said but is proud of how she looks like therefore it didn't affect her as much as it does to other people. When being asked by Dazed magazine “What steps do you take to promote body diversity and what do you hope to achieve” Howard answered “It's hard, because I'm trying to remain true to who I am while fighting the industry belief that thin equals beautiful. But if I can help young girls think better about themselves, I know I'm doing the right thing”
Although the fashion industry is changing and growing, the model image isn't necessarily. In the recent years, more curvy models are slowly starting to be more in the spotlight such as size 12 model Ashley Graham. She spotted the cover of Sports Illustrated swimwear cover. The rise of curvaceous catwalk models is becoming more up-and-coming these recent years. Graham did a TED talk that went viral entitled ‘Plus Size? More Like My Size”, where she stated that the “plus-size fashion is an $18 billion industry.” (hellofashion.com, 2016) She has been on the cover of magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue. Although she has been in the spotlight and exposing herself in the fashion industry, one Vogue cover isn't going to change it all in a day. Many designers refuse to dress ‘bigger' women, and don't have their clothes available in plus sizes. The brands who created ranges for curvy women (and petite sizes as well) include Dorothy Perkins,
Figure 1 - ASA H&M, Asos Curve, Mango, New Look, Miss Guided etc.. (Moss, 2016)
Many brands have also been targeted for using models who are too skinny and it's affecting its viewers. Gucci has had some adverts of theirs banned for showing too ‘unhealthy' models that were extremely skinny. The ad was an online video featuring a couple of models dancing to a song. The final part featured a number of still photos of different models. Gucci claimed the ad was target to an “older, sophisticated” audience. The Advertising Standards Authority got a complaint that the ad was not appropriate because the models looked unhealthy and very skinny. Gucci then claimed that the idea of an unhealthily thing model was to some extent a “subjective issue”, and that the models were of “slim builds” but not “unhealthily thin”. The ASA told the fashion brand to make sure that in the future it used more responsible images of models, as they came to a conclusion that this one was “irresponsible” (Sweney, 2016)
To conclude, I would say the fashion media has affected the way women see their body image to a big extent. Each individual is affected differently by what they see in the media. Yes,the media does create some unrealistic body image looks but this doesn't necessarily affect every single person that looks at it. The thin ideal being exposed in the fashion media is simply a reminder of the negative body image that is taught at a young age to females, most specifically in Western cultures. Media is so easily accessible, and throughout the years there has been an increase in the diet and exercise articles in magazines. (Kovar, 2009) Also, different people from different cultures have various ideas of the ‘perfect' body type, therefore not everyone is affected by the models shown in the fashion media.
...(download the rest of the essay above)