What’s the ideal body? Who says the media gets to tell us? A constellation of sociocultural factors that are making us sick.

We all know that gender roles in media affect people mentally, and consequently physically. During childhood and adolescence these media exposure events become part of a constellation of sociocultural factors that promote a thinness schema for girls and the muscularity schema for boys amongst other ideals.

Consider these facts about the development of body image which begins developing when we are just newborns. A child immediately begins to explore what his or her body feels like and can do. This process continues his whole life. A child’s body image is influenced by how people around her react to her body and how she looks. A pre-adolescent becomes increasingly aware of what society’s standards are for the “ideal body.”

It is long known that the media (television, movies, magazines, etc.) have, since World War II, increasingly held up a thinner and thinner body image, (and now ever more physically fit image) as the ideal body configuration for women. The ideal man is also presented as trim, but muscular.

the association of attractiveness and thinness was present in over 100 female characters appearing in 23 Walt Disney animated films (cel cartoons) produced over a 60-year period.

Thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters.

Since the 1980s magazines have increasingly depicted the male body in a state of objectified undress, such that a significant focus for the camera and viewer is raw, exposed (“chiseled” or “ripped”) muscularity. This might be the reason my oldest son was chomping at the bit at fourteen to gain permission to start working out. (He didn’t get that permission until he was sixteen, but at that juncture he jumped right into it, buying a gym membership and start working on a “six pack.”

Most working class adolescent girls are dissatisfied with their weight and shape. A study done by ‘Field, et., al in 1999, found that 70%  the girls stated that pictures in magazines influenced their conception of the “perfect” body shape, and over 45% indicated that those images motivated them to lose weight. Further, adolescent girls who were more frequent readers of women’s magazines were more likely to report being influenced to think about the perfect body, to be dissatisfied with their own body, to want to lose weight, and to diet.

Teen-age girls who viewed commercials depicting women who modeled the unrealistically thin (yet ideal by media standards), type of beauty, caused adolescent girls to feel less confident, more angry, and more dissatisfied with their weight and appearance. I wonder what the percentage is of girls that go on to form medical and psychological maladies like shyness, depression and others?

In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys told researchers they were dissatisfied with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show which showcased people thin “media ideal but uncommon in real life’ bodies.

In another recent study on media’s impact on adolescent body dissatisfaction, two researchers found that:

Teens who watched soaps and TV shows that emphasized the ideal body typed reported higher sense of body dissatisfaction. This was also true for girls who watched music videos. Reading magazines for teen girls or women also correlated with body dissatisfaction for girls.

Many children watch between two and four hours of television per day. The presence or absence of role models, how women and men, girls and boys are presented, and what activities they participate in on the screen powerfully affect how girls and boys view their role in the world. Studies looking at cartoons, regular television, and commercials show that although many changes have occurred and girls, in particular have a wider range of role models, for girls “how they look” is still more important than “what they do.”

In a 1997 study designed to study how children described the roles of cartoon characters, children (ages four to nine) “perceived most cartoon characters in stereotypical ways: boys were violent and active and girls were domestic, interested in boys, and concerned with appearances” (Thompson, 1997).

In another study, three weeks of Saturday morning toy commercials were analyzed. Within the sampling,
50% of the commercials aimed at girls spoke about physical attractiveness, while none of the commercials aimed at boys referenced appearance.
What are we teaching our young girls and boys?  Young males interacting with the toys or items being advertised, acted aggressively in 50% of the commercials aimed at them, while none of the girls behaved aggressively. Even voice-over for young male’s toys was overly presented with speed and aggression.

With regard to work roles depicted on television in a study doen by Sobiera in 1995, no boys had unpaid labor roles, while girls were mainly shown in traditional female jobs or roles of unpaid labor.

Dr. Nancy Signorielli, Professor of Communications at the University of Delaware examined the types of media most often viewed by adolescent girls: television, commercials, films, music videos, magazines and advertisements. While the study did find positive role models of women and girls using their intelligence and acting independently, the media presented an overwhelming message that girls and women should be more concerned with romance and dating (as it follows how they look and looks supposedly determine how successful they will be at their roles), while men focus on their strength, aggressiveness and occupations.

I would like to extrapolate out the conversation and ask you to consider the lasting effects of this ‘body image / gender moulding pre-occupation”. Can the high incidence in male and female dissatisfaction and deprssion be linked to these practices in our media or in a larger context, in our society?

Can we further say that physical maladies such as bulemia, anorexia and a host of anxiety disorders are a result of such seemingly unbalanced ideologies? I have to venture a ‘yes.’ Don’t forget about the boys.   Consider the boys who are twelve and thirteen and already asking for ‘muscle building supplements.’ or ‘chin up bars.’ All you have to do is visit any  MySpace profile pics for young boys and we see them flexing their muscles, which have yet to even finish developing!   Our society is sexualizing, under contextualizing / and gender moulding our children into very narrow roles causing them to see a narrow purpose that is connecting attractiveness with general personal worth.  These are dangerous times.  Kids are worried that they don’t fit in. Worried that they don’t measure up.  Some of them have acquired negative mental and physical manifestations of these anxieties and are killing themselves slowly or in a quick and deliberate way.

What can we do at a grass roots level? I invite discussion.



Leave the Sexual Harrassment frescoes to the professionals.

Best place to be a piece of A@#.

Best place to be a piece of A@#.

There’s a megalomaniac running the antique store across the street. “Roberto” of “Roberto’s Antiques.” Beto wasn’t happy with just one clock…he had to open an entire shop of clocks! (who buys clocks?). Clocks, schmocks…he thought…so he took over the “Antique shop” that was run by the lady who made empanadas in the back. It was okay he thought, ‘Cecelia basically stuffed her shop with her comadres’ garish garage sale goodies’ But Beto was gonna sell good stuff! On Beto’s open house, I personally, found things like: “a Raggedy Ann and Andy and The Fat Policeman lamp” with a garish and un-matching (but no harm), Barney shade attached to it!! SCORE!!! No need to ask about provenance here! As I chatted up Roberto, he made mention of his sister who was a chola who was “getting her head together” and who had run with the Maravilla gang. “Raggedy Anna” was her “nickname” I recognized it. I was privy to her artwork on my way back from the paintball field I had dropped my son off at, and the entire reason I was perusing this corner of the world. To kill time and explore. Raggedy Anna worked there on Saturdays, Beto was feeling altruistic and I feared a little controlling. I managed a squinty untrusting smile, feeling totally uncomfortable but trying to hide it. I shook off the “sad proud creepies” and couldn’t believe my eyes! Right in front of me was probably the best example of a 1960’s T.V. artifact! a table RIGHT OUT OF MARLO THOMAS’ APARTMENT!!! “That Girl!” was my favorite show and THAT RIGHT THERE…was the table she and Donald sat at and argued back and forth as he shook his head wildly!!! How I LOVED that show! I always had to run and get a hat from my mother’s room and be back quick enough to sing the song and throw my hat at the same time as Marlo in that mysterious street in New York! I just knew I would be just like her! A single independent girl living in her dream, her life all planned out, just one big series of planned out steps to surmount! a cool apartment in New York! A Donald! a hat to throw every week!! What a life!!! ….Yah right, back to reality. The closest I ever got was, “A Steve” (who mark my words is actually 1000 times BETTER than “The Donald” and a house in L.A. which is pretty great too, i must say…  But  on closer inspection, “The Donald Table” looked as though “Donald”  “got up on Marlo” (if you know what I mean) in fact, quite a few times! and sadly bent one of the legs! I took the table anyway, thinking, ‘hey!  this may be a bit of  hollywood’s erotic history?  what else might I find to add to my “Erotic Hollywood Furniture collection?”  The bed that Demi Moore and Robert Redford  uneasily made love in for “The Proposal?”  My mind was afire with potential finds.  But my pristine memory of Marlo and Donald was nonethelses besmirched by the introduction of the idea that the two had premarital sex. My virgin eyes!  How could this be?  Well here was evidence . There was even a bit of clothing snagged on one of the phillips screws attaching the metal tube leg onto the underside of the lined metal rim going ’round the length of the table. I dared not visualize what THAT could be!     So I expect after closing shop on one of those manic selling days, Beto, The Power hungry “Luche Libre Lion of Bloomington” probably sat in his rusty Jetstream parked in the Bloomington junkyard (I know cuz you could see it from the 10 freeway), strategizing like that evil burlap doll out of the movie “9”. No doubt he figured out how to take over that 99 cent “water store” and adjoin his “antique” store to it, cuz that’s just what he did. With much elation one day, after again ditching my kid, not wanting to watch the paintball practice, I again felt the call to peruse the junk (er…quality second life merchandise)…sorry…I actually spotted a ‘john travolta LP in one of the bent up cardboard boxes! (the Marilu Henner days)… …and as if this tattered box wasn’t enough of a ‘gold mine,’  I spotted another masterpiece!  The hairest angel  in tenor vocal history!….Mr. Barry Gibbs! Oh!  I was all aglow, spotting his rough and tumble  mug on The Bee Gees’ “Children of the World” L.P.!!!   I was two for two, things were really going my way!   The planets were aligned until the moment I pulled the vinyl out to inspect it… it was sadly…. scratched to HOLY OBLIVION!!! . I would have to sniff out deals another day. Little did I know, a month later,  I chanced upon an article about my “Short on stature and high on real estate,   “Luche Libre Lion of Bloomington.”    ‘Why…that mini-mogul had bought the third space!’ I said out loud at the Starbucks I was visiting with one of the PTA ladies from my son’s school.   Wow…to think on  that little cracked block that reeked of depression, fish tacos and spoiled horchata, my friend,  El Rey de Bloomington, or as I called him, “La Luche Libre Leon de Bloomington might need a top hat, a tux and a cane soon.  Like “Rich Uncle Pennybags” from the game Monopoly!   If I could give him a “LOL CATS” caption…It’d say:  “I’m wanna be Moguls kay?” Noticing my surprise at the article I was reading, my friend Anabel said, “Oh, what’s that your reading?  You’re laughing, I’m curious, what is it?”   So I began to explain the terrain of that  lovely stretch of stank some call Bloomington, and who “La Luche Libre Leon de Bloomington” was after all.  I may have been too poetic about the entire year I perused the Junk in that stretch of town, just for fun, for stories and as a way to waste time.  Roberto took properties by storm not unlike a Mexican Nazi War Machine… but of course alot nicer.  I told Anabel about the place with the “high art” across the street from Roberto’s, (a little bar “with a fresco on the front that virtually advertises mamacitas potentially available for sexual harassment and a few games of friendly pool).  I let on about the fact that El Rey, the iconic Bloomington “faux-tique” dealer had his eye on buying that bar, but it was virtually untouchable for “El Rey.”  He explained the speedbump to me one day,  ‘it belongs to two brothers, Manuel and Danny and their pretty good dudes”  he said.  “they’d never sell.”  Roberto could only call it his watering hole and a place to pick up some “mamacitas”and play some games.” as he called them.   No matter how bad he wanted to resume his game of risk and “be the Ottoman empire”…this place was OFF LIMITS!!!   It’s cool…hey… where else can an hombre rope a mamacita in Shakira pants, a crop top and HUMONGOUS………… earrings! (check the picture, she has enormous earrings).  I went on to tell Anabel about my personal perseverance in a sea of used CRAP just to escape the dust and four hours of testosterone and expletives. ... I did make sure she knew that this “El Rodeo” bar was not place to to cool your heels or “ride a bull”  but the the best place to BECOME A PIECE OF ASS!!  if you’re not careful. ...especially when El Rey de Bloomington – announces quitting time and….. let’s already let Raggedy Anna go home for the day.