The personal characteristics of an individual are influenced by several factors surrounding their activities. Mass media is among the ranks of this factors; mass media is said to be the main reason affecting the body identity of young girls. The ultrathin ideal has been multiplying among the women over the recent several decades (Roberts, Feingold, Cash & Johnson, 2006). These ideal goals are highly elusive and sometimes unattainable for the majority of women particular Black-African women. Due to these difficulties and unattainability of the ideals propagated by the mass media, several issues arise among them feminist perception of body image, ethnicity and body image, eating disorders and body image (Roberts, Feingold, Cash & Johnson, 2006). In this light, the research aims at addressing the question stated as, “What is the impact of current fashion magazine advertisements on Asian and Black African/Caribbean girls’ body identity?” Several authors and scholars have addressed this issue on an academic and non-academic level.
The research topic is “What is the impact of current fashion magazine advertisements on Asian and Black African/Caribbean girls’ body identity?” The research problem will only be addressed adequately if the study will answer the arising research questions. These research questions link the aspect advertising to the resultant effects on the livelihood of the information as well as product consumers; the questions are:
- What message is contained and passed across by the information provided by the current advertisement magazines?
- What message do girls derive from the ad messages in the magazines?
- How do the girls and young women react to the message attained and what action do they take to match the message from advertisements?
- What are the effects of the actions taken by the girls in their lives, societies and the world community at large?
In answering the stated questions, the research will clearly analyze the impact of the current magazine advertisement on the Asian and Black African/Caribbean girls’ body identity. Several authors, scholars or researchers have revealed that there several challenges that result from the mass media advisement. The study concentrates on the Asian, and Black African/Caribbean girls due to the inferiority complex compared to their western counterparts. Asian and Black African/Caribbean girls are in the current time exposed to the Western culture through several media avenues, and in the midst these media are the magazines (Roberts, Feingold, Cash & Johnson, 2006). In effect, these girls yearn to be like the western ladies. Through the magazines, the girls from the Asian and African background learn about the lifestyles of the western girls. For this reason, the girls engage in activities that will make them be like their western counterparts.
Many young women believe that having a thin and attractive body will lead to more happiness and overall success. This is commonly observed in western women who have an enormous pressure to conform to the idealistic perception of feminine beauty (Harper & Tiggermann 2008). Magazines mainly advertize and market products that relate to beauty and sometimes sexuality. They employ the endorsement strategies where models and celebrities are made to be the face of these products. In this light, many women yearn to be like the models; however, this goal is unattainable to many people. Due to the pressures of conformity, majority of women end up using weight control pills or engage in extreme dieting and exercise to achieve the ‘perfect’ look. According to Graggs-Hinton (2006), many young women worry about their physical appearance more than their achievements, career and thinking ability. In truth, Black-African women have reported being satisfied and comfortable with having a full figured shape and a large body type while women of the western culture aim for a thinner and skinnier figure (Spurgas, 2005). However, researchers have reached an agreement that the perception of body image might be becoming more unvarying. Recent studies indicate that both ethnic groups are becoming more vulnerable to issues concerning poor self-image as well as eating disorders (Wood & Petrie, 2010).
Research hypothetically points out that Black women are more satisfied with their bodies and are less likely to show desires of having a thin image as compared to White women. However, this does not suggest that they are prone to the societal messages dealing with body image and appearance. With women being subjected to sociocultural messages that emphasize on women’s appearance and image, black women are no exemption (Schooler, Ward, Merriwether & Caruthers, 2004). They are also vulnerable to body image issues as they may feel the pressure to achieve the beauty standards set by the media. The problems with body image can be better understood when observed through a theoretical framework.
Social Comparison Theory
Festinger (1954) explains the social comparison theory as the view of individuals always comparing themselves to peers, groups, and social categories. It offers a level of explanation to how the images of media result in affecting how women view their bodies. People compare themselves to others who they believe are similar to them to know their levels of success, ability, and attractiveness. According to the theory of social comparison, an upward comparison occurs when one compares himself or herself to another who does slightly better than they do on a particular dimension that can cause depression. On the other hand, downward comparison includes a person that compares himself or herself to someone who is far worse than them which tends to bring about an elevation of mood (Milkie, 1999). Researchers suggest that the comparison of body image has positive and adverse effects on people. Dittmar (2009) stresses the fact that, comparison could lead to self-shaming, low self-esteem or emotional distress. There is a variety of outlets to which young women can search for social comparison, but mass media is seen to be the most impactful influences. Images from prevalent media such as televisions, magazines usually portray a standard to which women are expected to adhere. However, these ideals are typically difficult and impossible for the majority of women to achieve (Schooler et al., 2004: Thompson & Coovert 1999). The extensiveness of the media makes it very challenging for most women to avoid evaluating themselves against the sociocultural and mainstream standard of beauty (Milkie, 1999). Marketers target individuals’ especially young women and try to promote social comparison with the idealistic images with the aim of motivating these women to purchase products that will bring them closer to the ‘perfect’ image. Research showing the negative consequences of women’s social comparison with mass media images is numerous. Schooler et al. (2004) discovered that women who compare themselves to other women in the media tend to exhibit signs of poor body image and negative mood. Tiggemann and Slater (2004 p.50) suggest “social comparison provides the mechanism by which exposure to media images induces adverse effects’’. The extent to which a female participates in the processes of social comparison determines whether she is affected by the presence of the ultra-thin images of women in media. Women who show signs of social comparison are at a higher risk of developing an obsession with weight and physical appearance and are more prone to displaying patterned eating disorders. Evidence shows that women who are not taught to compare themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty are less likely to internalize and look up to unrealistic standards (Tiggemann & Slater, 2004).
A feminist interpretation of a bad body image views socio-cultural situations as the underpinning for body contempt among women. Girls are raised to focus more on external aspects such as appearance rather than internal while boys are brought up to concentrate on athletic abilities rather than their features. Women are expected to have utmost control of their body and size than men. Thus, showing human processes such as sweating or even belching is viewed as unfeminine, but as evidence of masculinity (Allen et al., 1994). In addition to these feminist views of women, there has been evidence of increased sexualisation of women in the culture. In a previous study, half of advertisements in magazines portrayed women as sexual objects (Cash 2012). Others usually view these women who are portrayed as sex symbols as less powerful and competent. This perception can somewhat affect status and chances of employability in the future hence embodying the sexy ideals might not always result in the societal empowerment of women (Smolak et al. 2007). A meta-analytic review conducted by Smolak related feminist identity to body disturbance and discovered a positive outcome such that feminist women reported more body satisfaction (Smolak et al. 2007). In another meta-analysis study on ethnic minority women in the United States, African American women showcased more body satisfaction than Caucasian-American women but proved to not reflect the same effects for other ethnic minority women. Feminists tend to see past the unrealistic body ideals and manage to help themselves and others to challenge them although they too are sometimes affected by the socio-cultural message the media portrays of women in the media. Research suggests that those who accept a feminist perspective can avoid societal standards and are less prone to internalize thin female ideals. Thu feminist views provide an in-depth understanding of societal forces behind women’s body issues and offer at the same time a way to fight these unrealistic beauty ideals (Cash 2012).
These aspects discussed address the first, second and third research questions. These studies validate the essence of this research, indicating that a relationship exists between the variables of the study. Magazine advertisement (independent variable) is part of mass media and has significant influence on the actions of the girls from all ethnic divide. These actions lead to some harmful effects (dependent variable) to these girls’ lives. The independent variable is addressed through the first, second and third questions (Schooler, Ward, Merriwether & Caruthers, 2004). The dependent variable is discussed in the last research question. The last research question states, “What are the effects of the actions taken by the girls in their lives, societies and the world community at large?” These impacts include obesity, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. Research has shown that body image manipulation can result in negative consequences on a woman’s mental and physical wellbeing such as obesity, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, etc. (Dittmar, 2009).
- Eating disorders
Girls are more likely to suffer chronic illnesses and psychological disturbances. Eating disorders are more prevalent in the girl child; Girls who aim to meet the beauty and body identity requirement portrayed by advertisement magazines. The main eating ailments are the anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Beauty and fashion are associated with being thin, and Slimness is associated with success and sexual attractiveness. These eating disorders results from the need to control the body image and identity. In the past, researchers have revealed that eating disorders exist among various ethnic groups. These findings are essential because it indicates that ethnic minority can also be affected by this unrealistic portrayal of women and that they also are not exempted from this disorder but just as exposed as White/Caucasian women. According to Abrams et al. (1993) the rising of popularity of eating disorder among ethnic minority may be due to the high risk of exposure to Western Cultural influences. Research conducted by Miller and Herberstadt (2005) supports the idea that the majority of British women believes they will live a better life if they lost weight and had an idealistic body. Physical features may also play a significant role in developing body ideals among different ethnic groups as individuals in an ethnic group will share the same body size and shape and tend to develop similar beauty ideals. For example with South Asian women where bodies tend to be more lightly built have a smaller body ideal compared to young women in the South Pacific and areas of Africa (Grogan, 2008). Members of ethnic subcultures may reject or adopt the mainstream view of body image based on a strong identification with their culture (Gragg-Hinton, 2006). This is due to religious reasons or because they see no match between the mainstream idealistic image and their personal features.
- Depression and low self-esteem
Various studies indicate that the goal of being slim is highly unattainable. On the other hand, individuals go to greater lengths to try and achieve this objective. Girls engage in taking some medications that might help them change their body (Gragg-Hinton, 2006). Others use steroids and use food supplements to enable them reach the said body. Additionally, other girls and young women pursue surgical operations to make changes in their body structure. However, these efforts might prove fruitless and sometimes end up destroying their body structure to undesirable levels. As a consequence, these girls develop some social and mental disorders, mainly depression. These mental conditions lead to some social conditions with negatively affect individuals. The girls are like to suffer from low self-esteem and societal withdrawal (Schooler, Ward, Merriwether & Caruthers, 2004).
The failure to achieve the body image and identity goals results in depression, self-esteem, and societal withdrawal. These mental and social disorders lead to several lifestyle and behavior changes to these girls (Schooler, Ward, Merriwether & Caruthers, 2004). The girls are likely to engage in the drug and alcohol abuse. Smoking and drinking is more prevalent in the social life of the girls and young ladies who have made attempts to improve their body image and identity as defined by their admiration for the pictures created by the magazine advertisement. They use drugs to seek comfort for failing to meet the standards of body identity. Additionally, the females believe that they lack the necessary standards of body identity that prompts acceptance in the society. So they engage in drugs and alcohol abuse in order to fight the discrimination of non-acceptance. However, some people use other societal avenues to seek acceptance (Schooler, Ward, Merriwether & Caruthers, 2004). Teenagers are initiated to sexual activities at early ages in life as they seek acceptance from the society. In addition, women with poor body identity inferiority complex are likely to enter into early marriages. The young women are likely to tolerate marital abuses.
In conclusion, these effects are highly hazardous to these ladies. Through the previous studies, the research questions are approved to be true. This means that the previous literatures provide the necessary secondary research for the research study. The four research questions are valid according to the previous studies done (Gragg-Hinton, 2006). The findings of this secondary research are that there are several impacts of current fashion magazine advertisements on Asian and Black African/Caribbean girls’ body identity. The results can be summarized under the categories eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem and lifestyle.
Abrams, K. K., Allen, L., & Gray, J. J. (1993). Disordered eating attitudes and behaviors, psychological adjustment, and ethnic identity: A comparison of Black and White female college students. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 14, 49 –57
Anderssen, Erin. “Defining shape in an airbrushed world.” The Globe and Mail, March 2, 2012.
Allen P, Katzman M and Wooley S. – Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders 1994 – New York Guildford Press.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140
Schooler, D., Ward, L. M., Merriwether, A., & Caruthers, A. (2004). Who’s that girl: Television’s role in the body image development of young white and black women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28(1), 38-47.
Smolak, L., and Murnen, S. K. (2007). Feminism and body image. In: Swami, V., and Furnham, A. (eds.) The Body Beautiful, pp. 236–258. London: Palgrave Macmillan
Milkie, M. A. (1999). Social comparisons, reflected appraisals, and mass media: The impact of pervasive beauty images on black and white girls’ self-concepts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 62(2), 190-210.
Miller, E., & Halberstadt, J. (2005). Media consumption, body image and thin ideals in New Zealand men and women. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 34(3), 189-195.
Tiggemann, M. (2003). Media exposure, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating: Television and magazines are not the same! European Eating Disorders Review, 11(5), 418-430.
Thompson, J. K., & Coovert, M. D. (1999). Body image, social comparison, and eating disturbance: A covariance structure modelling. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 26(1), 43-51.
Tiggemann, M., & Mcgill, B. (2004). The role of social comparison in the effect of magazine advertisements on women’s mood and body dissatisfaction. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23(1), 23-44
Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2004). Thin ideals in music television: A source of social comparison and body dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 35(1), 48-58.
Dittmar, H. (2009). How do ‘body perfect’ ideals in the media have a negative impact on body image and behaviours? Factors and processes related to self and identity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28 (1), pp. 1-8. doi:10.1521/jscp.2009.28.1.1
Roberts, A., Feingold, A., Cash, T. F., & Johnson, B. T. (2006). Are Black-White Differences in Females’ Body Dissatisfaction Decreasing? A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal Of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 74(6), 1121-1131
Harper, B & Tiggemann, M. (2008). The Effect of Thin Ideal Media Images on Women’s Self Objectification, Mood, and Body Image. Sex roles, 58, pp. 649–657
Gragg-Hinton, C. (2006) Coping with Eating Disorders and Body Image, London: Sheldon Press.
Spurgas, A. (2005). Body Image and Cultural Background. Sociological Inquiry, 75(3), 297-316. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2005.00124
Wood, R & Petrie, T. (2010). Body dissatisfaction, ethnic identity, and disordered eating among African women: Journal of Counselling Psychology, Vol. 57(2), 141-153.