Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

In a May, 2000 edition of Newsweek  a 16-year-old girl was quoted as saying, "I took this picture [out of the magazine] because it shows the stick-thin and perfect bodies in the magazines that teens read. I think this is part of where the pressure to have the perfect body comes from. I was thinking about a girl I knew that had an eating disorder. I think they should put a few more 'realistic' bodies in the magazines to show teens that not everyone is skinny." Adolescence is an extremely hard time for anyone as uncertainty and self-doubt arise from many physical, emotional, and psychological changes. As these feelings fester, one’s sense of confidence drops at a constant rate. With that being said, strategies for fitting in and improving physical attractiveness become even more important to adolescents.
White adolescent girls are the most avid consumers of magazines, with three fourths of those between the ages of 12 and 14 reading at least one magazine on a regular basis (Klein, 1993). Remembering my days spent reading magazines such as Seventeen and Teen People, the content is highly based off of appearance and beauty. Although there were always the articles dealing with conquering anorexia or bulimia, maintaining a positive body image, and a stressing independence and uniqueness, it was very clear that most of the models in the advertisements were thin and beautiful. Based on this, one must conclude that the main message of the advertisements is that in today's society, acceptance depends upon fitting into this narrow conception of pretty. The content of advertisements in magazines targeted to young women send an array of implicit and explicit messages concerning physical appearances.
In both van Zoonen and Gill, the idea of content analysis is under much discussion. Content analysis counts the frequency of various occurrences and this raw data is translated into percentages and various other statistics. While it can be argued content analysis suggests that sexism resides in single images that can be counted instead of seeing sexism as a culture wide issue, there are still benefits of this research. I found an article that performs a content analysis on the top five selling teen magazines. Of those were Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Girl's Life, American Cheerleader, and M Magazine. 

As expected, those represented in the magazines represent girls that are flirty, carefree, tan, and beautiful. With so much content pushing such similar images, girls will inevitably internalize the idea that beauty means echoing and replicating what they see in the media. If this continues, what will this mean for the future of individuality and confidence?

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