The “ideal” body: a media myth?

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Now more than ever, as a society we experience a great deal of anxiety surrounding our bodies. According to a recent article it takes women an average of  65 years to be comfortable with their bodies. In my opinion, being bombarded with images from the media focusing on the “ideal” body doesn’t exactly help. Due to the vast development of the media, we are constantly being provided with rigid perceptions of body standards. Interestingly enough however, the article mentioned above claims that men are comfortable with their bodies at any age. Personally, I disagree. I believe that men can be just as insecure as women.

According to a study mentioned in an article from The Guardian, a higher number of men are now having cosmetic surgery. As shocking as I find this, I can completely understand why. I think people tend to forget about the fact that men can be just as concerned about their bodies as women. In recent years there has been a huge increase in men who visit the gym on a regular basis, disciplining themselves in order to conform to traditional male standards (i.e. a six pack, toned arms, and so on). We’re surrounded by so much pressure to conform that there’s been a huge rise in women who attend the gym too, desperate to tone up in order to achieve the hugely desired bikini body (as presented by the media, of course).

With further reference to the media, I personally believe that magazines don’t help with positive body image in the slightest. Take Men’s Health, for example. It’s filled with images of stereotypically masculine men with amazingly toned bodies and focuses on the idea that men need to be constantly disciplining themselves in order to meet those standards. I completely disagree with the traditional view that men are typically lower maintenance than women. Men can spend so much time on attempting to improve their appearances! There’s now such a wide range of products for male body care. Men, I believe, are targeted just as much as women in the consumer market.

I’m aware that so far, this article has been widely focused on the media, and while I don’t wish in any way to place all blame on the media for negative body images, it has to be acknowledged that the media does play a significant part in providing society with rigid body ideals. To use a personal example: my friend is living proof of this. During a conversation a while ago, my friend revealed to me that when she’s feeling particularly insecure, she can’t watch certain programmes which feature immensely attractive, thin women, as they make her feel even more anxious about her own body.

I completely understand that as I’m the same. Personally, I also feel that the media can have a negative impact on me when it comes to body image. For instance, if I’m reading online magazine articles, when I come across images of thin, toned and tanned female celebrities in their bikinis, I instantly compare their bodies to mine. Which is pretty stupid considering that images in the media are typically manipulated and edited. Nevertheless, I can’t help myself. I feel it’s now a natural reaction of mine. I think that with the media playing such a huge role in the construction of body ideals, it can make it difficult for us to be able to actively change our perceptions of ourselves.

However, there are still a few things we can try. If we ensure that we’re spending time with people who have more realistic perceptions of their bodies, then we’re more likely to have less rigid ideals ourselves. Spending time with friends who go on and on about how someone in a size 10 is apparently overweight (how people can actually say this baffles me) is more likely to make us harsher on ourselves. It’s also important for us to never forget the fact that images of men and women in the media are edited. We must always acknowledge this, because drawing harsh comparisons between ourselves and images of unrealistically thin celebrities is by no means healthy. We’re provided with a warped perception of bodies, and as cliché and cheesy as it sounds, it’s much better to have a great personality than it is to look physically perfect according to rigid ideals.

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