Distorted Images: 

The Media’s Portrayal of the Perfect Body

by A. L. C.


Comp 3160 – 004

Project #3:  Newsletter

Professor Roufs

26 March 2001

            At the beginning of her freshman year at Ohio State University, Andrea Carlson decided to go on a diet.  This diet drastically changed her life.  Standing at 5’4” and 115 pounds, Carlson lost four pounds in three days by skipping lunch.  “I felt so good after I lost those pounds.  Eventually, I stopped eating completely except for an apple for energy prior to my daily workout,” Carlson said.  “I never felt uncomfortable with my weight until I came to college.  The “ideal body” that is shown on television became my goal, my obsession.”  Weighing in at 83 pounds, Carlson regrets altering her eating habits.

            Carlson, like many college women, fell to the pressures of both the media and college life.  According to Susan McClelland, author of the article “Western Cultures are Exploiting Their Dangerous Obsession With Thinness” from the magazine, Maclean’s, one in five college women suffer from either anorexia, a disease in which a person starves him or herself, or bulimia, a disease in which a person binges and purges. Eating disorders have become so severe that about 100,000 Americans die from the disease.   

            The “ideal body,” portrayed by the media, has not always been this unrealistic.   In the article, “Designated Shopper,” by Laura Shanahan from the magazine Brandweek, the average weight and height of celebrities in the 1950’s, such as Marilyn Monroe, was 140 pounds standing at 5’4”.  Over the last 50 years, the average height has remained at 5’4”, but the average weight has dramatically decreased.  Jennifer Aniston, from the television show “Friends,” stands at 5’5”, but weighs a mere 100 pounds.

            In addition to the media using ultra-thin celebrities, today’s commercials suggest that dieting should be easy for women.  More and more, women want to be associated with the adjectives will power and strong.  Giving into to temptation labels a woman as weak.  Women, advertisers know this.  Those commercials were made especially for you. 

            Do you ever pay attention to the commercials aired during prime-time television and soap operas?  More often than not, you will find advertisements that promote appetite suppressants, diet plans, and foods that either low fat or fat-free.  “Getting the Skinny on TV,” an article from the magazine Discover, suggests to viewers that in advertisements that eating bad food is “sinful, and consuming healthy food is “heavenly.”  Advertisements like these, challenge a person’s values by capturing their emotions. 

            Imagine watching your favorite television show and when the program goes to a commercial, you are constantly reminded that if you are over weight, you are weak.  The article, “Getting the Skinny on TV, states that today’s media sends this message out at least nine times in one half hour program.  If you focus on what the commercials say, you will find that a majority of commercials suggest to women how you can “Lose Weight and Feel Great.”  More specifically, it is easy to find commercials that challenge women’s values by suggesting that women who are thin and strong-willed are beautiful, and conversely, women that are overweight and give into to temptation are unattractive.

Now more than ever, the diet industry targets women.  By targeting women, the diet industry will succeed.  There are eight super-models in the world, and we are constantly compared to them.  Giselle, Molly Simms, and Cindy Crawford wear a size two, but weigh 110 pounds at 5’10”.  Be realistic, very few women have this “ideal body.”  The “ideal body” could be better called the “unattainable body.” 

The “unattainable body” displayed in the media is the number one factor for eating disorders today.  The steady increase of eating disorders can almost be considered an epidemic.  Women need to realize that the average size of a woman is a size twelve, not a size two.  Distorted images of the body leads to an unhealthy lifestyle of eating disorders.

 Next time, dieting crosses your mind because the media suggests that losing weight will make you feel great, remember how Andrea’s diet turned out for her.