The body standards that were determined as ideal in American culture pertains to an overly thin physique that portrays having the utmost physical attractiveness and health as a woman. The mentality women have developed toward their bodies has been largely affected by media and its influence on the level of body dissatisfaction held by women. Media has been giving the permission by society to make judgments on the body and glorify some while shaming others. But, geography allows for these perceptions on beauty in the body to form and mold into the general population of an area. Research by psychologists has even found evidence of drastic cultural impacts on what is considered “beautiful” to certain regions of the world. American culture is beginning to have international influence, for example, “As Western media continues to infiltrate Mauritanian society, cultural preferences for large women are dying out in exchange for a slimmer Western ideal.” (Weber) American culture is very impactful in the world and within other cultures, so the impact on white and black women’s perceptions on body image is very strongly woven into their psyche and is becoming more difficult to escape since it is becoming widespread.
The universal ideal is criticized through the viewpoint of geography playing a role in standards established in society. According to Weber, “What is beautiful is often not exactly a universal concept. What is seen as beautiful and attractive in one culture is seen as unhealthy and undesirable in another? Like so many other topics, the question of what is beautiful is intricately intertwined with geography.” The scope of men’s influence on body image for women is an important factor towards body dissatisfaction that is not considered much. Men have preconceived notions on how a woman’s body should look to appear more desirable to them as the opposite sex. This translates back to preferences held through cultural differences because white and black men have deemed certain features of a woman’s body as more attractive than others.
Views of the opposite sex can often relate back to the self-esteem held by women regarding their body. Confidence is impactful in a women’s belief in whether or not she will attract the attention of men based on her perception of the desirability of her body. Research has suggested that “Women who avoid settings in which they believe they might be scrutinized by men may have less opportunity for heterosexual involvement, and hence may have relatively less sexual experience and lower sexual esteem.” (Wiederman) On the other hand, Wiederman discovered that men tended to find women that would generally be considered thin more sexually desirable. The combination of a lack of confidence and sexual preferences by men can increase the likelihood of a woman developing body dissatisfaction and conforming to standards established in society. Powell and Kahn’s study shows, “Women base their judgments of their bodies on what men of their culture desire…Caucasian men reported thinness as being more important in women they date than their African-American counterparts.” (qtd. in Reel, 322) For the white woman looking for or attracted to a white man, will often strive to live up to this ideal of a “man’s perfect women”. Women will often change their bodies in order to meet the criteria that would please potential or future spouses because of these preconceived notions.
Body shaming has a huge impact on the psychological state of women and leads to society believing they must achieve these standards as women; while men believe they must get a woman that follows these standards. I have personally been a victim of body shaming, so I wanted to explore further on the aspects of American culture through the impact media has on the perceptions of white and black women’s ideal body types. Any and all women can find themselves in a position where they receive criticism about how their body and, on top of that, are pressured to change their bodies in an effort to make others happy. These pressures can put women at a greater risk for body dissatisfaction and self-esteem issues that possibly lead to body dysmorphic disorder or eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, that can cause serious health problems.
A female artist by the name of Suzie Blake has brought awareness to the shaming of women by creating a platform in which all women can anonymously voice their personal experiences. Through Blake’s exhibit of “The Wall of Shamed,” women are able to physically write comments on instances where they were shamed to hopefully encourage room for healing and bring forth change. Blake has said, “Women and girls are shamed throughout their lives for not living up to patriarchally prescribed ideals of ‘womanliness’, Body shaming. Fat shaming. Slut shaming. Period shaming. Mother shaming. Food shaming. Gender shaming. Victim shaming. The list goes on.” These real stories being told by real women allows for people in society to see the long-term consequences of the idealizations established for women and how impactful this can be for the women in every individual’s life.
There are many outside factors that play a part in women succumbing to body image standards. But, the psychological impacts on women, such as mental disorders, can all derive from a women’s individual mental processing of the media’s portrayal of body image. If all women are affected by these cultural impacts on body image standards then how are white and black women significantly impacted by the effects of American culture? Does this directly relate to if they respond the same way to universal body image standards?
American culture has specifically had a large influence on the body image ideas of white and black women. The media is a massive source of information that can alter the perceptions of societal views on countless subjects. Women have looked at magazines or runway shows and saw slim, tall models being shown off as the perfect size for a woman. This perception extends way past the idea of just how the appearance of an “ideal-sized women” should be. But, it also affects the way women can shop for clothing or obtain a job in the fashion industry. These ideas take root when women’s bodies are used to promote ideas that become influential on society. The societal standard on how a woman’s body should look has evolved over time through the media. Outlets for these standards to be advertised have consisted of the internet, social media, fashion, public figures, and the list goes on. Women have been expected to achieve if not almost impossible, but unrealistic body types that men and women feel at that time are the desired appearance for women to be considered attractive. Body image falls into a long line of trends that have lately been established from the internet, like social media for example. In the past, pressures on body image have been advertised through fashion because of the body types of models and clothing sizes.
There is also the psychological state and environment of a woman that can impact the amount of influence the media has on ideal body images. Body types have also been associated with different races based on media portrayal and established stereotypes. White women are usually associated with ideas of thin and tall “model-like” body types, while black women are most likely to be considered to have curvy, voluptuous body types. These stereotypes then subsequently became the norm when regarding the typical body image within different cultures because of race.
When body image standards are viewed through the universal ideals held in society, white women can tend to seem more effected through the the viewpoint of one angle or outlook. However, Black women are just as impacted by body image standards as white women, but only through ideals established within their culture. Furthermore, black women are not only underrepresented in societal views of the thin-ideal but have suffered negative impacts on their self perception. Bryant discusses studies that have resulted with “…black girls with darker skin may be more vulnerable than their lighter-skin peers to negative messages from the media about their physical appearance and attractiveness, which can lead to long-term risky behaviors.” Even though the universal view of being thin rejects black women and may cause them to seek more identifiable ideals, this isolation from such a massively influential culture can still impact the self-esteem of black women and lead to body dissatisfaction in a way that calls for acceptance. The only difference between these women’s perceptions are white women identify with a larger conceptualized view on having a thin body within American culture, while black women’s standards are more loosely established due to misrepresentation in the media on the universal societal norm.
Black women are more prone to share perceptions and views on body image through media outlets more a tune with black culture. For example, in television and fashion where black women are more apparent, the attention of black women toward other black women will have more influence on their views of themselves due to relatability. This would result in black women being more susceptible to particular body images shown to influence their views on what they body should or shouldn’t look like within their culture.
On the other hand, another argument would claim that black women are still more accepting toward diversity in body types because black culture has established more fluidity in its norms due to isolation from other norms in American society. Regardless of black women being affected by their own body image standards in black culture, they still have perceptions of black culture that lessens their likelihood of body dissatisfaction compared to white women. Black women initially were isolated from the universal body idealism due to underrepresentation and isolation from the media’s portrayal of ideal bodies. This has caused a shift in the way body image is considered in black culture because black women have allowed for variation in a woman’s body due to the lack of relatability in the media’s view of women’s bodies. This disconnect between American and black culture has given black women more leeway in forming their own thoughts and opinions on what they find as ideal in body types. With that said, American culture today has allowed room for black culture to blossom through certain avenues that at one point were not established because of negative conceptions on black women’s body. But currently, being curvaceous has become an acceptable body type and black women are seeing more media coverage on relatable women. Through social media, reality tv shows, fashion, etc. girls with “hourglass” figures or considered “slim-thick” which requires a large bust and behind with a small waist is growing into a more widely established beauty standard in black culture. This idealization is gaining enough momentum to impact black women on the same scale as the thin ideal for white women.
There are many complex areas that dive deeper into the concepts surrounding the media’s influence on the idealized body images of women. Keeping in mind the different body types, the effort necessary to achieve societal change could possibly accomplish the opposite of its intended purpose. These standards are almost always dramatized in a way that could further impact the realistic views of society and more specifically the media when regarding women. Women everywhere must decide if the best course of action is to follow the norms of society or break barriers that society has established its people.
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