Feminine beauty ideal
The feminine beauty ideal is "the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women's most important assets, and something all women should strive to achieve and maintain". Feminine beauty ideals are rooted in heteronormative beliefs, and heavily influence women of all sexual orientations. Beauty ideals vary from culture to culture. Pressure to conform to a certain definition of "beautiful" can have drastic psychological effects. These ideals have been correlated with depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem, starting from an adolescent age and continuing into adulthood.
In fairy tales
The feminine beauty ideal is portrayed in many children's fairy tales. It has been common in the Brothers Grimm fairy tales for physical attractiveness in female characters to be rewarded. In those fairy tales, "beauty is often associated with being white, economically privileged, and virtuous."
The Brothers Grimm fairy tales usually involve a beautiful heroine. In the story Snow White, the protagonist Snow White is described as being "white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood" and "as beautiful as the light of day." This fairy tale is defining beauty as being Caucasian with rosy cheeks and black hair. On the other hand, the antagonist of Brothers Grimm fairy tales is frequently described as ugly, relating beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil. Ultimately, this correlation puts an emphasis on the virtue of being beautiful, as defined by fairy tales.
Starting almost 100 years after the Grimm Brothers wrote their fairy tales, the Walt Disney Animation Studios adapted these tales into animated feature films. About 40 percent of Disney films made from 1937-2000 had "only dominant cultural themes portrayed." Because the majority of characters are white, "the expectation [is] that all people are or should be like this." Other common traits of female Disney characters are thin bodies with impossible bodily proportions, long, flowing hair, and large round eyes. The constant emphasis on female beauty and what constitutes as being beautiful contributes to the overall feminine beauty ideal.
In mass media
Mass media is one of the most powerful tools for young girls and women to learn and also understand feminine beauty ideals. As mass media develops, the way people see feminine beauty ideals changes, as does how females view themselves. "The average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily and only about 10 minutes of parental interaction a day," says Renee Hobbs, EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University. In most advertisements, female models are typically homogeneous in appearance. "Girls today are swamped by [ultra-thin] ideals not only in the form of dolls but also in comics, cartoons, TV, and advertising along with all the associated merchandising.":290 In addition to this, the feminine beauty ideal in the mass media is manipulated by technology. Images of women can be virtually manipulated creating an ideal that is not only rare but also nonexistent. The Encyclopedia of Gender in the Media states that "the postproduction techniques of airbrushing and computer-generated modifications 'perfect' the beauty myth by removing any remaining blemishes or imperfections visible to the eye." Advertisements for products "such as diets, cosmetics, and exercise gear [help] the media construct a dream world of hopes and high standards that incorporates the glorification of slenderness and weight loss."
With a focus on an ideal physical appearance, the feminine beauty ideal distracts from female competency by prioritizing and valuing superficial characteristics related to beauty and appearance. When physical beauty is idealized and featured in the media, it reduces women to sexualized objects. This creates the message across mass media that one's body is inadequate apart from sex appeal and connects concepts of beauty and sex.
Feminine beauty ideals have shown correlations to many psychological disorders, including lowered self-esteem and eating disorders. Western cultural standards of beauty and attractiveness promote unhealthy and unattainable body ideals that motivate women to seek perfection. Since 1972, there has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of women in the United States who experience dissatisfaction with their bodies. Research indicates that women's exposure to television, even for a very short time, can experience decreased mood and self-esteem. It has been consistently found that perceived appearance is the single strongest predictor of global self-esteem among young adults. Awareness of the ideal female shape is linked to increasingly negative self-esteem. Through peer interaction and an environment of continual comparison to those portrayed in the media, women are often made to feel inadequate, and thus their self-esteem can decrease from their negative self-image. A negative body image can result in adverse psychosocial consequences, including depression, poor self-esteem, and diminished quality of life.
There is significant pressure for girls to conform to feminine beauty ideals, and, since thinness is prized as feminine, many women feel dissatisfied with their body shape. Body dissatisfaction has been found to be a precursor to serious psychological problems such as depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders. Researchers have found that magazine advertisements promoting dieting and thinness are far more prevalent in women's magazine than in men's magazine, and that female television characters are far more likely to be thin than male characters. Eating disorders stem from individual body dysmorphia, or an excessive preoccupation with perceived flaws in appearance. Researchers suggest that this behavior strongly correlates with societal pressure for women to live up to the standards of beauty set by a culture obsessed with being thin. Research has shown that people have subconsciously associated heavier body sizes with negative personality characteristics such as laziness and lack of self-control. Fat-body prejudice appears as young as early childhood and continues into adult years. The problem of negative body-image worsens as females go through puberty; girls in adolescence frequently report being dissatisfied with their weight and fear future weight gain. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), the age of the onset of eating disorders is getting younger. Girls as young as elementary-school age report body dissatisfaction and dieting in order to look like magazine models.
Ideas of feminine beauty may have originated from features that correlate with fertility and health. These features include a figure where there is more fat distribution in the hip and thigh area, and vary between different cultures. Within Western cultures, having a smaller waist and bigger hips has a large influence. This differs in Eastern cultures.
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