In this modern age of social media one is constantly being bombarded with photoshopped images of perfect bodies which create a myth of an ideal beauty in the mind of people which in turn leads to body image issues.
The body image of a person can be defined as “a person’s perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body.” This perception is based on both self-observation and the reaction of others. Negative body image or distorted body image can be caused by a feeling of inadequacy towards one’s own body caused by the creation of an ideal body image that is unrealistic and unattainable. The media is responsible for this creation of an unrealistic idea of beauty that pressurises an individual to look a certain way.
Beauty pageants, like Miss India and Miss World, promote unrealistic expectations of beauty and are therefore a cause of anxiety among many. Beauty creams, like Fair and Lovely, which promises fairer skin and products that claim to help in losing weight, also contribute to the creation of a myth that beauty lies in having fair skin and a slim body. Advertisements of such beauty products are made in such a way that they promise happier lives on achieving fairer skin and slender bodies, thereby creating set ideals of beauty. When people cannot adhere to this standard of beauty they tend to suffer from low confidence and depression.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental health disorder that is caused by a negative body image. A person suffering from BDD obsesses over a minor or a perceived flaw of their body so much that it starts interfering with their day-to-day functioning and can cause severe emotional distress. This can further lead to clinical depression and the urge to self-harm. A negative body image can also cause eating disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia which in turn can seriously compromise a person’s health.
According to a study conducted by Dove in 2016, only 40% of the women in India feel confident about their bodies and 9 out of 10 women put their health at risk by not eating to look ‘better’. This is indicative of how serious this problem is. Several celebrities, like international pop star, Demi Lovato and actress Priyanka Chopra have come forward and revealed that they too have struggled with body image issues. This is a reminder that even seemingly perfect people have insecurities about their bodies. Furthermore it is also a reminder of the seriousness of the problem that these unrealistic beauty standards pose.
Women are not the only ones who are faced with this pressure to look a certain way; Men too are victims of body shaming. While women are forced to look slimmer and have fair skin, Men are forced by the media to be more muscular. “If you think about the changes over the last 30 to 45 years in how men are depicted in Hollywood, cartoons, magazines and action toys, you’ll see that men’s bodies [today] appear much more muscular,” says Dr. Harrison Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. Muscularity is slowly becoming synonymous to masculinity thereby putting pressure on men to be more muscular. Studies have shown that men are equally prone to having body image issues as women.
Therefore it is important for the media to re-evaluate the kind of content it is producing and to be more inclusive of all body types so that these unrealistic beauty standards can be shattered and every body type be encouraged.