Friday, May 23, 2008
Be Skinny (But not too skinny)
In today's times, the media sends many messages to the public. One of the most popular now is the craze with thin. Thin, bony, and sometimes sickly models advertise a variety of products- from weight loss pills, exercise plans, and clothing to televisions, and cigarettes. Thin is used to sell almost anything these days. The media obsessively follows the young, skinny celebrities who sell these products but also portray another, conflicting message- don't be too thin. On one hand, skinny models are seen as something to look up to, they appear everywhere- magazines, commercials, advertisements, television shows, movies- but at the same time, if they become too thin they are criticized. How thin is too thin? Where is the line between being thin enough to sell a product, and too thin?
The many photos and advertisements in the above collage depict this confusing message. Quotes from some of these ads include "eat. drink. be skinny", and "Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich". Clips from magazines include statements like "these arms can be yours", "flatten tummy", "Get a sexy stomach-fast!", "get rid of double chin". In other photos, incredibly thin women advertise clothing for different companies. It is common to see statements like these, and women like this advertising products. As one critic says about the media "They offer women "help" while representing a nearly impossible standard"(Hesse-Biber, 63). When women see this standard, they try to live up to it- after all, it is used to advertise almost everything, from self-help products to common,everyday items. The prevalence of thin and skinny being used in today's media shows women what they need to be-"The idea that overweight is a disease, and that overeating represents an addiction reinforce the 'dis-ease' that American women feel about their bodies" (Hesse-Biber, 82). Once someone has reached this standard of thinness, however, they can sometimes be criticized for being "too thin".
Other pictures in this collage depict the criticism and ridicule someone can receive for going too far past the standard. Mostly magazine and tabloid covers, these have titles such as "Refusing to Eat", "Tara's too Thin", "Skin and Bones", and "Stars with Deadly Eating Disorders". In these situations, the media includes pictures of these celebrities at dangerously low weights- with bones protruding, and clothing hanging loosely off of them. So where is the line between the thin ideal shown in the media, and being "too thin", and being scrutinized by the media? Women see the messages being given to them -through the "happy" people who have lost extreme amounts of weight, the skinny women advertising expensive clothing, the thin and beautiful women advertizing household items- and try to follow these standards. The media shapes what the public sees as the ideal- "Thus, advertising promotes images of what the audience conceives of as 'the good life'" (Jhally,251). When the public takes this too far- when losing weight to reach the standard turns into an eating disorder, they are then criticized. There is a very small spectrum that is considered acceptable, perfect, and the ideal by today's media. Women are shown that they must be thin, and skinny- but if they take it too far, and become "too skinny", they have also fallen out of the perfect spectrum and can be criticized by the media alongside women who are "too fat".
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.
Jhally, Sut. "Gender, Race and Class in the Media." Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.