In the United States alone up to 30 million people suffer from eating disorders including but not limited to Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, and Binge-eating disorder. The national surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Media has a big influence in people’s lives. According to the National Eating Disorder Associations over 80% of Americans watch television daily and on average, over three hours per day. What people see in their daily lives and in the media they consume effects their overall health, physical and mental.
Media, such as advertisement and beauty models have the most obvious effect on teen girls’ body image. However, there are other major influences as well. Many of these Instagram “Fitness Gurus” and “Inspiring Fit Girls” are encouraging negative body image for young girls.
These accounts show fake “before and after” photos and advertise for things like waist trainers and shapewear. These work by pushing fat in and compressing your entire stomach area. This creates a similar effect to sucking in your stomach. However it is much more dangerous and is something that shouldn’t be advertised to young girls scrolling through social media.
The Nest, an online blog to help young adults navigate the confusion of being an adult, explains what really happens with shapewear. Shapewear works by putting pressure on your body which means it can slow circulation to the area and in rare cases cause blood clots. Shapewear is especially risky for teenagers, whose developing bodies may be damaged by the constant pressure. Extremely tight shapewear can even damage muscles and organs.
These advertisements show very pretty and skinny girls looking even skinnier which, according to culture, is equivalent to prettier. This makes these waist trainers and shapewear seem appealing to these teenagers and just helps to make the problem worse.
Young girls are also majorly influenced by the models and stars they see in media. A Girl Scouts of the USA survey found 89 percent of teenage girls feel the fashion industry pressures them to be skinnier. Today, if you were to compliment a teenage girl and say they look good, more often than not they will either not believe you or tell you that you’re wrong and they look fat. This is because of the false belief media has created that skinny equals beautiful. The CNC put out a study that said 94% of all girls have been shamed for their body. Some of these girls even being shamed by best friends or parents.
These size two girls are walking around starving themselves and excessively exercising because they need to “look good” for a significant other, or prom, or the summer. It seems all year round there is some excuse to “need” to lose weight. Looking at a study done by the TSM Agency, one of the top model staffing agencies it makes sense why these models affect girls’ body image. The TSM reviewed their extensive database of over 30,000 models and discovered these common attributes. While 2% of the world’s population have BLONDE hair 28% of models have it. This makes it seem more valued and wanted when it is actually something few people have.
The average fashion model weighs 23% less than the average American woman however 87% of female models weighed between 100 and 150 pounds which is within the healthy weight range. So these statistics are proving that most models are healthy but still represent a model that is an unfair and unrealistic view of the real American population.
Many people believe they’re too tall or too short. The models in the TSM database don’t help this issue. 52% of female models are between the heights of 5’6” and 5’10” whereas the average American woman is 5’4”.
These models already have set unrealistic expectations for young girls. To top it off these models are drastically photoshopped to display body types that don’t exist. In an interview with Refinery29 an anonymous photo editor that formerly worked for Victoria’s Secret talks about what really happens to models to make them look so unrealistic.
“Common retouching includes removing flaws like erasing acne, stretch marks and cellulite, whitening eyes and teeth, and slimming the waist. Finally, she adds curves to models… to create the sense that models are thin, but curvy in the right places.”
Editing these models like this makes young girls believe that they should have these unrealistic body types.
This negative body image, photoshopping, and significant model influence doesn’t stop at size 16. Plus-size models are typically in the range of sizes 8 to 12, depending on the build sometimes, even a size 6. Actual plus- sizes typically start at size 16.This once again encourages a negative and unrealistic body “goal” for these girls.
The term plus size is creating a negative connotation around these larger sizes to begin with. Larger sizes should be sold right beside their smaller sizes. Girls who wear larger size should just be able to ask for the size they need and not need to specify it as “plus size”. 67% of women in the United States wear a size 14 or above. For these women to be labeled as plus size can be detrimental to their body image.
A study done by a plus size writer at Glamour Magazine showed that out of 69 locations of the biggest clothing stores in five major cities, Manhattan, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, 41 of them did not have any plus- size clothing. Many of these major stores not stocking larger sales can deter these women from wearing what they want to and feeling confident.
In stores that do sell “plus-size” clothing there tends to be a seperate plus size section. This is something specific to women’s clothing only. This section can be helpful as many stores fail to carry any plus- size clothing and the ones that do only carry few items.
If the women modeling the plus size clothing were actually plus size and looked really good in the clothing it might encourage girls to have more positive opinions of their bodies.
However it would help strengthen the confidence of younger girls who are considered to be plus-size if these larger sizes were just mixed in with the rest of the clothing. If corporations, the modeling and fashion industries, stores, and society accepted “plus-size” clothing as clothing in a larger size it would help increase the availability to purchase these sizes and help increase body confidence. As well as remove the stigma around plus sizes.
This problem is one faced mainly by women. Men’s sections of these same stores will have larger sizes mixed right in with the smaller sizes of clothing. Male models also have much more realistic body characteristics on average. According to the TSM study the healthy [weight] range was started at 121-163 pounds. 46% of male models were within this range with the majority falling in the overweight category.
Even though the fashion and modeling industries aren’t the only cause of this gender gap in eating disorders they have a great impact. Using the average American in modeling campaigns would help encourage body confidence as well as using plus size girls to model plus size clothing.
Encouraging body confidence in young girls is important especially as they grow and go through high school. Body confidence will encourage a stronger sense of self and help a person find their place in the world.