Sunday, May 3, 2009

America's Obsession With Being Thin

Lately it seems like everyone in the world is obsessed with being thin. Every other commercial is for some kind of diet supplement, system, or gym. One of the most popular shows on television is about people losing weight. Everywhere I turn, I’m bombarded with something about being “healthy,” or “in shape.” The medias’ idea of a healthy body image is unattainable for the majority of females in America. The women I am expected to look up to all weigh less than a small child. At the age of 20, I am the most insecure about my body that I have ever been. The pressures put upon young women to look a certain way, especially while in college, can lead to self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and even death. For my blog, I am going to focus on the pressures women face at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

From a young age, girls are told what they are expected to look like, how they are expected to act, and the consequences of not living up to these expectations. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is attempting to break down these expectations, and help change the way young girls see their bodies. The home page of the Campaign’s website says, “We see beauty all around us. At Dove, we want to help free ourselves and the next generation from beauty stereotypes. It’s this message that’s at the heart of our Campaign for Real Beauty and Self-Esteem Fund, and it’s why we continue to create thought-provoking ads, confidence-building programs and messages that embrace all definitions of beauty." The Campaign for Real Beauty has released many commercials and print ads for Dove products showing women of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I personally find these commercials refreshing, and wish more companies would take the sort of action Dove is and include a wider variety of women and girls in advertisements. I remember, as a sixth grader, not being able to wear make-up to school. Even though I begged my mom to let me, because every other girl in the whole school was wearing make-up, she said no. In middle school, it seemed like the end of the world. Now, looking back, I wonder why I wasted so much of my time wishing I looked like everyone else. I was only eleven years old, but already wishing I looked twenty. There is something seriously wrong with that. Girls much younger than that are now being exposed to sexualized images of women, and their ideas of what their bodies should look like are already being skewed. The Dove video “Evolution,” from the Campaign for Real Beauty, is the perfect example of the pressures young girls face in regards to their bodies.

The models in the images we are exposed to countless of times a day are the skinniest people on the planet. (Okay, not really, but they are VERY skinny.) According to the Media Awareness Network, the average American woman is 5’4” tall, weights 140 pounds, and is a size 14. The models in advertisements are at least 5’10” and barely a size 2. It is unrealistic to think all American women look like the models in ads on billboards, in magazines, and on television. I personally think models would not be a problem, but because these are the only images we see of women, people have come to believe all women should look like models. Therefore, beauty has become associated with being successful. It is now nearly impossible to become successful without being viewed by society as beautiful.

Mine, and many other college-aged women’s, obsession with celebrity websites and blogs only adds to the pressure to be thin. I visit the blog multiple times a day. Although this is clearly not healthy, recently I have been doing research on the site whenever I log on. The man who writes the blog calls himself Perez Hilton, as in a male, Cuban version of Paris Hilton. Recently, Perez documented his own personal journey of losing weight. Every day he makes fun of celebrities and how they look, and now he has turned this critical eye on himself. The desire to look like celebrities is not uncommon, especially because the obsession with celebrities is so out of control. What is so disturbing about is the amount of articles dedicated to making fun of how celebrities look, especially those who are not stick-thin (such as Rosie O'Donnell). How are women supposed to feel good about their bodies when even their peers are obsessed with being thin? Another website that adds to the growing obsession of women to be thin is Fug is short for the slang term F---ing Ugly, or “Fulgy.” The tag line for the website, “Because Fugly is the New Pretty,” is pretty funny. And although I enjoy the commentary by the authors of the blog, Heather and Jessica, it makes me angry that these two women are making fun of celebrities who are tiny enough as it is. An example of this is this recent post, which completely tears apart the dress Academy Award - Nominated actress Anne Hathaway is wearing.

Reading this post makes me second guess the jeans, tank top, and zip-up I'm wearing right now as I type this. Do I look fat? Do other people think I look fat in this? How much does my stomach stick out? How much does Anne Hathaway work out, do you think? More than me, less than me? How tall is she? How much does she weigh? I should stop eating these Wheat Thins and go for a run ...

Heather and Jessica ridicule what celebs are wearing, and often times the reason for this is because the clothes do not fit the woman. This does not mean these celebs are overweight or out of shape. In fact, they are as a group so underweight they could all stand to gain about twenty pounds. No matter how many times women are told they are beautiful, it is never enough.

All of the pressures women face are doubled by the fact that men expect women to look perfect. Both men and women are affected negatively by the pressure society puts upon women to be thin. This is especially true in college. I am a member of a sorority, and the boys (I cannot yet call them men because of their immaturity towards women) are horrible in the way they treat women. Their side comments are so bad, some girls have developed eating disorders, and often some do not even leave their rooms to go out. Studies have shown, “an estimated five to seven percent of the United States’ undergraduates are afflicted with one or more of these eating disorders, and another 61 percent have displayed eating disordered behaviors,” (Knowlton, 2001). Of that group, women involved in Greek organizations are even more likely to develop some sort of eating disorder.

I did a Google search of “Greek life eating disorders,” and over half of the hits on the first page were links to the websites for Greek life at different colleges. Most provide links to eating disorder websites, where both men and women can learn more about the dangers of an eating disorder. However, I doubt any student actually clicks on those links, and most women battle eating disorders in silence.

Boys can be cruel, even if they are not aware of what they are doing. Just the other day I was sitting on a porch outside of a fraternity house, and there was a group of girls walking by. Every single boy sitting out there made a comment about the girls, just because one of them was “fat.” They called her names, made noises, and laughed at her. I yelled at them, but they did not care. These boys, and there are thousands of them all over the U.S., could care less how they are making women feel. Most are frequent gym-goers, and expect their female counterparts to do the same. Not to mention the types of entertainment they like, almost all of which objectifies women.

One of the most horrible rumors floating around within Greek life nationwide is that of sororities circling the fat on pledges, in front of a group of fraternity guys. Although most of the hype is “he said, she said,” the rumor had to have started somewhere. The thought makes me sick to my stomach. Young women should not have to be subjected to this kind of abuse by their own peers. That issue, that sorority sisters are doing this to one another, is what makes me so angry. True, hazing is something that happens within a mob mentality, but there really is no excuse for putting another person through that kind of humiliation and psychological harm. This kind of hazing, as well as the pressure to "look good" at any kind of sorority event, can lead to eating disorders and sometimes even death.

Although not every girl in a sorority has an eating disorder, there are many girls outside of Greek Life on this campus that struggle every day to maintain a healthy way of life. And "healthy" DOES NOT mean "skinny." Healthy, from my point of view, means eating close to the recommended daily amounts of fruits and veggies, with some sweets thrown in for dessert (or just a snack.) It is impossible for me to not snack on chocolate. I believe skinny models have a less fulfilled life because they do not indulge in something as simple as great food. When I'm having a bad day, a bowl of ice cream can turn everything around.

I wish it was as simple as that: eating a bowl of ice cream and everything will be okay. Maybe if everyone ate some ice cream once in a while, society would not be so obsessed with being thin. In discussing with my group how to change things, I do not really have any ideas. Women have had self esteem issues for hundreds of years, the only thing that has changed are the ideals which women are expected to live up to. In the Sixteenth Century, skinny women were considered poor, because only the wealthy could afford food. Today, it is the complete opposite: skinny equals wealthy. The blog 5 Resolutions to Transform the Fashion and Beauty Industries has some wonderful suggestions as to how women can help change the way the entertainment industries treat them. The 5 Resolutions are: "Educate Ourselves. Educate Our Audience. Take Responsibility. Take Action. Stay Connected" (, 2009). Education, which can be done through blogs such as the Negative Effects of Media, is the key to turning things around.

The marketplace ethic that drives the fashion and beauty industries needs a makeover. Most advertising executives are men who do not think twice about objectifying women in the media. I suggest a complete overhaul of the advertising realm. Only women should be in charge, and men should be objectified. Then maybe people will wake up and realize we cannot live like this anymore.

-- KM


  1. Wow way to generalize guys in the 9th paragraph. That's the same linear thinking that causes those types of guys to create girls like you.

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  3. The image that is said to be of sorority hazing is actually of a girls soccer team (proof below). From what I can tell you picked one of the only images about hazing that would go with your story and used it assuming that it was about sororities. This seems to be one of the negative effects of media and a lack of research.

  4. A lot of eating disorders have to do with the media. The media tells you that you need to look a certain way when in fact you don’t. If you are comfortable with the way you look don’t change it just because the media says too. Once you start an eating disorder it becomes a mental illness and it is very difficult to stop. Some of the influences in media are magazine articles, models, and advertising. Today alone I saw ads on TV for 12 different weight loss pills and the media still says that eating disorders are bad for you when they are the ones causing most of them. If someone you know has an eating disorder the media might be the one to blame not peer pressure as the media leads us to believe. Look for your self count in 30 minutes of commercials and see how many weight lost pill ads there are. Look in magazines see how many advertisements there are. And look at the women in fashion shows, no one can look like that not even them, so why are they even trying, its not healthy and its not attractive to look like that, look for your self and you will be surprised.

  5. It's so refreshing that a sorority girl actually stands up for others who don't fit the stereotype of what a girl is 'supposed' to look like. There's a feeling from us lowly GDI's that they all agree with fraternities' unfair views of women, I am really glad this is false.

    I'm at a college with a HUGE greek life, and I often feel like there's a lot of judgment passed on me because I'm not skinny. Ive gotten those "Im so much better than you" looks from the frat boys as I walk by their houses to get to class. Some of them even do that thing where they look you up and down and cock a smile like I'm some joke. Almost even worse, some don't even look at me. There have been times when I've been to parties with friends and they're getting hit on while I'm being ignored completely, even when I try to start a conversation.

    I am 5'1, 175 pounds. I am an hourglass figure and most people guess I weigh 140-150, never more than that. I've been called pretty and beautiful by some, but I rarely, if ever, believe them. I hate my body, but more than that, I hate the fact that no matter how much I have tried to lose weight (literally working out and starving myself...really starving myself, less than 900 calories a day) I have never in my adolescent/adult life (since age 12) weighed less than 135 pounds. It's been a struggle my whole life with my parents, sister, and peers telling me I should lose weight. My own mother literally has told me "maybe if you lost that butt boys would want to date you, they'd see the beautiful person inside" Though her intentions are good, I struggled with the idea that if Im not good enough outside, how could I possibly be good enough inside? College has been hard on my body, with frequent 10-20 pound gains and losses..stresses upon stresses. I'm not a victim, I'm not lazy, but I am tired; tired of expectations that I can't seem to ever meet.

    It's been a long road and there are still a lot of turns, but I think someday I will come to terms with myself and hopefully think of myself as beautiful.

    Thanks for writing this article, it's really nice to know not all sorority girls buy into what is 'expected' of them.