Body Image

From Women's Studies

Jump to: navigation, search


Make-Up and its Place in Society


The place makeup takes in our society today is a grand one. It is just as much a part of our culture as any other everyday practice. While putting on makeup is a personal choice, and so is not engaged in by all people, there is seemingly no way to avoid the constant message sent to women about wearing makeup and how that is intended to enhance a woman’s appearance. There is virtually no escape from makeup-wearing celebrities with their excessive "touch-ups" done. The way we live today is by no means questioning the importance of makeup, nor is it helping the idea of natural beauty. We are simply feeding the makeup industry. Whether on television or observing people on the street, it is clear that many women are of the same viewpoint. No matter the reason, as there is not one singular reason guiding people to the decision to wear makeup, one thing is for sure: no matter what drives that portion of the population to doing so, they are all still sharing in the cultural practice of wearing makeup.


             File: KatyPerry.jpg  Katy Perry without makeup (left), with makeup (right)
            File: Lohan.jpg      Lindsay Lohan without makeup (left), with makeup (right)
                          File: Pink.jpg       Pink without makeup (left), with makeup (right)
                    Photos from

Makeup is highly-regarded in Western culture, as women use it to hide certain parts of themselves—wrinkles, blemishes, etc—and accentuate others, size of the eyes, fullness of lips, lengthiness of eyelashes. The strive for perfection in terms of image and physical appearance drives many different cultural norms to take root and ultimately hold a firm grip on those within the given society. Not only does makeup affect one’s personal life, such as dating or presenting in public, but it also greatly affects jobs, including whether to hire or fire someone based on some part of them that doesn’t “fit” with what the company wants its image to be. Makeup is used by many, however, makeup is still a non-necessity and therefore cannot and will not be purchased and/or used by all. The result of this is many times the subjection of those who don’t wear makeup as some sort of resistors who aren’t as high-up socially as those who wear makeup. It is by no means a stretch of the imagination to say that makeup creates a growing distinction between those with economic power (and can afford makeup and plastic surgery) versus those with little to no economic freedom allowing them to do so.

         By Jessica Kurs-Lasky

Sources for this wiki:

Advertisements and Body Image


The image of waiflike models has become a part of popular culture, given that most models featured on the runways and in magazine ads are of this persuasion. As a consumer society, we are subjected to these images and are brought to think that this body type is what the standard for women should be. Ultimately, it is the fashion industry that controls what is deemed ‘beautiful’ in our society. They dominate and dictate over beauty, and recently there has been a struggle to over come what is thought of as beautiful. As Fiske states, “popular culture always is part of power relations” (119).

We are subjected to this ‘ideal’ body type through fashion editorials, magazine ads, and pictures taken from the runways. It is through these visuals that the standards for beauty are set. However, these standards of beauty are not what are normal in our society; every girl is not a perfect size zero with long legs, perfect skin, and long hair. Anorexia and Bulimia in young girls is often attributed to the fashion industry’s influence on body image; as is growing dissatisfaction in women of all ages in their bodies. There have been steps to correcting the problem of the super thin model, but the change has been slow. With the emergence of plus/real-sized women featured in ads and runways, the ‘ideal’ body image is slowly being changed to a more realistic image of a woman.


The epitome of heroin chic, Kate Moss. Image obtained from

Through the years our society has been subjected to images of the ideal body image for women, deemed appropriate by the fashion industry. In the 1960’s we were introduced to waif models, such as Twiggy and Dorothee Bis, who were characterized by their thin figures and large, round eyes. However, the fashion industry took the image of waif to an extreme in the 1990’s with the introduction of heroin chic; models like Kate Moss and Jamie King were poster-girls for the term. The image these models portrayed was that of pale skin, dark circles under their eyes and jutting bones.

The new era of super skinny models. Image obtained from

This look dominated the fashion world until 2000, when the rise of the “Sexy Model” ended the heroin chic era, with the entrance of models such as Giselle Bundchen and Adriana Lima. Although these women brought about an image of a fuller woman, they were followed by the current trend of young girls barely in their teens, pale, and bordering on anorexic. We are currently in an era similar to that of heroin chic once more.

The primary method the fashion industry takes to market its target audience is through the use of magazine ads and pictures. In these ads, we are provided images of waiflike models with flawless skin and hair. This causes women to believe that this is the ideal image they should try to achieve. However, the image we are portrayed is one that has been airbrushed and edited to look perfect. Experts are worried that the image the fashion industry is portraying has gone too far, providing a dangerous image. This image is especially dangerous to young girls, who think that body image is what they need to emulate (Hellmich). This also tends to create dissatisfaction among women with their current body image. The fashion industry is creating an “unhealthy message that [one] must be physically “perfect” in order to be loved” (Bordo 8).

This dissatisfaction and disgust in the fashion industry’s current ideal woman has grown some backlash. This is a recurring topic in the news due to the lack of positive body image portrayed to the new generation of young girls. However, it is slow coming. Differing from the fashion industry, Victoria’s Secret strays from the current trend, and only hires fuller models to market their products.

A Dove ad featuring real-sized women. Image obtained from

In addition, in 2006 Spain moved to ban underweight models from the catwalk from Madrid fashion week (Socolovsky). There has been a spike in the appearances of plus size models in magazine campaigns and on the runway (Odell). Recently, Dove and Jockey launched campaigns featuring real-sized women (Jones). In congruence to the rise of plus size models, popular clothing lines have also been launching plus size lines. In 2009, Forever 21, a popular clothing store for young women, launched a plus size line Faith 21. Faith 21 offered many of the same types of clothing in a junior plus size (Magsaysay).

With these steps being taken in a positive direction, one can help that over time, a positive body image will be portrayed to women everywhere. Woman will learn to accept their bodies and not expect perfection or find any defects repellent and unacceptable (Bordo 3).

         By Susan Clark


1. Bordo, Susan. "Introduction." Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. (1997): 1-26. Print.

2. Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 112-16. Print.

3. Hellmich, Nanci. "Do Thin Models Warp Girls' Body Image?" 25 Sept. 2006. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

4. Jones, LaMont. "Anti-skinny Backlash against Fashion Models Reopens Dialogue on Women's Bodies." 2 Oct. 2006. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

5. Magsaysay, Melissa. "Forever 21 to Launch a Plus-size Line This May -" Blogs - 2 Mar. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

6. Odell, Amy. "The Rise of the Plus-Size Model -- The Cut." New York Magazine -- NYC Guide to Restaurants, Fashion, Nightlife, Shopping, Politics, Movies. 9 Feb. 2011. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

7. Socolovsky, Jerome. "Spain Bans Overly Skinny Models from Fashion Shows : NPR." NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. 19 Sept. 2006. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

Technology and Beauty


As beauty is important, the technology that is used to alter, create and distribute these images, is also equally important. From computers, programs, smart phones, and the internet, the ways in how we distribute and view images are endless. Day by day as our technology advances, our perception of ideal beauty also progresses unrealistically. With the advent of popular digital photo enhancing programs such as Photoshop, and technology, pictures can be airbrushed, manipulated and distributed through various means of media. Alternatively, a more permanent physical solution to one's imperfection, is the option of plastic surgery. Surgery, would also count as a technological advancement, as it use to only be practice to save people's lives. However, plastic surgery is a purely cosmetic and unnecessary procedure, done only to enhance one's beauty. With the technology becoming increasingly advance, the rate for plastic surgery amoung younger and older women is also increasing.


Before technological advancements such as the computer emerged, it use to be only a camera and model were used to take a picture for an advertisement. Photographs were real, black and white, or depending on the time period, in color. Photo manipulation and airbrushing were not possible. As such, ideal beauty standards were much different before technology, as distribution of images were limited or nonexistent. For instance, for most of history, having some “meat on your bones” or fat, was considered attractive. To most, it meant being wealthy as you could afford to eat, and was a sign of fertility. Additionally, feminine features such as the breasts, waist, and hips are usually enhanced when one is plump, which many find attractive. The Victorians regarded beauty in the silhouette, preferring a large bust and hips, but extremely tiny waist. As Sarah Gordon states, “Plumpness was considered fashionable and erotic until relatively recently. From the Middle Ages, the “reproductive figure” was idealized by artists. Fleshiness and a full, rounded stomach were emphasized as a symbol of fertility.” (Gordon, 9). Being thin first emerged in the 1930's, during the flapper era when women tried to emulate boy looking bodies. This was more of a statement and act of counter-culture, rebelling against the norms of society. It was not until the 1960's when thin became in, due to Twiggy.

In western society today, being the appropriate body type for each gender is desirable. As time goes by, the overall look of beauty standards have younger, prepubescent and thin characteristics. For females and males alike, being thin is important, and is associated with being healthy, young, socially accepted, and intelligent. If one is overweight or fat, negative connotations are always associated towards the person, such as they are lazy, lack self control and are greedy.

Blemishes, wrinkles, fat, can instantly be faded away, and less costly. Photoshop is seen as practical, as it is much easier to manipulate a model digitally, than search all over the world for one person that looks exceptional. The important usage of this program is an example of excorporation (Fiske) as we have come to use Photoshop for almost every picture published. According to the website, Henry Farid, a Dartmouth professor who specializes in photo manipulation states, “They’re creating things that are physically impossible. We’re seeing really radical digital plastic surgery. It’s moving towards the Barbie doll model of what a woman should look like — big breasts, tiny waist, ridiculously long legs, elongated neck. All the body fat is removed, all the wrinkles are removed, the skin is smoothed out.”.

   File:kimoralee.png File:Kimkardashian.png    
   Image Sources:  lighting/

Realistically, everybody comes in different shapes and sizes, and features. Many of the images we see, look very similar in body builds, facial features, and emphasis on youthfulness. By seeing unrealistic altered images everyday, what is unreal becomes real in our minds. Many feel the need to live up to what they observe in magazines, but this is impossible as the images are unreal themselves.

Alternatively, new technological advancements such as Plastic Surgery are also possible. While relatively new, many have the procedure done to permnantly alter their bodies to conform to societies beauty ideals. It is like Photoshop in real life, a more permanant fix. The results can be drastic, either positively or negatively. Plastic surgery is risky, as there may be health complications, is expensive, and the results may not be what the individual expected. Furthurmore, the rise of "Plastic Surgery Addiction" is occuring, where people get addicted to just having the procedure done even if it does not make them look better, as they just feel better having it done. Despite all of the risks, celebrities, and real normal people alike, feel the need to manipulate everything unsightly to feel accepted or prettier.

   Image Source:


1. Boodman, Sandra G. "For More Teenage Girls, Adult Plastic Surgery (" Washington Post: Breaking News, World, US, DC News & Analysis. Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2004. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

2. Bordo, Susan. "Introduction." Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. (1997): 1-26. Print.

3. Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 112-16. Print.

4. Grogan, Sarah. Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women, and Children. London: Routledge, 2008. Web. <,%20Women,%20and%20Children%20%28Second%20Edition%29.pdf>.

5. "Photoshopping: Altering Images and Our Minds | BEAUTY REDEFINED." Beauty Redefined|Promoting Healthy Body Image & Rejecting Media Beauty Ideals. Beauty Redefined, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

                                                            By Amy Lanese

Piercing for Beauty


Modification of one’s body to fit a cultural ideal is not a new concept. In recent times, this modification is seen in hair and makeup makeovers, plastic surgery, and diet fads. Another, popular trend is the piercing of one’s body. Such piercings could be in the soft earlobe, the face, tongue, or numerous other places throughout the body. Body piercings are not new; they have existed in cultures worldwide for millennia. Yet, only in the last few decades has body piercing lost some of its stigma in Western culture. Piercings have gained ground in our popular culture: they are considered normal for a woman, another way for her to further construct beauty.


Defining Piercings

Body piercing is defined as “the insertion of a needle to create an opening (into either cartilage or skin) for decorative ornaments such as jewelry (or even plastic or wood plugs, beads, or pearls)” [1]. The pierced hole is most often created in the earlobe, but can exist at other locations in the body, “there is no external organ in the human body that has escaped piercing” [1]. Like many other forms of body modification, piercing is not risk-free. Piercings can create allergic reactions in the body, scars, and infections. About 30% of women in a study group of piercings were found to have an allergy to jewelry made from certain metals [2]. Some earlobe piercings can rip through the soft tissue and mouth piercings can cause breaking or chipping of teeth. Post-piercing, the hole requires cleaning and care, or it will close up.

Piercing for Beauty

Should an outsider observe piercings, the concept of creating holes in one’s body would likely seem very odd. But for a Westerner, it is normalized, and there are even motivations to pierce one’s body. These motivations include fashion, a desire to improve appearance, identifying or affiliating with a group or subculture, and a need to be included in the popular culture [3]. Further, the acceptance of piercings in popular culture shows that they are only becoming more prevalent in the pursuit of beauty. When body piercing gained enormous popularity in the 1990s, it was thought to be “a fad, but the increasing amount of body piercings globally indicates that the trend is not going away any time soon” [1]. Body piercings were not always considered beautiful, this construction has come about fairly recently.

Piercing Popularity in the USA

Body piercings have gained popularity in American popular culture since the 1970s. Previously, piercings held a stigma in American society: they were thought to tarnish one’s identity [2]. But perceptions change over time, and piercings have become more and more mainstream in popular culture. Lately, piercing of other parts of the body has become popular as well. Puncturing of the skin has increased in recent years, in the past “body piercings were mainly in the soft part of the ear lobes of women” [2]. Despite piercings in other body locations, soft ear lobe piercings continue to see popularity. In a study of the prevalence of piercings in the United States, it was found that half of the women in the sample group have a soft ear piercing. A study of 400 students at an American university found that 69.7% of the women had a piercing, 79.8% had considered getting a piercing, and 69.4% of the women surveyed stated they wanted a piercing at some point in their life [4] .

Looking to Celebrities

Bordo addresses this need to alter oneself to fit the beauty norms set by culture [5]. She states that we receive these ideals from the media, through magazine ads, television shows, and by ogling celebrities. Media images, such as the actors of the popular show, Friends, or the ads in magazines, are essential in understanding the beauty norms of popular culture because they display what ideals we should aim for. We read about the lifestyle of celebrities and other public figures, in doing so, “we consciously and unconsciously assimilate this information, it affects us” [6]. By looking at beautiful celebrities like Kate Moss, Beyonce, or Drew Barrymore, we knowingly or unknowingly strive to embody them. When we see they have a tongue piercing, a belly button piercing, or piercings lining their ears, we add this to our perception of beauty. These women are coveted for their beauty; beauty is a major factor in their success – as women we strive to look more like them and as Bordo suggests, we are pressured by the media to achieve their beauty.

File: katemoss.jpg File: drew.jpg File: beyonce.jpg

             Image Sources: 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Armstrong, M., J. Koch, J. Saunders, A. Roberts, and D. Owen. "The Hole Picture: Risks, Decision Making, Purpose, Regulations, and the Future of Body Piercing." Clinics in Dermatology 25.4 (2007): 398-406. Print.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Laumann, Anne E., and Amy J. Derick. "Tattoos and Body Piercings in the United States: A National Data Set." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 55.3 (2006): 413-21. Print.
  3. Carroll, Lynne, and Roxanne Anderson. "Body Piercing, Tattooing, Self-Esteem, And Body Investment in Adolescent Girls." Adolescence 37.147 (2002).
  4. Horne, Jenn, David Knox, Jane Zusman, and Marty E. Zusman. "Tattoos and Piercings: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Interpretations of College Students." College Student Journal (2007): 1011-020. Print.
  5. Bordo, Susan. "Introduction." Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. (1997): 1-26. Print.
  6. Schor, Juliet, Stuart Hirschberg, and Terry Hirschberg. "The Culture of Consumerism." In Every Day, Everywhere: Global Perspectives on Popular Culture. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002. 606-617.

                                                            By Ruthie Greenblatt

The Price of Beauty


In 2010 singer/fashion designer Jessica Simpson and her two best friends traveled to seven different countries to learn the different ideas of beauty and some of their cosmetic practices. In each country they were given a Beauty Ambassador who exemplified the countries’ idea of beauty. The job of the Beauty Ambassador was to show Simpson and her friends how each country achieves their ideal beauty what it means to be beautiful and how to find beauty. Simpson hoped to gain a better understanding of beauty during her various trips and find her own beauty


Jessica Simpson, like many women, struggled with her weight and body image for many years. After years of media criticism, Simpson decided to travel the world to see how other countries defined beauty. With her two best friends, Ken Paves and CaCee Cobb, Simpson tried out various spa treatments and cultural practices that each country used to obtain their ideal beauty. One of Simpson’s main goals was to become more comfortable with herself and find her own definition of beauty. As she traveled to the different countries, Simpson’s ideas of beauty gradually changed. During the show she met two people who stood out to her from all of the women she had met. One was a woman named Panya from Thailand. Simpson learned that all the major cosmetics in Thailand contained bleaching agents to lighten the skin tones of its users. Panya had tried one of the products and it caused permanent damage to her skin. Another woman was a former model from France, Isabella Carro, who suffers from anorexia. Although her bones were visible, no one offered her help or told her to seek help for her disorder.

                           File:isabellecarro.jpg File:no_anorexia_isabelle_caro.jpg

Image Sources:

One of the good qualities of the show is that although each country’s image of beauty was different, they all agreed that there are many different things that a woman can do to make herself appear beautiful but the best beauty is inner beauty. This allows all women to feel beautiful despite what others may think. As long as you believe that you are beautiful and you are comfortable with yourself, then there isn’t anyone who can tell you otherwise. Another positive quality of the show is that all of the spa treatments Simpson and her friends received seemed to be expensive. All of the spas had been referred to them by their beauty ambassadors, who were all famous in some way. This highlights the class systems in each country because most women wouldn’t be able to afford the treatments they had received.

For the final episode the three friends visited a high school in LA to see how young women in the US defined beauty and find out what were some of the struggles they encounter. Many of the problems the young women faced are very similar to those of the women in the other countries. Simpson was so pleased with the young women’s’ honesty and willingness to open up that she decided to have a fashion and allowed them to be in it. She also flew Panya in from Thailand to give her a makeover. File:panya.jpg

Image Source:

The greatest quality of the show to me is that through the entire season Simpson shears many of her insecurities and flaws showing viewers that being rich and famous doesn’t guarantee beauty. Although there are plenty of procedures that Simpson can have done to “make” herself more beautiful, she decided to just accept herself for who she is. She states that she tries not to concern herself with the views and opinions of the media because she’s learning to love herself for who she is and that’s all that matters. Over all I believe the show was successful in reaching its goals. Although the media and cosmetic companies often put a price tag on their idea of beauty, the best form of beauty, inner beauty, is free.

        By Sandra Fanning

The Changing Male Ideal


Beauty is a fundamental aspect of our culture. This statement is basic but it says volumes about ourselves. Often times women are the focus of studies about beauty ideals. With this page/project I would like to elucidate how the idea of the ideal man has changed drastically just in the last few decades. With an quick look at popular movie-stars from different decades, one can see without a doubt that our perception has shifted without much mention of the difference. While the observation can be made that women in the spotlight have gone through radical changes as well, I would like to point out some aspects of attractiveness that seem to have stayed constant in women while shifting in men.


             File: seanconnery.jpgFile: chrishemsworth.jpg
             File: carrygrant.jpgFile:  johnnydepp.jpg
                    Photos from Http://

The above photographs feature actors from four different decades. The two on the left are Sean Connery and Carry Grant. Sean Connery is most notably known for his role as James Bond, the ridiculously famous womanizer. These actors portrayed men who could get any woman they wanted. During their careers they were hailed as some of the most attractive men alive. They represent a completely different image of an ideal man than the two photographs on the right. Johnny Depp is featured at the sixth spot in Glamour Magazine's "50 Sexiest Men of 2010" and Chris Hemsworth won the 2011 Teen Choice Award for "Hunk." These two men are noticeably different not only in age, but size and stature as well when compared to Sean Connery and Carry Grant.

Representations of masculinity have changed non-stop for as long as they have existed. There was a long time in history where calf muscles were considered one of the most attractive parts of a man. In the past, pale, overweight men represented the epitome of sexiness. In more recent times, movie stars have taken over as our representations of male attractiveness. With their near constant public exposure, these men are chosen not only for their acting abilities, but for their image as well. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw men like Carry Grant and Sean Connery at the helm, while today we see men such as Chris Hemsworth and Taylor Lautner. Clearly, these two sets of men differ in many ways. While all four were and are considered attractive, stars from decades past are not in the same physical shape, age, or overall appearance. I argue that there has been a distinct shift in the body type of actors since the 1950’s. This shift in body type has been from the larger, less-muscular stars of the 1950’s and 1960’s to smaller yet extremely muscular men of today. The popular body image of a given time reflects the accepted ideas of masculinity in that time period. The shifted ideas of masculinity are often a direct reaction to the portrayals of masculinity in the period of time directly before.

While beauty is obviously a subjective criterion, it is clear that between these two sets of actors there are many differences. Carry Grant and Sean Connery were much older gentleman, they were not hailed as fitness gurus, and they were not thin. These men represented older, more well-established men of expensive taste and experience. While the notion of thinness may be culturally(and temporally) bound, one cannot argue the fact that these two actors were much heavier than their contemporary counterparts. These facts are important to note when looking at the changing ideals within popular culture. For many, these men represented the image that they should strive to emulate. These men had their day in the 1950's and 60's.

On the other hand, you have Chris Hemsworth who portrayed a Norse god in his most recent film and can be found all over the internet on sites claiming to know his workout routine and weight. It is clear that today much more stress has been placed on the actors body. Hemsworth is a contemporary paragon of male fitness, yet these notions of fitness have only recently been established as well as being entirely culture-bound. Johnny Depp is a thin man. In one of his most defining roles as Edward Scissorhands, he is shown in a skin-tight leather suit looking nearly emaciated. It is impossible to say why there has been a shift in the ideal stature of actors, one can only notice the shift and offer conjectures as to why. In addition to different sizes, these two contemporary actors very clearly appear in their films at a much younger age.

Between the 50's and now there have been radical shifts in ideas of gender, race, and culture. The shift in image from the 1950's to today is entirely dependent upon these ideas. It is possible that older, less physically fit men such as Sean Connery and Carry Grant appealed more to an audience that still saw suburban life with a white picket fence and a few kids as the ideal. Today it is more difficult to determine the ideal life, but it is much easier to define the ideal body image. Actors give us a perfect window into past and present ideals which I seek to use to more clearly define the differences in taste between the past and today.

         By Jesse Sell

Sources for this wiki:

Bordo, Susan 1997 Introduction. In Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. Pp. 1-26. Berkely: University of California Press.

Bordo, Susan 1999 The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Ltd.

Inness, Sherrie A. 2004 Action Chicks: New Images of Tougher Women in Popular Culture. London: Palgrave and Macmillan Publishers

Savran, David 1998 Taking It Like a Man. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Schor, Juliet 2002 The Culture of Consumerism. In Everyday, Everywhere: Global Perspectives on Popular Culture. Hirschberg, Stuart and Hirschberg, Terry, Eds. New York: McGraw-hill Publishers.

Personal tools