As individuals, we are deeply influenced by what mass media deems as acceptable and unacceptable, whether it be dietary trends, fashion do’s and don’ts or body image goals. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), body image is defined as how you perceive yourself when you look in the mirror, how you feel about your body and how you feel in your body. However, the manner in which you choose to view your body image can be perceived as positive or negative.
A positive body image means that an individual has a clear and true perception of their shape and appreciates and values their body in a comfortable and confident manner. On the contrary, a negative body image deals with a distorted perception of an individual’s body, accompanied with being overly self-conscious, ashamed and uncomfortable with their body type. Essentially, mass media has a strong influence, both positively and negatively, on how individuals perceive their body image based upon the content published in magazines, social media platforms and television.
Various forms of mass media clearly communicate a standard for an ideal body image: thinness, perfect straight white teeth, shiny luscious hair and essentially being “flawless.” However, as most individuals are aware, these expectations are usually unattainable and wholly unrealistic. According to livestrong.com, 80 percent of women are made insecure by images they see of women on television and more than 66 percent of women are influenced by underweight models in magazines. Both men and women have a tendency to compare themselves to others which is referred to as social comparison theory.
Social media has grown to become an obsession for some individuals who are constantly concerned with editing thier photos to look like their ‘best self’ as opposed to their ‘true self.’ Individuals have become infatuated with the prospect of appearing perfect to the outside world through the lens of social media outlets. Heartbreakingly, the intense need for some individuals to appear ‘perfect’ to society will eventually take a toll on them in the worst way possible.
However, just as mass media can have a rather negative impact on the perception of one’s body image, it can also bring to light the aspect of a positive body image.
Lately, there have been numerous campaigns in regards to body positivity and acceptance. Various social media platforms and magazines have reached out to the general public seeking a change in how media perceives the average individual for the better. Recently, there have been numerous debates about the art form of Photoshop and the outlook it communicates to its audience.
However, Aerie has chosen to take that art form and shatter it in hope of creating a body positive image for young girls and women, In the spring of 2014, Aerie launched their campaign cleverly named #AerieREAL in which they featured non-photoshopped models in hopes of challenging supermodel standards by featuring unretouched models in their latest collection of apparel. This campaign generated a lot of buzz within the realm of mass media; a woman’s confidence in her body can be severely influenced by what they see in the media, especially with a company as Aerie whose demographics are aimed at young women between the ages of 15-21.
Going along with the trend of body positivity, #AerieREAL has just announced their new face for their campaign: Iskra Lawrence, a 25-year-old plus sized model and advocate for the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Lawrence will appear nationwide in Aerie stores located in or near college towns to talk about the importance of body positivity and what it really means to be beautiful. In a recent emotional interview she says, “I wanted to be a part of the campaign so much,” she says. “I got told I wasn’t good enough, and I could never make it. And then Aerie told me I was beautiful because I was me. You don’t need to be retouched. The real you is beautiful.”
The effects mass media have on society can greatly influence individuals, both negatively and positively, in regards to body image and how we perceive ourselves. Personally, I think we can all learn a valuable lesson from campaigns from companies such as Aerie for body positivity.
In a perfect world, body confidence would be celebrated and not shamed. In the great words of Erin Heatherton, “Healthy body image is not something that you’re going to learn from fashion magazines.”