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Jatin Wagle, 2018

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Universität Osnabrück

Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik

Fachbereich 07: Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft

Wintersemester 2017/18

Seminar: Popular Culture and the Culture Industry

Dozent: Jatin Wagle, M.A.


The Myth of Beauty and Body Images in the Superficial Era of Mass Media and “filtered” Realities


Sibel-Selin

3. Fachsemester

E-Mail:


Contents


  1. Introduction………………………………………………………………….2-3

  2. A Short Definition of Beauty and What it Means to Us Nowadays……… 4-5

  3. The Importance of Looks in Today’s Society and the Way it affects Our Opinion on Others……………………………………………………………………… .5-6

  4. Beauty in the Era of Mass Media…………………………………………….7-9

  5. Instagram, a Platform to share Pictures, or: The New Beauty Standard………………………………………………………………………9-11

  6. Conclusion……………………………………………………………………11-12

  7. Works Cited………………………………………………………………… .13-14


  1. Introduction


The concept of beauty itself is something that belongs to the general existence of a human being. Enjoying and admiring it is a great part of our lives, as beauty makes it worth living. Not for nothing, people say “life is beautiful”; beauty thus is, to some extend, an equivalent metaphor for everything alluring and captivating that brings a certain joy to us.

To exist without having an orientation on the beautiful is an unthinkable concept; beauty makes us happy and provides us that exuberant kind of joie de vivre. Now, there are many, mostly relative and subjective, ways of defining and interpreting beauty. According to the Oxford Dictionary, beauty is defined as “A combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight”, in other words, it is a noun for physical attractiveness.

Consequently, the human body is linked to this certain concept and has been considered as a platform to express beauty and good looks ever since. The improvement, beautification and care of the body is a natural human essential and desire. In every culture and at all times, people have oiled and anointed, painted or embellished their bodies. Natural cosmetics and recipes for beauty essences were often handed down traditionally or were written down in a pharmacopoeia with the purpose of maintaining the art of natural beauty or to improve it as well as corresponding to the constantly-changing beauty ideals of the respective cultural era.

Even painful techniques were considered and used in order to change body parts or the entire human physique. In Japan, for instance, people used to bind their feet to stay short and delicate. In addition to that, even today, Burmese women put rings around their necks in pursuance of achieving a lengthening effect. These two examples of painful body-modifying procedures have another meaning though; they were created as traditional, cultural acts of worshipping deities or were utilized in order to demonstrate the respective social status and order of the person.

In today’s western industrial society though, the human body has a completely different function and meaning. Due to the influence and change of various mechanisms, the body has lost its symbolic function as an expression of tradition and religion and as a vehicle of spirit and soul. Certain body rituals and sacrifices have been replaced with styling. Furthermore, the veneration of deities and spiritual authorities now differs the devotion and veneration of the human body in general- thus, a fundamental desire of beautification has turned into a social pressure.

Furthermore, the embellishment of the human body as an expression of specific values, standards and moral convictions is losing more and more of its importance and meaning. On the contrary, a completely new picture of the body is getting recognition: The media nowadays promotes a thin, fit and delicate body as the right, beautiful one. Plastic surgery, new diet plans and body styling tips are all over the television as well as s.....[read full text]

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Beauty standards and the general beauty ideal has changed from generation to generation and is still doing so. While a voluptuous and curvy, feminine body with long, curly hair and no trace of cosmetics was seen as beautiful in the 16th century, the ideal 19th century woman had to endure wearing a tiny waist-modifying “wasp waist” corset in order to be seen as beautiful and delicate.

Nowadays, women “must” own plump lips, large breasts and long legs when it comes to be categorized as “beautiful”. On the male side, the so-called “sixpack” is a indicator for good looks and handsomeness.

Thus, as made clear above, is has gotten obvious that Beauty has varied throughout time, various cultures and the vast different perceptions of the world. A general definition of beauty is not quite possible as everyone has their own sense of what they judge as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Hence, the general beauty standard of the 21st century and the millennial understanding of beauty ideals are going to be considered in the following.


3. The Importance of Looks in Today’s Society and the Way it affects Our Opinion on Others


Attempts to define the human character through their outer appearance already dates back to the ancient Greeks. While some have repeatedly tried using body measurements and facial features to gauge their character and intelligence, others, such as the naturalist and philosopher Giovanni Della Porta (1540-1615, “De Humana Phyiognoma”), have tried to create similarities between animal behavior and human appearance.

Another instance is the National Socialists having declared a supposed racial and cultural superiority of the Aryan race (Preiser, 21). Today, people are aware that such assumptions are, of course, only fallacies though. Nevertheless, a clear knowledge of a person's personality or character is only gradually acquired on the basis of their behavior (Ectoff, 50). However, through immediate visual accessibility, appearance is the first source of information we have on a person (Kanning, 208).

So, based on experiences and opinions, one develops a certain kind of a grid reflected by attitudes and also prejudices. Thus, so-called stereotypes are being developed which influence the perception of the entire environment. According to social-scientist Wellhöfer, these stereotypes refer to constitutional features, such as the physique and physiognomy, on physiognomic conditions, as in clothing, the haircut, a beard or glasses.

Adding to that, they are also linked to social and national affiliations. Further, individual aspects of a person are then sufficient to infer a certain behavior or personality traits. In the context of this paper, this means that to have a particularly good look combined with well-kept clothes means to be seen as beautiful or attractive in general. Thus, by “rating” someone as beautiful, one also immediately links success and happiness to the referred person.

On the contrary, a person who is on the heavier side could be thought of as lazy, unhealthy and weak-willed (Wellhöfer, 114).

In order to uncover the influence of physical attractiveness on attributed personality traits, there are numerous experiments and investigations. According to a research made by Miller (1970), attractive people are considered to be more active, happier, more self-confident, and more amiable than unattractive. Also found in this study are sex-typical attributions.

Women are therefore considered more cooperative than men, but “unattractive” women are generally rated worse and lower than .....

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Hence, that technical progress put the spotlight on the human body. Now, this certain maximum view on the human body was able to capture not only movements, changes and gestures, but also turned into the reason why flaws and defects were taken much more seriously due to the fact that they could be now compared and categorized to others.

In today’s industrialized mass-media society, it is nearly impossible to escape from the constant confrontation with the media’s depiction of how someone is supposed to look and supposed to act. For instance, in the United States, children spend 1170 hours watching television or using their mobile devices. In comparison, only 900 hours are spent in school (Drolshagen, 214).

This overstimulation and sensory overload of a spate of pictures has a great impingement on the human (self-)perception and eventually determines the way one perceives their environment and everything that is around. Therefore, this published perspective we see, hear or read about and is always staged as well as perceived as the reality, influences one’s daily life and thoughts (Posch, 100).

Especially the advertisement industry uses this certain mechanism of action in order to manipulate and trigger their potential target audience which thus affects a vast profit in their sales figures (Kahrmann in Stock, 108). Now, a daily confrontation of approximately 1000 advertisements, mostly presented by people who are generally seen as young, beautiful and rich, influences the consumer’s own views and opinions of the way they perceive beauty and their own self in a substantial, serious manner.


Drolshagen states that the mass media industry values the use of stereotypes in three ways:

  1. What is seen as beautiful and desirable,

  2. The people who are prosperous and successful and

  3. The norms and values the society has set regarding the distinction of male and female standards (Drolshagen, 217).

Hence, the consumer only takes note of the “final result” that is portrayed as a certain kind of artifact via the media instead of actually being aware of the productional steps (including staging, acting and editing) that must be carried out in order to present the potential target audience an implantation of an impeccable, flawless ideal of attractivity.

In addition to that, both Posch and Drolshagen note that the consumer does not exactly copy of what is seen but instead, consciously and simultaneously unconsciously compares themselves. In conclusion, the effect of the consumer’s comparison paired with a subsequent desire for change, the mass media and its depiction of reality and beauty ideals is fulfilling a completely new function as a source of information; It draws one’s attention to what is currently seen as attractive and beautiful and eventually infixes the consumer a lack of self-esteem while concurrently demonstrating the “needed” practices and products that make it possible to get closer or even achieve the advertised .....

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Today, as mentioned above, one’s general idea of self perception concerning beauty and body image is constructed around ideas or expectations presented by society of how bodies and looks should appear, and not solely how one perceives their appearance. Despite research having uncovered information on phenomena associated with body image such as distorted body image perceptions, or positive body image, the topic remains not fully understood (Halliwell, 177).

Although the research focus on body image and the definition of beauty has drastically changed over the last decade, researchers and scholars have discovered that individuals in societies are still seriously concerned with how others perceive their outer appearance (Bartky, 34). It is heavily influenced by the sociocultural environment and the historical time period (Bartky, 34); the sociocultural environment and historical time period of the millennial era are both relevant factors when it comes to our investment in our social media life.

Concerning the way one defines beauty in the era of the 21st century, the social media app “Instagram” plays an enormous role. The social image-sharing platform is an application designed for smartphone users allowing people to capture, stylize, edit und eventually share all kinds of visuals with family, friends, and strangers via their smartphones. It has about 800 million monthly active users.

With a wide range of image filters, editing tools and hashtags at its disposal, the app creates infinite possibilities to customize selfies. Although we can alter images of ourselves with instantaneous and automated effects, the ability to express our individuality is restricted to the set of commands within the program. Instagram, it seems, has defined the look of an entire generation, the millennial generation (McLuhan, 41).

Furthermore, due to that, the app also heavily contributes to societal norms of attractiveness which has various implications because the everyday citizen is attempting to present him or herself in a certain way (Perloff, 363). Hence, Instagram, being based on images, as opposed to text, presents images that may produce ideas around body image and can reinforce certain ideals, which then can be further reflected in the commentaries that individuals attribute to them.

Moreover, the statement made above can be combined with a research result by Davis and Katzman (1999). In their study, it has been stated that “in Western cultures, girls are influenced by the unrealistic ‘Barbie-doll’ body shape and constantly told that thin is beautiful, whereas boys are influenced by muscular images and told that they should be big and strong.

Television, movies, and magazines provide constant messages about the ideal standard of beauty and how one should look and behave. Unfortunately, these standards are unrealistic and impossible for most people to achieve. Culture, however, is not just about beauty but about social and political organizations of family, po.....

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5. Conclusion



To sum up, there is strong and obvious support for the idea that the mass media nowadays heavily affects the perceptions of beauty and appearance concerns of the society, as they internalize a very precise set of features as “ideal” and/or “beautiful”. Therefore, it can be further suggested that the media affects their audiences by influencing perceived beauty norms, thereby skewing perceptions of reality (and not just fantasy or inspiration).

Experimental findings demonstrate that perceptions of what is considered to be “average” or even “unattractive” influence how individuals feel about their own bodies and appearance. As well as that, they contribute in the way one is treated, in the way opinions are formed and in the way judgements are made.

Rather than simply being passive recipients of unrealistic beauty ideals communicated to them via the media, a great number of individuals actually seek out idealized images in the media. Instagram, for instance, has reached the status of being the leading visual platform of not only new beauty standards, narcissism and certain social norms, but unfortunately also of being superficial, of lacking diversity and of promoting only one idea of beauty.

Hence, it highlights the complexity of people’s relationships to beauty ideals as well as the pe.....

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Works Cited


Bartky, Sandra Lee, (1997): "Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power" from Katie Conboy, Nadia Medina, and Sarah Stanbury (eds.), Writing on the body: Female embodiment and feminist theory pp.129-154, New York: Columbia University Press


Beauty”: Definition of “Beauty” in English By Oxford Dictionaries

Last Access: 29 March, 2018


Chua, Trudy Hui Hui, and Leanne Chang (2016): “Follow Me And Like My Beautiful Selfies: Singapore Teenage Girls’ Engagement In Self-Presentation And Peer Comparison On Social Media.” Computers In Human Behavior 55.: 190-197. Academic Search Premier. Web. Last Access: 29 March, 2018

Davis, C., & Katzman, M. (1999). Culture and eating disorders. In R. Lemberg, (Ed.), Eating disorder reference book (p. 58). Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.


Drolshagen, Ebba D. (1995): Des Körpers neue Kleider - Die Herstellung weiblicher Schönheit, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Vlg.

Etcoff, Nancy L. (1999): Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. New York: Doubleday.

Feingold, A. (1992b). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological .....

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