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Canada is home to a battery of industries that make a tremendous profit from women’s beauty and body images. Such industries include the beauty, diet, cosmetic surgery, and fitness industries, which have formed a multibillion-dollar success as a result of their ability to advertise effectively and market the ultra-thin modern body ideal. The enormity of this success is further enhanced by the mass media, which serves as a conveyer belt of women to their body images (Naiman, 2009).
According to Paul Schilder’s studies in the 1920s, body image is not only a cognitive construct but also depicts attitudes and how one interacts with others i.e. body image is a mental picture of our bodies. However, due to globalization trends after 1950, the perception of body image has dramatically changed. Currently, social media has made women perceive body image in terms of their attractiveness, perception of bodily boundaries, and distortion in body size. Research in sociological sciences has pointed out that disordered body image initially common in western culture is now being immensely replicated throughout the world. Similarly, in line with empirical research in social and behavioral sciences, there exists a high rate of eating disorders, and many girls and women in Canada fall victim (Wilcox and Laird, 2000; Naiman, 2009).
Research findings on the effects of exposing women to thin body-image- advertisements has been a topic of recent focus. Although some researchers have refuted the effect of exposure to thin idealized images on the body images of women, others have pointed out that exposure to the media has adverse effects on their body image and self-esteem. For instance, when young women are exposed to thin body images in adverts, they develop low self-esteem characterized by negative feelings about their body image hence causing dissatisfaction. Images of thin bodies in magazines cause body image dissatisfaction and create a desire for thinning, especially among women and girls. Therefore, because average women rarely look like images shown in advertisements, their comparison approaches make them dissatisfied with their body image.
Advertising and body image
In the Canadian context, both the global and regional media have massively disseminated images of western origin regarding aspects of beauty and the availability of the products and services to accomplish the ultra-thin body ideal to girls and women. Such effects of social media have resulted in numerous surveys that have established that girls and women have a negative feeling about their body image. As a result, feminist scholars have critically analyzed such idealized body images pursued by women and girls (Wilcox and Laird, 2000).
According to studies by the Media Awareness Network, women in Canada have tremendously suffered because of media advertising trends. This is because of the unrealistic standards of beauty set by role models and other celebrities. The messages portrayed through magazine articles have brought messages which are deceptive to women as they perceive further loss of weight as a success in one’s family, love life, and career. This has resulted in unrealistic approaches pursued by women to attain the perfect body image. For instance, a study by the Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, inc. They revealed unhealthy approaches in weight control present in every 1 out of 4 college aged women. Such habits included excessive exercise and abuse of laxatives causing depression and loss of self esteem (Naiman, 2009).
In a study which examined the effects of thin body images of restrained and unrestrained eaters on their self image, mood and self esteem, Ramona et al. (2003) purposely explored whether such effects derived influence from exposure duration. In this study, the participants who were mostly students from a university in Toronto were exposed to thin body advertisements (control advertisements) and later made to respond to questionnaire packets. The results revealed that scores (in terms of social self-esteem and self image) after contact with thin body images were more favorable compared to the period after exposure to control advertisements. The scores for social self esteem and image for unrestrained eaters remained impervious and unaffected by the type of advertisement. However, the scores for appearance self esteem were lower following contact with thin body advertisements. However, there existed no differences for parameters such as total self esteem and mood (Ramona et al., 2003).
According to the Canadian Women Health Network, the susceptibility of younger Canadian girls to the media’s body image was revealed. Young girls aged as young as five or six years were pursuing weight control approaches and 13% of those aged 6-12 were dieting and 50-75% of those with normal weight had the loss of self esteem and loss of a positive body image as they thought they were overweight. According to Girls Action Foundation (2011), image idealization depicted in the media has been cited as one of the new and old pressures facing Canadian girls thus limiting their potential. This has led to challenges in terms of self esteem and body image, including mental and physical health. The Public Health Agency of Canada has also cited low self esteem and body image dissatisfaction among Canadian Girls through a survey conducted where respondents were girls of Canadian origin. When asked whether there was anything in their bodies they would like to change, those who cited yes as a response included 43% of those in grade 3, 59% in grade 7, 69% in grade 8, 75% in grade 9 and 77% in grade ten (Girls Action Foundation, 2011: A cappella, 2003: Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2008).
According to Ramona et al. (2003), previous research has had tremendous weakness regarding the effects of thinness promoting advertisements. This is due to the assumption they make that all women and girls are affected by the thin-body advertisements in the same manner, especially regarding their body image. Ramona further argues that some women may feel better and have the desire to maintain their body image after looking at thin-body advertisements. Ramona further argues that dissatisfaction to body image as a result of exposure to thin-body advertisements should only be confined to those women who endorse the thin-ideals and western concepts of beauty such as thinness, tallness and whiteness. This argument is further supported by Wilcox and Laird (2000) who argued that women who compare themselves or follow up thin-body adverts and other products in the adverts are those whose body image is not salient and as a result, they suffer from body image disturbance and may go a further mile to achieve the desired body-image.
According to Wilcox and Laird (2000), women imagine themselves in their ideal body following thinness promoting advertisements. This results to attenuated body size and image over-estimations and a more positive mood (fantasy effect). However, such an effect can only occur where such women believe in achieving their goals regarding body image or shape. This scenario was also evident in a Canadian study on 1,739 teenage girls in Ontario aged 12-18. Of those who were interviewed, almost half desired a change in their body image to another they desired or had seen in advertisements. The image dissatisfaction findings were appalling with 27% having dieting attitudes and behaviors to achieve idealized thin-body images. Such habits included bingeing, abuse of diet pills and induced vomiting (Wilcox and Laird, 2000; A cappella, 2003; Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2008).
According to Wilcox and Laird (2000), the current standard of beauty (and ultimately of body image) of Canadian women and other women through out the word is perceived generally through the mass media and specifically through advertising. Such trends have caused a larger proportion of women in the affected countries (including Canada) to desire to achieve a body image that is conceived by dominant culture and whose concepts of beauty are molded by western ideals. Such a body image includes that which is in line with but not limited to aspects of tallness, whiteness and thinness. For instance, in a survey conducted by dove (a business organization dealing in beauty products), the women whose beauty and body image was shaped by western ideals of tallness, whiteness and thinness considered themselves beautiful with the perfect body image, though others still wanted to pursue these images to greater proportions. This trend was not only observed in Canada but in other western countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Italy and France.
In another study where women from Canada were among the interviewees from ten different countries, it was revealed that only 2% out of the 3000 interviewees considered themselves having the perfect body image which is idealized by the media. Such a body image entailed that with conceptualized beauty trends shaped by western ideals mentioned above (Girls Action Foundation, 2011). According to a report by the Canadian teaches federation, 78% of teenage girls in Canada are not satisfied with their images and struggle a great deal to maintain a positive and perfect self image. It also indicates that 48.2% of Canadian teenage girls perceive their beauty as an issue of great concern and 85% possess worries about their looks, 5% stating that every Canadian girl is worried about her looks (A cappella, 2003; Naiman, 2009).
As depicted in this paper, the health impacts of attaining idealized body images have enormous implications. In addition, many factors are associated with body image dissatisfaction among girls and women in Canada. Crucial to such dissatisfaction is the exposure to mass media and idealized components of advertisements. Therefore, awareness of thinness and subsequent internalization of idealized body images cause women and girls in Canada to be subjected to thinning pressures. The norms and expectations for thinness usually prevalent in the Canadian society cause pressure among Canadian girls and women to adopt these norms to achieve unrealistic and almost unattainable body images. This causes loss of self esteem and unhealthy eating habits (Wilcox and Laird, 2000; A cappella, 2003; Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2008; Naiman, 2009; Ramona et al., 2003).
A cappella: A report on the realities, concerns, expectations, and barriers experienced by adolescent women in Canada. (2003). Web.
Canadian Institute for Health Information: A multidimensional look at the health of Canadian women. (2008). Web.
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Girls Action Foundation: Girls in Canada today. (2011). Web.
Naiman, S. (2009). Dangerous obsession. Web.
Ramona, J. et al. (2003). Self-enhancing effects of exposure to thin-body images. Web.
Wilcox, K. & Laird, J.D. (2000). Impact of media images of super-slender women on women’s self-esteem: Identification, social comparison and self-perception. Journal of Research in Personality, 34(2), 278–286