The perception that we have today regarding our bodies is influenced by external factors such as the media. However, we are reluctant to accept this. According to Orbach, “We don’t like to think of ourselves as beguiled by this beast called the media.” (387). Though we think of ourselves as independently structured in behaviour and character, we are an outcome of the interaction with our surroundings. In this case, this surrounding is the media. It conveys perceptions of how our bodies ought or ought not to look like.
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It gives us a feeling that our bodies are not okay and always need restructuring. It is this perception that corporations use to make money. They profit through the body shaping solutions they give to fill the needs created by the media. Orbach mentions, “Heinz owns Weight Watchers, Unilever owns Slimfast, Nestlé owns Lean Cuisine” (390). Our bodies are created by such corporations rather than the natural bodies that we ought to have.
Orbach continues to explain how we acquire our bodies from our mothers, “by the bodies they themselves inhabit and represent to us, and also through how they perceive our own bodies” (391). However the perception of a woman’s body has been made unstable by the media. This then has an impact on the child onto whom the mother passes her body to. The child grows knowing that they always need to keep transforming their body.
It is through such perceptions that the natural bodies that were known to exist are fading. For instance Nigerian models, popularly known for their plump bodies, have now turned to the media-created slim models. She concludes by stating that the effect of loss of our natural bodies is the profitable corporations we perceive today.
Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media & Maternal Influences on Young Girls’ Self-Sexualisation
Sexualisation is described as “reducing physical attractiveness to sexiness, valuing someone based solely on sexual appeal, or treating someone as a sexual object rather than as a person.” (Starr and Ferguson 463). Sexualisation in young girls is mainly attributed to what they consume from the mass media. The girls learn about the behaviour and attitudes that are linked to their gender such as make up and dress codes that they perceive and the results of such. If the results are positive, they tend to envy and want to be associated with them.
The author give an example of a young girl emulating her mother, “the young girl chooses to wear more stereotypically feminine clothes after discerning that looking pretty in general is socially and personally rewarding” (Starr and Ferguson 464). This trend is not only in the case of girls and mothers but also through media focus on physical attractiveness. The same effect is passed through sexy dolls for grade schoolers. Starr and Ferguson found that,
“The vast majority of young girls in our study recruited from the public schools were sexualized in terms of what they wanted to look like and their attributions of popularity to sexy appearance. In fact, girls’ preference for the skimpily dressed sexy doll” (471).
The sexualisation of these young girls can however be prevented by maternal intervention. Mothers can guide and instruct their daughters regarding the content they watch during and after TV shows. They can also prevent early sexualisation through instilling religious and ethical practices which the girls can apply in the instances where there is no parental supervision.
Despite the media being portrayed as a negative sexual influence, it also has its flip side in providing sexual education particularly to teenagers and adolescents. Authors Ward, Kyla M and Epstein strive to change this perception by providing positive media contributions in regard to sexual education.
The media provides sexual information relating to sexuality which according to Ward, Kyla and Epstein, “is a complex, multidimensional process that involves incorporating diverse information from multiple sources” (59). It provides information on sexual health which many would want to learn about privately, for instance through magazines that can be read in private. Such information is also provided through entertainment-education programs that incorporate the two aspects.
The media also offers diverse sexual models. Users identify and relate to characters in the media. These models match their personalities and interests and the viewers in turn pick their desirable roles and adapt to them as well as learn from them. For instance, girls would associate with a smart woman with healthy sexual principles and want to emulate her. For instance, in I love Lucy, “Lucy served as an anchor point for women’s reflections on their own sexual development” (Ward, Day and Epstein 63).
The media is also seen to offer ideas on dating norms and ideals. Young girls, according to Ward, Day and Epstein, are not able to turn to their actual peers for information or norm setting (65). They opt to rely on the media to get dating models who offer them the dos and don’ts of dating as well as the pros and cons.
The media also in its depiction of negative sexuality is in a way contributing to positive sexuality. This is achieved through publications protesting the contents of different forms of media. As such, the media provides an example of what is bad which this publication use to educate people on matters of sexuality.
Orbach, Susie. “Losing Bodies.” Social Research. 78.2(2011): 387-394.
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Starr, Christine and Ferguson, Gail. “Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media & Maternal Influences on Young Girls’ Self-Sexualisation.” Sex Roles. 67(2012): 463-476.
Ward, Monique, Day, Kyla and Epstein, Marina. “Uncommonly Good: Exploring How Mass Media May Be a Positive Influence on Young Women’s Sexual Health and Development.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. 112(2006): 57-70.