In Pursuit of Ideal Body Image, both women and men take drastic measures to achieve the desired body image. In a society obsessed with weight loss or gain and physical beauty, people use various mechanisms such as the use of steroids, diets and surgery, among other mechanisms, to attain attractiveness.
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In addressing the body image issue, Hesse-Biber, Petrocelli et al, have done intensive research by obtaining personal testimonies on the motivating factors as why people use diets or steroids to obtain a perfect body image they so yearn for. The trio, through their research, has discussed this issue by embracing the social, economic and cultural factors, as to why most men and women resort to various methods to attain an ideal body image.
In the book, The Spread of the Cult of Thinness by Sharlene Hesse-Biber, the author uses the metaphor of a cult to illustrate how women worship their physical images. The demand on women to perform body ritual and sacrifices to achieve ultra-slender ideals is presented.
Anabolic steroids were first identified in the 1930s. The American College of Sports Medicine acknowledges that they work for certain individuals. Although they are used therapeutically in medicine to stimulate bone growth and appetite, excessive use poses a health risk. In the book Getting Huge, Getting Ripped: A qualitative Exploration of Recreational Steroid Use, Petrocelli et al studies the steroid use by body builders (Petrocelli et al).
He illustrates their personal insights on the reasons they use these substances, despite their knowledge on the adverse effects steroids. On the other hand, athletes are under pressure to perform, and create a brand that easily grants endorsements, salary increment and potential to gain an advantage over competitors. Hence, they have embraced steroid as a short-cut of achieving their goals.
How far humans will go in pursuit of an ideal body image
People go to extremes in pursuit of physical attractiveness. A person is self-perceptive of their own physical appearance hence, influencing health choices they make. Usually, in relation to some cultural ideals, some tend to inculcate the notion that beauty is ‘thinness’.
According to, Hesse-Biber, the question ‘Am I thin enough yet?’ offers some provocative insights (3). Hesse-Biber highlights how these cultural inclinations continue to erode self confidence of women as they aim to attain the American standard of physical perfection (8). For example, in the illustration, we meet Delia and Lauren, two women so preoccupied with their physical image that they are willing to go extraordinary lengths to the point of starving themselves (Hesse-Biber, 22).
Delia and Lauren context represents a larger percentage of women with similar obsession in our modern age. These obsessions have led to major consequences as the use of steroids leads to suffering from anorexia and bulimia. Moreover, the obsession with the physical body has not only been a practice of older women.
Incidences of girls at a very tender age have overtime joined the trend. Lauren, who is less than ten years, illustrates this clearly. She experiences pressure from her peers in her dancing class to appear in a certain way. Hence, a steroid offers her the solution. Conversely, Janet, compelled to lose weight, undergoes a surgery that tragically leaves her with a chronic illness (Hesse-Biber, 101).
Women across all age groups have been compelled to go against their; psychological, economical and social pressures, to develop eating disorders that are self destructive, as illustrated by Lauren and Janet (Hesse-Biber, 101).
There is a collective judgment in our present culture of the ideal body image. Beauty cannot be quantified or objectively measured, and by definition, it is an ideal for those who strive for it. If they can afford to attain the splendor standards of a specific culture, those values must be sustained. Unfortunately, these standards have been made impossible to attain, leading to the disappointment and the obsession with an ideal body image.
Beauty is a prerequisite for both femininity and masculinity. As a result, more men and women alike, today take steroids. According to Petrocelli et al, anabolic steroids used by body builders, provide comprehensive insights into its nature, pattern of use and health issues. Initially, the motivation for physical attractiveness was purely for beauty purposes but, currently social mobility, media, peer influence and athletes’ branding are critical factors contributing to their increased use.
Is this a modern problem?
People’s insecurities about their image have always been there. In recent years, these obsessions have been on the increase. The value of beauty standards changes over time. Presently, research, media coverage and the internet have contributed to the awareness levels by the public on body builders’ use of steroids.
Similarly, the media, economic, social and peer pressures have had an influence on dieting and poor health choices. In an effort to attain a set standard on body image this has resulted to extreme dieting and drug use. Although the impact of extreme dieting and use of steroids appears to be a modern problem, it is argued to be an issue that dates back to centuries ago. As special types of imagery of beauty vary, an individual’s body is likely to vary too.
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The pursuit of physical perfection began centuries ago, but in recent times, the standards and motivation have greatly changed. During the 16th century, most European women embraced the corsets made of toughened work of art to flatten their breast and abdomen. Waist was not spared, though they had a piece of mental or wood placed on their chest in an attempt to achieve a perfect waist image. In mid-19th century, fixed corsets were again introduced in North America and other parts of Europe. Despite their physicians’ advice on their potential effect to cause pulmonary disease and internal organ damage, many women continued to disregard this professional advice.
Anabolic steroid use has been a trend of athletes since the 1950’s. However, it was not until 1980’s that the national American athletes started to sanction its illegal supplementation (Hesse-Biber, 201). The athletes’ viewed their use as a strategy to boost their performance, abilities, salary and attract major endorsements.
Throughout the years, our society has become fat-phobic. This is evident, taking a glance through media; both electronic and print media. Programs that include reality shows and advertising campaigns advance the notion on the American standard of physical perfection. This is achieved by engaging viewers in advancing cultural prejudices on body image.
Technology has not been spared either; it has been instrumental in the pursuit of ideal attractiveness. In doing so, these instruments have encouraged the use of steroids and extreme dieting that does not require justification, without necessarily accounting for the repercussions (Petrocelli et al).
How these ideals spread and negative consequences of body image ideal
According to Hesse-Biber, poor body image has a significant impact on eating disorders. These disorders include bulimia, anorexia nervosa or binge eating in both men and women (153). A negative body image encourages numerous self-destructive behaviors comprising exercise dependence, eating disorders or steroid abuse.
Along with the media in general, websites contribute to the increased eating disorders. They do not directly prescribe measures to tackle these disorders but advance the concept on the perception of the ideal body image, the body must be extremely thin. These perceptions are skewed due to cognitive distortion, for example, some anorexic people refer to these concepts as ‘thin inspiring’.
Previously, eating disorders, diet pills and image obsession was associated mostly with women, but as noted by Petrocelli et al, there has been a recent controversy surrounding men and steroids, including major athletes. The pressure to resemble the perfect models on magazines and develop well-sculpted male models is equally another issue.
The purpose is to use them to promote sports, jewelry, perfumes or clothes, without necessarily taking into consideration the consequences and long term effects (Petrocelli et al). Our society has become fixated on the sex appeal of individuals instead of identifying people according to what one offers mentally and intellectually to society. Although people using steroids have voiced concerns of being caught under their effect, they remain apprehensive about stopping its use.
In addressing issues of societal view on the image, there are positive aspects to this effect. Hesse-Biber provides new frameworks to help tackle health issues faced by not only women in general but also, the new recruits to the “Cult of Thinness” (152). In doing so it empowers women to alter their perspective on what beauty is and overcoming body insecurity.
Health choices and perspectives develop over the course of an individual’s life. Therefore, for change to occur, it takes time and effort. Personal reflection on experiences that influence attitudes on body image from childhood peer pressure or the media may equally prove beneficial.
Awareness campaigns and media coverage should be entrenched on healthier choices. Besides, media coverage that promotes the ideal man as always being strong, lean and muscular and women as thin should not be taken as always true. The best idea is to promote healthy eating habits and encourage a positive impact on people to concentrate more on health than weight (Hesse-Biber, 117).
In recent years, viable physical education programs introduced in schools have had a positive response not only from students but also parents. For example, teasing those seen to be too thin or too fat has been on the decline. It creates a real and safe way for young people to improve their health and fitness.
Physical attraction has always been an issue dating back centuries ago. In recent years, this obsession has drastically increased, with the use of steroids. History as well as the interaction of individual and society, has an influence on the effect and extent that people go to attain standard image perfection.
In their research, Petrocelli et al provide personal insights of steroid users, their perspective and its effects (Petrocelli et al). This provides clear information on the hazy anabolic steroids and its involuntary use of both athletic performance enrichment and physical beauty.
Conversely, Hesse-Biber shows the growing concern about weight. She illustrates that it is important to provide people with healthy eating and physical activity habits simply because extreme dieting and eating disorder habits can be counterproductive to long term weight management (102). The definition of desirable body image has spanned for a long time across all genders. Although steroids can be used for therapeutic purposes, excessive use is harmful.
Petrocelli, Matthew, Oberweis Trish and Petrocelli, Joseph. “Getting Huge, Getting Ripped: A Qualitative Exploration Of Recreational Steroid Use.” Journal of Drug Issues Fall (2008). pp.1187-1205.
Hesse-Biber, Nagy Sharlene. The Spread of the Cult of Thinness. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006