Body Image in Popular Culture

With the rise of social media came body positivity – the act of appreciating and loving yourself in its natural looking state – and yet, many still struggle to accept their bodies for what it is.

“I’m too fat, I’m too skinny, my breasts are too small, my butt is too flat, my face is too round, my hair isn’t straight enough, I’m too short and I’m too tall!” That is what we all say at some point in our lives, but no one stops to think about the reasons why they feel the way they do. Our ancestors, I am certain, did not have as many issues with their bodies like we do. Although each new era garnered newer and different trends, back then women were surrounded by a wide range of gender and race relations that were at the forefront of their lives. Not to say that modern women don’t, however it’s the rise of social media that puts more strain on how women feel about their bodies. For instance, Marilyn Monroe was admired for her curvier figure in the 1940’s – 1950’s, but even before then in the 1800’s, curvier women were often depicted in artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s paintings as having the ideal body type. Today, being slender is considered ideal. Plastic surgery is at an all-time high and again, social media contributes to the astounding phenomenon. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), surgeries have been on a steady rise during the last 20 years, from 2.1 million procedures in 1997 to well above 12 million today. There is a stark difference between today’s culture and our grandparents’.

There were television shows, films and magazines, all showcasing beautiful women of all different sizes and with different looks, however women weren’t as open with their sexuality like they are today, hence the reason our perspectives on our bodies are so negative. Many of us are looking to enhance our appearance because we think looking like Kim Kardashian or Nicole Kidman will improve our lives, but the truth is it will not. Beauty comes from accepting who you are, as well as living a life of purpose. We have to learn how to engage and navigate through Social Media without allowing it to get the best of us. Yes, women are constantly bombarded with enhanced images of other females, which ultimately promote unhealthy obsessions and it says a lot about our culture, but more importantly, the disconnect with oneself. One scroll on Instagram is enough to send someone to an early grave because of the plethora of images suggesting that one must change his or her looks. I can see the empowerment in posting provocative pictures, however the women scrolling through feel nothing, but sheer anxiety and resentment.

Plus size models like Ashley Graham, Tara Lynn and Robyn Lawley are opening doors, showing the fashion industry that there is a market within the plus size community and they are welcome to join. However, it is not enough, especially because to most, these women are not considered plus size, therefore contributing to even more women feeling underrepresented. Some might say there are just not enough diversity in American popular culture because the images you see on television, films, runways, social media and magazines are not of the norm. If the average woman wears a size 16 and up, there is no reason why we shouldn’t see more images of said women in popular culture. Personally, I applaud the Tess Holliday’s, Gabourey Sidibe’s and Yamaneika Saunders’ of the world, who are stepping out on faith, with sky-high confidence and talent to put real plus sized women on the map. The fashion industry needs to do more. The typical size zero and size two models are idealized so much in popular culture that women and men are dying every day trying to achieve the beauty standards imposed by these fashion designers. Why do we allow an industry to define what beauty is? Who gave them the power to measure beauty and with what rubric are they using to determine our level of beauty? These are questions we need to ask ourselves before allowing our self-esteems and body image to suffer at the hands of the fashion and media industries.

I am pleased, though to see the little efforts being made to include different body types in mainstream media. We each as individuals must remember that no two bodies are alike and being fat, short, tall or skinny is not so bad as long as you are healthy and happy. You have to decide for yourself that you are beautiful no matter what the scale or popular culture says, you and only you. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Gabourey Sidibe, responds to a question concerning her confidence as, deciding she was beautiful and that she will live her life regardless of what others thought of her. “People always ask me, ‘you have so much confidence. Where did that come from?’ It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl. I wear colors that I really like, I wear makeup that makes me feel pretty, and it really helps. It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see. Your body is your temple, it’s your home and you must decorate it.” This is what we must all do; decide that we are beautiful and go about our lives remembering that.

Just know that there will always be someone, who’s viewed as prettier or more beautiful than you, but that should not be the reason why you abuse you with negative self-talk. I remember growing up and telling myself that God wanted everyone to be different and unique because if he didn’t, we would all be thin, white and blond. That was my way of justifying to myself that I was okay if I wasn’t thin, white and blond, and you need to tell yourself that you are okay the way you are.



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