STORY BY SAM RUD
I was 13 when my sister was hospitalized for her eating disorder. The first time I visited, I quickly discovered that her wing of the hospital had been made “media-proof” — no magazines, no phones, no Internet and no TV.
This wasn’t to shelter the patients from the news in the media, but rather the images. To me, the men and women in magazines were just attractive people, but to my sister, they were triggers — a constant reminder that she wasn’t good enough.
That night, at the therapist’s instruction, my mom and I threw out every Seventeen Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Victoria’s Secret catalogue in the house.
As I put our years-worth subscriptions of trigger-filled pages in the trash, my fondness of magazines went with it.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 69 percent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
The kicker? The women they idolize in the magazine pictures don’t even look like the women in the magazine pictures.
The effect? 47 percent of those same 5th-12th grade girls reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
The solution? Stop perpetuating the idea that these body shapes are ideal, real and attainable.
While there is no one single cause of body dissatisfaction, it is clear there’s a connection between images in the media and self-esteem.
According to a study cited on the National Eating Disorder Association’s website, 70 percent of people believe encouraging the media and advertisers to use more average sized people in their advertising campaigns would reduce or prevent eating disorders.
Since using average-sized people in advertisements would be utterly preposterous, how about we at least require the media to be upfront about the editing?
This movement could start with a label that would clearly state if the subject in photo has been physically altered or retouched. If they’ve got enough ad space to triple a woman’s cup size, they’ve got enough room to tack on a tiny disclaimer.
Fictionalized commercials are required to say, “do not attempt,” so why are fictionalized photos of men and women advertised as reality? It’s simply ethical — If editing tools are used to elongate a neck, bulk up a bicep or shrink a waist, they should say so.
Some will argue that these disclaimers would destroy photographic art or negatively affect business. To that I’d say, if you value the success of your company or advertisement more than the self-worth of your sons and daughters, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.
The root of the problem is people thinking the body they see in advertisements is how it exists in reality. We don’t compare our magical ability with Hermione Granger or our strength with the Hulk because we know these people don’t exist.
So why do we compare our physical appearance with images of models and celebrities that aren’t real?
In a news release from the American Medical Association, a Dr. McAneny stated, “The appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image … We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
What if every time we saw a size 000 model with DD boobs, we were simultaneously reminded that isn’t how she looked pre-Photoshop? Ideally, with repeated exposure to the labels, the way we view these images of models and celebrities will shift.
So go ahead Photoshop connoisseurs, digitally nip and tuck your models all you want. We can’t stop you from doing yo’ thang, but we can stop letting what we see in the media effect what we see in the mirror.