Essay: Fashion, Appearance, and Social Identities "Tyranny

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Fashion, Appearance, And Social Identities

"Tyranny of the Ideal Image of Beauty":

How Are Fashion and Appearance Central to the Construction of Social Identities

Most western societies today are highly commercialized and capitalist where not only traditional commercial products are for sale, but also appearances, looks, fashion, and images. These nonmaterial products are sold to consumers through various means. Mass media is central as an avenue for advertising these products. What is especially important about these new products is that they help shape social identities. Consumers of these products imitate the media images and the constructions of identity. The society's norms, values, and understandings of themselves and others around them are significantly influenced by these nonmaterial products and the way they are advertised. This paper will look at this issue from a cultural studies perspective, and analyze how advertising commercializes and objectifies female body and how these commercialized images of women affect a larger society. The paper specifically discusses Jean Kilbourne's idea of "tyranny of the ideal image of beauty" -- the way media constructs perfect and ideal female images that are not attainable but keep pressuring women to try to achieve them, while also influencing men's understanding of female beauty.

At the heart of any cultural studies methodology lies the deconstruction of images and products as interpretative texts. Cultural Studies allows us to study "objects as systems rather than as the simple product of authorship," while culture is a site where meanings are "generated and experienced," and become "a determining, productive field through which social realities are constructed, experienced and interpreted" (Breward, 1998, pp. 304-305). Cultural Studies borrows from European structuralism, and increasingly from post-structural and postmodern ideas. Cultural Studies is concerned with identifying messages hidden behind objects, images, and products, and how these affect social identities. Cultural Studies can help us better conceptualize and understand the fashion industry, media commercialization of gender identities, and how body images and human relationships are interrelated.

Fashion studies today also deal with issues of representation, the relationship between image and culture, and places much emphasis on social meaning. According to Boden (2006), fashion pays "equal attention to the context or broader external influences that enable the production of a certain 'look', and the physicality of the 'look' itself, especially how it intertwines with social identities and relationships (p. 291). Fashion is also broadly linked to media representations of women today because commercial products are being increasingly advertized along with a particular, sexualized images of women. Producers of these images use fashion models who are sometimes movie, music, sports, and reality TV celebrities. So, the images of women, fashion, body images, gender, and commercialization are intertwined. And one of the relevant issues in discussing these highly interrelated topics is the commercialization and sexualization of women's bodies in advertising.

Advertising today is a very powerful agent of socialization, affecting our tastes, views, opinions, and our understandings of the social environment surrounding us. And advertising today is virtually everywhere. Wherever we look or go or watch, we see advertising. Advertising has entered the classroom, our households, movies, music, fashion shows, and ultimately our minds. So, the impact of advertising on our understanding of female beauty can hardly be exaggerated. Jean Kilbourne, a media critic and the author of award-winning film series Killing Us Softly, describes the current media construction of female beauty as the "tyranny of the ideal image of beauty" (Have We Come a Long Way? 2010). The media, especially fashion magazines, construct absolutely flawless images of women that in reality do not exist. The photos today are skillfully photoshopped and sometimes changed beyond recognition. Women's busts are generally pushed, buttocks are slimmed down, all the pores and blemishes are removed, and noses and eyes are changed to meet the demands of the social expectations (see image #1).

These idealized images of women make an enormous impact on women's self-esteem, their ideas of how they want to look like and how they should look like, and men's expectations of how they want women look like. These images constantly pressurize women to try to achieve these unattainable images. The average size of women, for example, in the United States is much bigger than the average size… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Fashion, Appearance, and Social Identities "Tyranny.  (2011, February 22).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/fashion-appearance-social-identities/71767

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"Fashion, Appearance, and Social Identities "Tyranny."  Essaytown.com.  February 22, 2011.  Accessed May 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/fashion-appearance-social-identities/71767.