Gender Stereotypes and Body Image Term Paper

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[. . .] This idealized female form is so unrealistic for most people that there is the feeling of not being able to measure up.

Research into mood has also shown that there is an interactive relationship between mood and women's perception of the ideal female form. When women are in a negative mood, they are more likely to fixate on the stereotype presented and measure themselves against it. This leads to lower self-esteem, and a cycle of constant comparison and feeling inadequate. (Botta, 2003).

The presentation of the ideal female stereotype also has effects in terms of eating disorders that are seen in parts of the world where this ideal predominates. Since the ideal presented is so far from normal, and can rarely be attained by healthy means, anorexia nervosa and bulimia rates have risen. The only way most women can approach this stereotype of beauty is through starvation or disordered eating. Research (Botta et al., 2003) has shown that rates of eating disorders may be predicted based upon the magazine reading habits of the women studied. If subjects were repeatedly exposed to images of unrealistically thin models, prevalence of anorexia and bulimia was greater. "Overall, magazine reading and processing accounted for...28.0% of variance for girls' anorexic behaviors...27.5% for girls' bulimic beahaviors...23.4% for girls' body satisfaction...[and] 41.6% for girls' drive to be thin." (Botta, 2003). Ironically, men do not see thinness as the same prerequisite for attractiveness in women that women themselves do.

The stereotyped body ideal is not only evident for women however. Men as well are increasingly exposed to a stereotypical male ideal form that is extremely unrealistic and unlikely to be attained.

In addition to a requirement that states the ideal man is incredibly lean, the stereotypical male ideal that dominates advertising targeted at men is unrealistically muscular. This has evolved over time, as well. A study that looked at male action figures sold over the decades (especially G.I. Joe) has found that the ideal presented is increasingly muscular. Aronson (2004) says,

What about cultural definitions of the attractive male body? Have those changed over time as well? Do men engage in conformity, too, trying to achieve the perfect body?...Men are beginning to come under the same pressure that women have experienced for decades to achieve the ideal body. Specifically, the ideal for males is much more muscular now than it was in the past. (p285).

The consequences of an unrealistic male stereotype are similar for men as for women faced with an unrealistic stereotyped physique. Rates of anorexia and bulimia in men are rising, as are abuse statistics for muscle enhancers such as steroids. The same study done by Botta (2003) that found a correlation between magazine reading and eating disorders and body satisfaction in women, found the same results for men. Men who were constantly exposed to the stereotypical muscular, lean ideal had lower rates of body satisfaction and increased rates of wanting to be thin. Once again, however, the stereotype seems to affect primarily its target, men. Women were much less likely to select the overly-muscular lean physique as the ideal than were men. (Aronson, 2004).

So we see that the stereotypes for body types presented in advertising in western cultures are unrealistic, and most often not what is perceived to be attractive by the opposite gender. Additionally, these stereotypes have negative impacts on body image and self-esteem that then show up in eating disorders and steroid abuse.

Works Cited

Anderson, A.E., & DiDomenico, L. "Diet vs. shape content of popular male and female magazines: A dose-response relationship to the incidence of eating disorders?"

International Journal of Eating Disorders, 11, (1992). 283-287.

Aronson, E., Wilson, T., Akert, R., & Fehr, B. Social Psychology. New York: Prentice Hall,

Barber, N. "Gender differences in effects of mood on body image." Sex Roles 44(1/2), (2001),

Botta, R.A. "Television images and adolescent girls' body image disturbance." Journal of Communication, 49, (1999), 22-41.

Botta, R. "For your health? The relationship beween magazine reading and adolescents' body

Image and eating disturbances." Sex Roles, 48 (9/10). (2003), 389-400.

Malkin, A., Wornian K., & Chrisler, J. "Women and weight: gendered messages on magazine

Covers." Sex Roles, April, (1999), Downloaded July 30, 2004 from Web site: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2294/is_7-8_40/ai_55083951/pg_2. [END OF PREVIEW]

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