How Magazines Affect Your Body Image Perception

Viktor Rolf Bonbon Objectification

I was reading my favorite magazine the other day (Marie Claire) and I noticed one very interesting thing. All of the women presented in this glossy magazine are either extremely thin or have extremely skilled plastic surgeons. At certain point this trend became so obvious that I decided to count how many times I actually saw those unrealistic creatures in one magazine. As it turned out, there is a significant difference between the number of normal and extremely skinny women or those that went through plastic surgeries in glossy magazines. I used yellow sticky notes to bookmark unrealistic images of women and red ones to indicate normal looking women. As it turned out, there are only a few images of real women in this glossy publication that is intended to serve (attention!) real women.

You probably wonder why I am spending my time on looking through all of those magazines and wasting my sticky notes. Well, the media influences us much more than we think. According to the research by a non-profit organization, approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and stay on a diet in order to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, “only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.”

What Does “Perfect” Mean?

Victoria's Secret Perfect Body

Have you heard about the recent scandal with un-photoshopped image supermodel Cindy Crawford? On that image, Cindy looked like probably many women of her age. She had stretch marks from having two kids, cellulite, and—OMG!—wrinkles. While the media was eating Cindy alive for being real, I recalled how Cindy Crawford said years ago, at the beginning of her modeling career, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” Indeed, no one (even Cindy Crawford herself) look like a model in real life. I bet that most of you also looked at all of those beautiful women starring at you from the pages of the glossy magazines and wanted to look just like them. I am guilty too! I mean, who doesn’t want to look like a Victoria’s Secret model? Right? Well, I have to disappoint you here, guys, because none of the ‘Angels’ are look like Victoria Secret’s ‘Angels’ in reality.

Everybody Is on A Diet

Diet Coke Jean Paul Gaultier

I came to the Unites States in 2008, and one of the first things that I noticed here is that everyone is constantly talking about some sort of diet. Weight Watchers, South Beach, Zone, Paleo, Macrobiotic… Everybody seems to be on a constant mission of burning calories. They even created special devices (FitBit and others) so you can track any step you took on your way towards the perfect body.

When peer pressure is combined with media brainwashing, it is hard to stay sane in the world of a constant body shaming. I was shocked analyzing a recent data from the Pittsburgh Youth Study that discovered that 35% of 9-year-olds were already dissatisfied with their bodies. To be honest, all I could possibly think about at this age is how many Barbies I have in my collection; the topic of the body image was not as crucial for my generation of girls as opposed to nowadays women.

Body Image infographic

Today even the youngest girls do everything possible to look like ‘that girl’ from the cover of the magazine. Take, for instance, Beth Cowan who pushed was living on just an apple a day (according to Daily Mail) or Justine Gallagher who started eating paper when she was five, because she worried that she was as chubby as she had been in her baby pictures. Gallagher ate as many as 10 pieces of paper a day, believing that filling up on paper-rather than food-would help her lose weight (according to ABC News).

Obviously, those girls did not starve themselves because that’s what they wanted to do. They followed the path dictated by the media where only skinny girls deserve respect and praise. If you are not skinny, then… you are just a failure… or you desperately need the help of a plastic surgeon.


Tom Ford Objectification

America is indeed a Mecca of plastic surgeries. You can order a-la-carte anything from a perfect nose to a bigger bootie. In fact, nowadays surgeries are so common that you can find plastic surgery advertising even in the subway, not to mention fashion magazines. According to Time magazine, the most common surgery in the America is breast augmentation. In 2013, more than 290,000 breast enhancement surgeries were performed in the U.S. only. Some patients start worrying that their breasts are not big enough when they are still in their teen ages… Unfortunately, many of plastic surgeons’ clients fail to understand that breast augmentation is a dangerous procedure, which often leads to loosing any sensation in their breasts. In other words, by doing such surgeries women lose their ability to get a sexual satisfaction in order to provide pleasure for someone else (according to Jean Klbourne).

Wrinkles War

no wrinkles dove ad

Let’s get back to the magazine discussed earlier today. I would like to ask you, dear women. How many of you have wrinkles? I do! I am 29, but when I compare my skin with those pictures of Alessandra Ambrosio (who is turning 35 next year), I feel that I look like her mom. Her skin looks so flawless that I will never say that she looks older than 16. Take a look at other models (Natalya Vodyanova, Heidi Clum, Claudia Shiffer). Time flies, but their faces remain the same. How is that possible? Well, the answer is pretty easy. In fact, some of you might have already tried Botox and other injections in order to keep you skin young and glowing. Those procedures are not as dangerous as others mentioned today, but, in my opinion, those are simply unnecessary. Why can’t we just age as people did for so many years before us?

* * *

I was thinking about the difference between what we see in fashion magazines and reality for many years now. As many other girls, I grew up reading Vogue, Marie Claire, Bazaar, Cosmo, etc. Later in my life, I worked as a writer for a few glossy publications. The funny thing is that I never (ever!) seen an absolutely ideal woman in a real life. There was always something that didn’t look as perfect as magazine covers’ girls. Freckles, wrinkles, crocked teeth, asymmetric ears… There is no Photoshop in real life that can camouflage all of those little imperfections that actually make us beautiful. Why then we as a society promote the image of spotless beauty? What’s wrong with being real?

  • GoFashiondeals

    Wow. You are so right! I am shocked to read that 9 yr olds were concerned about their weight. I was like you more concerned with my barbies, playing outside, or Lion King. Great read and wonderful post.

    • Thank you for reading!

      Yes, I was shocked while reading those stories too and that’s one of the reasons I decided to write this post. Nowadays kids are under the influence of advertising 24/7, no wonder they want to be like “that girl on TV” or a magazine. I feel that it’s very cruel that we expose our kids to that kind of unhealthy body images. Children don’t have any life experience yet to make their own conclusions from what they see in media and it’s their parents’ job to protect them from a bad influence. However, it’s easier to say than do… I really hope that we as a society would be able to change this situation and teach our kids what’s really important as opposed to creating an environment where they don’t feel good about themselves.

      • GoFashiondeals

        I hope so too.

  • This is one of the best article that I read, period. My husband and I was watching Bear Grylls with Kate Winslet the other night and she said something that struck a chord with us. She said she teaches her daughter to appreciate her body, looking in the mirror and say “thank goodness we have bum” so hopefully her daughter will have a healthy body image. My husband and I are determine to be the same with out little one; no more whining about putting on weight or concentrating on our body flaws, instead we’ll opt to celebrate our body just the way it is. It won’t be easy but we will try.

    Shireen | Reflection of Sanity

    • That’s a wonderful approach and I 100% agree with it! It’s extremely important to be a positive role model for your kids, especially when it comes to body image and health issues. Unfortunately not many parents understand that their actions influence how their kids feel about themselves later in life. I am very proud of you, Shireen, and your wonderful husband that you are doing such a great job of teaching your little one how to respect his body. Your baby is so cute now and I am 100% sure that he will become a great human being when he grow up. Good job, mommy Shireen! ?????

  • I didn’t grow up reading glossy fashion magazines but experienced body image issues from watching other society-approved ‘pretty girls’ and comparing them with myself, always spotting a flaw in the way my nose was shaped, back when I was a teen. This was compounded by demeaning words someone closer to home uttered for the fun of it whenever I got insecure about my nose. If I’d grown in an American setting, I would’ve been ordering ala carte surgeries but luckily I grew to accept my nose and other parts of myself. Thank you for such a thoughtful article, I was shocked to find out that young girls are eating papers! What???

    Shanaz | Fashionista NOW

    • Thanks for reading, Shanaz!

      I didn’t grow up in the U.S. too, but even in Russia I felt this pressure from the society and glossy magazines. Plastic surgery is not as accessible in Russia as they are in America (at least not when I grew up), but the pressure that women put on each other is even stronger (there is a saying that there are 10 women per each 9 men, here comes the competition). Trust me, I also had my insecurities, but I guess you just learn to accept yourself when you grow up. I am glad to hear that you also learned to accept yourself. It’s very important! You are a unique person with a unique beauty and you have to understand and respect that.

  • This was a great read. Some part of me is very cynical and thinks it may already be too late for us, having been indoctrinated by media for such a long time—I’ve been so influenced by Photoshopped ads that I do a double-take when the image is less than perfect. Isn’t that sad?

    Another Beautiful Thing

  • Lea

    World is crazy! And poor girls !!! :/