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From Ugly to Pretty, It's Pretty Ugly

Because of American culture today, citizens commonly go to a great extent just to feel needed, to feel worthy of their part in society. Originality quickly begins to fade as most citizens attempt to conform to the ideal persona created by society itself. Any non- conformist is then deemed an outcast to society, one whose judgments become baffling. This fear of originality is a concept spreading through our youth like an epidemic. American’s lose all sense of who they are in efforts to personify the perfect body that society presents them with. This fear of not being accepted for who we are begins to consume the self, and creates the monstrous society that embodies lack of originality, and you can identify it anytime you walk into the public. The fear of being anything but the presented ideal image, the perfect body, by society, holds damaging affects to the individual.
The use of advertising manipulates the real woman into a fictitious petite female and the average man into a massive ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ male. Children absorb all aspects of these by no choice and it begins to affect there self-confidence before ever even being introduced to others that might not accept them for who they are , such as non-family members. Because of all of the accusations brought upon by advertisements, children start adapting who they are to meet those standards. As Dorah and Job Dubihlela- authors of “Youth Attitudes towards Advertising…”- point out that “Both young men and women are the primary focus and objects in advertisements, with appeals that catch youth’s attention… such as half-naked, young and beautiful women… due to its pervasiveness, stereotypical portrayals, manipulative and persuasive appeal-sure” (1). Advertisers’ goal is to catch the consumer at a young age, in order to keep the consumer lifelong. The effect of this causes unrealistic knowledge that these ideals are accepted by society and that they are the only way society will accept the individual. The Dubihlela’s continue, “Advertisers sell dreams and entice [the audience] into confusing dreams with reality… [it] requires being consistently informative and appealing, and… after proper exposure, the audience begins to trust and believe the advertisement” (1). Being surrounded by family, by members that accept you for who you are along with absorbing another point of view through media advertising, the youth is confounded with confusion. With the reinforcement of constant exposure, youth’s accept the new point of view as what is true. The concept of what is real and what is ideal is becoming extinct within the youth. For example, Lauren Tochnov and Karen Sides-Moore- authors of “The Thinner, The Better…”- reported that, “Constant exposure to thin bodies in their social environment may alter perceptions of what normal and ideal bodies are supposed to look like. As a result, they begin to adopt a perspective of what a healthy or acceptable body image is based upon the images they view on a regular basis” (7). With little knowledge of other points of view, the youth has nothing else to accept but how they interpret what they see in advertisements. They begin to adapt to this ideal image that society is presenting them, reinforcing the belief that it’s not okay to be who you are. Not being able to achieve the perfect body is not an option for youths. Michelle Kistler- and other professors for a journal on the research of adolescents- stated that, “Adolescents who compare themselves against idealized body images are at risk for having a lower self-concept, especially in the physical domain and global self-worth” (618). When the youth is subjected to this manipulation repeatedly, they begin to make assessments of themselves in comparison to what they believe is what accepted and what is not. When they can’t get or don’t have the qualities of the body that are supposedly ideal, negativity and self-resentment are born and can have very damaging effects to our mental health before the child is ever put in society itself. We can’t hide from advertising. Within seconds of turning on the television or tuning the radio station, children are at risk. Within five minutes of walking out the door, we are bombarded with false images of what we are programmed to believe society wants from us, and it affects us mentally before we ever even experience society.
In school, as you were forced to face making new friends, social rank was quickly decided based upon appearance, how closely you related to the ideal body of your gender created by society. Social comparison, an effect to this apparent societal norm, rippled into bullying those that don’t conform reinforcing the concept that the perfect body is the only body to have. Kistler also notes that “Adolescents rely on social comparisons and perceived norms… [they] construct a view of self through self-reflection and the reflected appraisal of others” (617). Because we now have more options, we begin to observe other’s behavior, and in it, we make assumptions about ourselves. Before school, adolescents relied solely upon the ideas they were receiving from the media, as Kistler coined, “a sort of super peer” (619), and now it fuels the judgment and ridicule upon others for not meeting those pre-perceived ideals of the perfect body. As Nancy Cunningham- and colleagues for an article on aggressive behavior in a psychology and behavioral sciences collection- noted that, “Physically attractive youth tend to be those first… involved in sexual bullying behaviors… research on bullying in general indicates that students who are less attractive are often targeted as victims” (273). Those who have adapted well, or felt that they had already achieved this ideal image, begin to advance on those less fortunate. The self-worth of those victimized now begins to diminish even more, and as the teasing continues, more damaging effects arise. Self hatred begins to consume the victims as the needed self-appraisal from others is not present, and a likely depression follows. Cunningham also provides that, “Research has consistently shown differences between males and females on bullying behavior… and found higher levels perpetrated by both males and females and higher levels of victimization for females” (274). Adolescent males and females adopt this bullying behavior and target those ‘lesser individuals’, mostly girls, as the societal interpretation of the female is more objectified then that of the male on a regularly reinforced basis. Females who can’t meet this ideal would be more of a target then those less fortunate males. Adolescents absorb what is surrounding them, and act accordingly; they have seen the objectified woman and have now begun to objectify each other. Alterations in appearance become the difference between social victims and social butterflies, creating significant emotional damage.
The extent of actions performed in order to achieve this perfect body is never ending and has major effects to the health of the individual. Eating disorders and steroids, along with other damaging practices, become the option for those who can’t attain the ideal image society presents them with. Iryna Petina- along with other authors of an article in the Journal of Consumer Behavior- reports that, “appeals emphasizing unrealistic body images are increasingly linked to depression, loss of self-esteem, and unhealthy eating habits… and can be attributed to the existing social standards of the ‘ideal’ body” (1). Severely damaging effects to the health are caused by unrealistic attempts to accomplish the goal of attaining the ideal body. The processes people endure in order to accomplish this unrealistic goal provides evidence of the mental manipulation society has offered them. By default, members of society who perceive themselves as lesser than the perfect image are left with no other option than to begin practices in severely unhealthy habits in efforts to achieve it. Jennifer Galli- and co-authors in the Journal of Sport Behavior- goes on to state that, “in contrast to women, whose body dissatisfaction emerges from… a desire to lose weight and be thin, men’s dissatisfaction occurs [when] they have too much body fat and want to lose weight in an effort to become leaner [or] perceive themselves as not sufficiently muscular… This concern with muscularity may lead to… a preoccupation with gaining muscle coupled with an irrational belief that they are too small and weak… [and] more likely to use anabolic steroids” (48). The effects caused by this certain ideal are heavily damaging to the health of all individuals who don’t meet the standards. Even though it is more typical for females to undergo these effects, the damaging aspects are not gender oriented,. Males, even if at a lower rate, do suffer from this pressure to be the muscular ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ man. For instance, Galli recognizes that similarly with women, men will adopt “pathogenic weight loss behaviors, such as restrictive eating, the use of laxatives, self-induced vomiting, and overtraining…” (48). The pressures to be the thin or lean body type are exhausting for the human body. The health related issues are a demanding matter that should be taken into consideration by society before ever presenting this perfect image of the body. Tochnov and Sides-Moore continue that “worry about a physical image may lead women to believe that all they have to offer is their appearance… this idea may be driven by unrealistic expectations and a diminished sense of self-worth” (2). Along with the physical demands that the ideal image requires, there are long-term and damaging effects to the self about beliefs on an unrealistic body. People will go to extreme lengths to gain the perfect body, and will not care about the affects to their health. Nothing else matters to them, just as long as they pose the perfect body image. Ultimately, a quicker death to achieve the ideal image is better than a long and healthy life without the ideal body.
The issue stems from an unrealistic idea that can’t go away because it surrounds us all the time, continually being reinforced by society. The apparent goal to conform your body to fit the perfect image is unattainable, no matter how much damage we inflict on ourselves and others in order to achieve it, however there are members of society that can look beyond upholding the ideal image. Society is changing, Lady Gaga and Niki Minaj are just some of several well known celebrities that have busted through society’s grasp and became their own persons. These are selected individuals, whom we should look up to when we feel the pressures of society clouding our judgment. I’m not saying walk around the public wearing a banana suit because you want to be different, but these celebrities are making a point. It shouldn’t matter what we look like, so if you want to go around wearing a banana suit, then by all means you should be able to. Appearance shouldn’t be all that matters, a concept that will be very difficult for society to learn, mirroring Tally’s story in the young adult series “Uglies,” written by Scott Westerfeild. Tally Youngblood is faced with the decision to become a ‘pretty’ upon the age of 16 with an all body cosmetic procedure, or follow her new friends into non conformity as they show her the sides of being a ‘pretty’ that aren’t so pretty. This book allowed for thoughts of question to creep into my mind. How can a world where everyone looks the same and ‘perfect’ be meaningful? This series was set in a dystopia, a world where everyone looked the same after turning 16 years old. Does America want this? With advancements in plastic surgery, doesn’t America have the means for this to happen? Land of the free… or is it? Do we have the choice to be whatever we want to? With the constant fear of being anything but the presented ideal image by society, I don’t think we do, and the affects are damaging.





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