History Of Body Image Through The 20th Century

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History & Effects of Body Image on Midlife Women in 20th Century

History & Effects of Body Image on Midlife Women in 20th Century


Mass media such as television and magazines are replete with messages about gender, attractiveness, ideal body shapes and sizes, and weight management. Older Women and midlife women are exhorted to make the attainment of beauty their principal project in life. Since the middle of the 20th century, female beauty in the media has been defined chiefly in terms of a thin body. Consequently, negative body image and disordered eating rates among Older Women and midlife women appear to mirror media trends (Harrison, 2003). As media-depicted body ideals have become more slender, the rates of disordered eating and body dissatisfaction among Older Women and midlife women have risen. Accordingly, media influences on weight and shape concerns in Older Women and midlife women have become the focus of much research.

Trends in Media Depictions of the Ideal Female Body

The highest reported prevalence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, both of which are eating disorders linked with the idealisation of a thin body, occurred during the 1920s and again from the late 1970s to the present day. During these periods, the media-depicted body ideal was the thinnest in British history. The full-busted, full-hipped postwar television matron is out-moded, replaced by a slimmer, more independent, active female figurehead, exemplified by characters in media offerings ranging from fitness and fashion magazines to reality-based television shows popular with midlife female viewers.

Content analyses of female body shapes and sizes in popular magazines, entertainment television, and advertising reveal a number of trends. First, the ideal female body has become progressively thinner since the 1950s, reaching a low that has remained fairly consistent since the early 1990s. Second, the body sizes of female models and other media personalities tend to be markedly thinner than the body sizes of male models and media personalities (Botta, 2000). Moreover, media aimed specifically at midlife female audiences, such as fashion magazines, feature significantly more diet-related information and advertising than media aimed at male audiences. Third, thin female television characters are portrayed as more successful and more desirable than normal or heavy characters; research shows, for instance, that they are complimented more and insulted less by male characters than are fat female characters. Fourth, the discrepancy between the body sizes of women in the media and the body sizes of real British women has grown (Fouts, 2004). One recent study showed that, as British women have become heavier, the magazine-depicted female body ideal has become slimmer; almost all the female models analysed in this study were estimated to have body mass indices in the “anorexia risk” range. Thus, female audience members wishing to emulate the thin ideal must employ increasingly extreme measures to do so (Fouts, 2004).

Media Effects On Body Image

There is now a sizable collection of evidence that Older Women and midlife women's images of their own bodies are influenced by the mass media's portrayal ...
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