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Kids Speaking Up: Are Today’s Body Images the Shape of Things to Come?

The media bear much of the blame for unrealistic beauty myths. It's time to cut them down to size.

If you ever get the chance, take a look at two pictures side by side; one of a model or celebrity from the 1920s-1950s (think Betty Grable, Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe types) and one of any contemporary figure in the media. Notice any difference? It’s pretty clear that our opinion of “attractive” has significantly changed over the years. This ideal has come from curved and robust to unbelievably thin and tall. If this pattern keeps going on, it makes me wonder: how much longer can it continue?

Article Image
Emma Steinkellner
In earlier years, the ultimate ideal of a woman’s shape was full and feminine. Your shape was a symbol of your wealth and if you could afford food or not. Makes sense, right? But Marilyn Monroe, one of America’s most iconic sex symbols, would be thought of as plus-sized by today’s standards. As the years progressed, companies marketing beauty or diet products developed an ideal for the perfect body that was pretty much unattainable. The body mass index of models in this day and age is 16. For the average American female, it’s around 28. That’s a pretty large gap, but that’ll get a lot of people to buy whatever you’re selling. Why? Because images of these media standards are everywhere and there aren’’t many alternatives. To modern society, thin equals beautiful, and anything else can be considered unacceptable.

The pressure of the media isn’t just responsible for America’s self-esteem issues now. I think it should have to take some credit for eating disorders and the destruction people bring upon their bodies. After all, any little kid who wants to grow up and be in the movie, television, music, sports or dance industry knows there is a standard to uphold. Some way they have to look or they won’t make it. That’s not OK. Up to 25 million Americans are reported to have an eating disorder. The majority are women, but the number of male eating disorders is increasing.

Will this keep going on until models waste away and realistically beautiful women are desperate to be just like them? Maybe, but there are things we can do to stop this downward spiral. In fact, some people are already doing it. Jamie Lee Curtis has posed for More magazine without any hair, makeup, or airbrushing done. Also, Kate Winslet, a gorgeous and brilliant actress (not to mention Rose in Titanic), has spoken out against these beauty myths. She has said, “There are so many girls out there who think that to be successful and to be beautiful and to be loved and respected means you have to be this. And this … really struck a chord with me … this image is being translated to teenage girls.” Let’s give both of these women a hearty “You go, girl!” because they are giving everyone a little dose of reality. It’s not just about accepting our bodies, it’s about loving them. Hourglass, pear-shaped, pencil, apple, or whatever shape it may be, they are all worthy of respect, and no company should ever make anyone feel sorry or ashamed for their own body.

Dos Pueblos High freshman Emma Steinkellner is a member of Kids Speaking Up, a local group working to educate youth on social, national and political issues and inspire them to write.

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