Seventeen, YM, Cosmopolitan, Ms., ‘Teen. These are the materials that define “perfection” for young and adolescent girls. However, the messages these magazines are sending are often conflicting and paradoxical. Girls see these images everywhere and they are affected by what the images are telling them about the way they should look. Some teen magazines contain advertisements that promote natural beauty, such as the Dove campaign and the NOW Foundation. If these were the only messages being conveyed through the magazines, then the girls would clearly benefit from the positive statements. This, however, is not the case. The same magazines with the real beauty advertisements also encourage diets, hair products, cosmetics, and so much more that imply that the natural look just is not good enough for society. At an age where girls are easily influenced, images in magazines emphasizing body image that send contradictory messages lower girls’ self-esteem and cause emotional distress.
When flipping through magazines that are targeted towards teenage girls, one usually finds advice columns, inspiring true life stories, quizzes, and advertisements. If looked at and analyzed more closely, one sees that the messages being sent to these young, impressionable girls are all about body image. However, while one piece of advice tells a teenager to love themselves for who they are, the next column gives them suggestions on how to lose a couple of pounds or tells them what products to use to improve their hair or complexion. According to Anastasia Higginbotham, “When it comes to body image, teen magazines send a convoluted message. Girls are encouraged to love their bodies, no matter what they look like, by magazines with fashion spreads featuring only stick-thin, flawless-faced white models in expensive outfits” (Higginbotham 95). These magazines try to encourage girls to be happy with themselves and empower them to break away from the hegemonic beliefs about gender and social ideals. More over though, at the same time, they promote this idea of the perfect, yet unattainable body. One must ask themselves, how are girls supposed to be content with their bodies when they are basically being told they are not beautiful unless they look like the photoshopped, airbrushed, and retouched models shown in magazines?
By conveying two completely different messages through its images, magazines have a tremendous impact on girls. Adolescent girls are at a very vulnerable stage in their lives. They are easily influenced and “Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions” (Kilbourne 258). Girls are already insecure about their identity because of normative gender roles and stereotypes. When magazines play their part in sending conflicting messages to these susceptible victims, their self-esteem is compromised even more. They become more confused about their identity because while they want to feel good about their body and accept themselves as beautiful, they find it difficult to do so with the constant images of thin, pretty, and usually blonde females. Emotional distress is also another consequence of these contradictory messages. Girls become depressed when they realize they do not have the ideal body and they push themselves so hard to try to achieve this image that is not even “real”. With so many messages being sent to young girls regarding body image, it is difficult for these girls to differentiate between the good and the bad.
Dines, Gail, Humez Jean M, eds. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader. London: SAGE Publications, 2003.
Higginbotham, Anastasia. Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem. 95.
Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add" in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A text reader, eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (London: SAGE Publications, 2003), 258
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