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Stereotypes, Stereotyping And Ideals Essay

4981 words - 20 pages

Various sources indicate that female body images presented through models, mannequins, and even Barbie dolls are strikingly deviant from the actual female form. One such example occurs in the January 1998 issue of Marie Claire magazine, which states that the average American woman is 5’4” and a size 12. She has a 37-inch bust, a 29-inch waist, and 40-inch hips. A mannequin is 6 feet tall, a size 6, with measurements of 34-23-34. A life-size Barbie doll would be 7’2,” with bust, waist, and hip measurements of 40-22-36, respectively. A woman of these measurements would have to walk on all fours to balance her disproportionate body. Considering that Barbie’s physical characteristics are outrageous and ultimately unattainable, how has she come to be an “icon” of femininity (duCille 101)? Girls and women across the country look to Barbie as a beautiful ideal, and strive for a body like hers. As a result, many battle endlessly with dieting, eating disorders, distorted body images, and low self-esteem. In addition to physical standards put forth by Barbie, models, and mannequins, girls and women must also comply with given gender norms. Not only must they achieve an ideal body type, but also ideal femininity. As a result, several points must be addressed. Primarily, one ought to consider gender as an inherent biological distinction versus gender as an ongoing fabrication due to one’s actions. Although evidence may be provided to argue that gender is an innate characteristic, I will show that it is actually a result of one’s actions, which are then labeled masculine or feminine according to society’s definitions of ideal gender. Furthermore, I will discuss the communication of such definitions through the media, specifically in music videos, TV, and magazines, and illustrate by means of a content analysis exactly how prevalent ideals are in the media. The harmful implications of ongoing exposure to these unattainable ideals, such as low self-esteem, eating disorders, unhealthy body image, and increased acceptance of violence, make urgent the need for change. How does a society go about changing such long-standing norms? In light of its pervasiveness and highly influential nature, the media may be the proper place to begin changing gender stereotypes.

When considering issues of gender, one must first consider how and where differences in masculinity and femininity come about. Although masculinity and femininity are achieved through various actions, some attribute characteristics of gender to innate, biological criteria. David G. Myers comments on such attributions in “Social Psychology,” when he writes that “the persistence and omnipresence of gender stereotypes leads some evolutionary psychologists to believe they reflect innate, stable reality” (337). Anthropological and evolutionary studies show that even the earliest societies supported the same gender hierarchies as those evident in today’s culture, many of which are based on biology....

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