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Media And Body Image: This Is How You Can Break This Spell

Five attributes adopted from America’s beauty pageant to change your perception about your body image.

Due to the excessive amount of media exposure of ‘the perfect’ body image, more and more people are suffering from depression, anxiety and self-hatred.


And while the average woman got heavier over the years, the typical ‘Miss Universe’ has only gotten thinner.


Even though the Miss America pageant has been criticized by feminists for objectifying women and placing too much emphasis on physical appearance, it’s still going strong. And footage of this and many other beauty competitions and imagery about the perfect Miss Beautiful, overflow in the media.


Critics claim that Miss America is promoting an unrealistic ideal of female beauty that contestants themselves can’t even attain. But the general Jane Doe, beliefs this is the way she should look like, and if she doesn’t, life becomes miserable for her.


So let’s unpack this issue a little and see how you can guard against falling into this trap, starting at the beginning.


Body image definition


Body image refers to how you see yourself: what you believe to be true about your own appearance; how you feel about your height, shape, weight, the way you move; and how you feel inside your body.


This can be either a bad perception (negative body image), or a good perception (positive body image). If you have a poor image of your body, you may feel unattractive or even repulsive about how you appear. If you have a positive body image you may feel you’re attractive to others, or at least accept your body in its current form.


This self-perception was formed over years and years of listening to comments from family and friends, and comparing yourself in social scenarios - and of course as already stated, believing the media.

Body image statistics


A recent Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, (the largest the brand has ever commissioned), featured interviews with 10,500 women and girls across 13 countries.


It found that globally, more than two-thirds of women (69%) and girls (65%) said increasing pressures from advertising and media portraying an unrealistic standard of beauty, was the key force in driving their appearance anxiety.


56% of all women recognized the impact of the social media culture in striving for perfection. And one out of every two Australian women reported they feel worse about themselves after looking at images of attractive women in magazines.


The report revealed that low body-esteem is causing the majority of women (85%) and girls (79%) to opt out of important life activities, such as engaging with family or loved ones, when they don’t feel good about the way they look. A staggering 89% of Australian women cancelled plans, job interviews and other important engagements simply because of how they look.


Seven in 10 girls with low body-esteem said they won’t be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision if they aren’t happy with the way they look, while nine out of 10 (87%) women will stop themselves from eating or will otherwise put their health at risk.


These results are not surprising at all given the increasing pressures and media exposure women face today. According to this report, beauty and appearance anxiety is experienced differently by culture and country.


Percentage of women who feel body confident

  1. South Africa: 64%  
  2. Russia: 45%
  3. Turkey: 42%
  4. India: 40%
  5. China: 37%
  6. Mexico: 36%
  7. Germany: 34%
  8. Brazil: 27%
  9. US: 24%
  10. Canada: 22%
  11. Australia: 20%
  12. UK: 20%
  13. Japan: 8%


From these statistics, women in South Africa feel far more confident about their bodies as women in Japan. The reasons are unclear but could be attributed to cultural differences in growing up.


Body image and the media timeline


Obviously, there’s no single cause of negative body image and it’s effects, but it is clear that media contribute significantly to the problem.


Going back far enough in time and looking at sculptures of ancestral humans populations, a very different picture emerge of what the ideal body looked like as portrayed today.


For instance the goddess of beauty, the Venus of Willendorf from the Stone Age, suggests the ideal woman as being voluptuous with a round face and a pear-shaped body, also so portrayed by artists like Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens.


In the late 19th century, this started to change with the emergence of the ‘steel engraving lady’. Which was an idealised image of a woman with a slight shape and a small, corseted waist, sloped shoulders, tapered fingers and delicate feet. This ideal came to be associated with frailty, weakness and subservience, but also with high social status and moral values.

By the end of the 19th century, the ‘Gibson Girl’ emerged which was a combination of the steel engraving lady and Venus - being slender in the waist and legs, but still curvy with wide hips and corseting.

In the 1920s, the exchange of corsets for new undergarments that bound the breasts created a flat-chested, boy-like appearance and the beauty ideal shifted with an exclusive focus on slenderness, resulting in the use of starvation diets and rolling machines.


It was also during this time that mass media helped to create a standardisation of beauty ideals in North America and Western Europe. Movies, magazines, and Hollywood stars presented a vision of beauty and the first adverts for weight loss started to appear.

By the 1940s, slender legs became the focus emphasised with hemmed stockings and high-heeled shoes. Interestingly, researchers during this period began to document the first instances of negative body image, with women desiring smaller body sizes and larger breasts.


In 1966, the trend toward increasingly slender bodies like the supermodel Twiggy had taken hold with Playboy centrefolds and Miss America pageant winners showing a decrease in body weight and hip size, and an increase in waist and bust size.


In the early 1980s, a more muscular ideal of female beauty emerged portraying broad shoulders. It was in this time that shoulder pads became the defining fashion statement known as power dressing, but the focus still remained on a thin, slender body shape.


By the mid-1990s, this female beauty ideal had become synonymous with the thin ideal, which has remained at clinically underweight levels and the denigration of overweight women started. Overweight women were stereotypically portrayed as unintelligent, greedy, and unable to form romantic attachments.


At the start of the 21st century, the thin ideal was being challenged and the emergence of particular types of exercise regimens – such as high intensity interval training and weightlifting – has resulted in a more muscular ideal for women - but typically the ideal remains thin.

The effect of the combination of the idealisation of thinness and the denigration of overweight has been the homogenisation of a beauty ideal that is unachievable for the majority of women.


This is worrying because of the overwhelming evidence that body dissatisfaction is a risk factor for disordered eating, consideration of cosmetic surgery, and poorer psychological well-being in general.


Beauty, grace, intelligence, artistic and refined


Just for the moment, envision a future in which women are no longer judged solely on appearance, but on real competencies. Where the Miss America pageant vision of beauty, grace, intelligence, artistic and refined, adopt a new ideal and image.


This is how you can start making that change:



“A beautiful woman should break her mirror early” - said philosopher Baltasar Gracian.


‘Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting” said another philosopher (unknown). “No picture or image can express real beauty, real beauty is felt with the heart. And the real experience of beauty, often involves being in balance and harmony with nature.”


So, strive to become in harmony and balance for emotional well-being, which will translate in you feeling calm and at peace. This is what will start to shine through in your appearance and people will start to feel your beauty.


To help with this, adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious food and meditating. Wear clothes that make you feel confident when you wear them, and that portray who you are, instead of trying to adopt the latest fashion and what’s popular.


Look for the beauty in things around you, and in yourself.




The etymology of grace is kindness, favour, esteem, mercy, honour, to praise, and to welcome. And as John Stott said, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”


Identify the qualities or characteristics that make you unique. Identify what sets you apart and how this benefits the people around you.


Always take pride in yourself as a human being and walk tall, proudly and with grace. Show kindness and care to those around you everyday. This will make you feel good about yourself and build self-esteem.


Ensure you are surrounded by people who are encouraging, and who make you feel good about yourself inside.


Build your legacy. Think about the memories you will leave behind one day in people’s minds.  How would you want them to remember you?  





Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. And we all have the ability to do this. Find a discipline you are interested in, and study it. Become an expert at it. Develop skills around it and start sharing this to the world.


Make a list of people who influence you, who you look up to, and who inspire you. Think about whether or not the way they look is a factor in their individual success or achievements.


Intelligence is knowing that your skin replaces itself every month, your stomach lining is replaced every five days, your liver replenishes every six weeks, and your skeleton does it every three months. You body can change itself completely in a matter of months, and you, becoming a totally new person.




To be artistic means having or revealing natural creative and imaginative skill in arrangement or execution, or to create anything aesthetically pleasing.


Each person can be creative and artistic in some way. Experiment with drawing, singing, writing, dancing, photography, videography, designing new spaces, or simply take something from nature and arrange it beautifully around your home such as flower arranging.


Be conscious about what your body and mind is capable of every day. Do not let your weight or body shape have any influence on whether or not to take part in creative activities.




To be refined means to be cultured, to be elevated and polished.


  • It means you are sophisticated, and having, revealing, or proceeding from a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge.
  • It mean you have an appreciation for beauty and the finer things in life.
  • You are kind, gentle, polite, tolerant and are respectful of others.
  • You are educated and well-informed, knowing about a variety of subjects; travel, fashion food, art, countries, news highlights.
  • You are being curious, unprejudiced, and open-minded.
    And living a life of excellence and discernment.


To become more elevated and polished:


Be true to who you are, and become known as a person of character and high integrity - your good reputation sometimes is all you’ve got.


Know your values and stick to them. Think about your values carefully and always ensure you stay congruent to it, if you don't - you will let yourself down, and this one of the worst things you can ever do.

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