Beauty ideals and impact on women's self-esteem
Legislation to prevent 'unrealistic' depictions of beauty
In 2008, the French National Assembly passed a bill that sought to criminalize the promotion of extreme dieting in the media. The bill would make it illegal to "provoke a person to seek excessive weight loss by encouraging prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the effect of exposing them to risk of death or endangering health."
Parallelling this legislative change is the self-imposed regulations of certain members of the fashion industry, a target of many critics due to the link between the promotion of ultra-thin 'size 0' models and the increase of anorexia nervosa amongst teenage girls. Spain barred models with less than a specified body mass index (BMI); Italy barred models under the age of 16 and also required the models to present health certificates to prove that they were not suffering from eating disorders; the UK required models suffering from eating disorders to present proof that they were getting medical attention for them to take part in London Fashion Week.
The relationship between race, ethnicity and beauty ideals
Studies have been carried out to see whether there are any differences in the definition of beauty in different ethnic, social and racial groups. A study carried out recently by Dove, a leading toiletries brand, carried out in collaboration with the LSE and Harvard University found that in America:
- More than 90 percent of girls (15 to 17 years) want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.
- More than four in ten (44 percent) of Latinas 15-64 polled would consider undergoing plastic surgery to enhance their looks.
- Hispanic-American girls (15 to 17 years) are more likely than American girls overall and globally to feel a desire to change some aspect of themselves.
- Hispanic women (15 to 64) were two times more likely to associate feeling badly about themselves with feeling unloved compared to American women overall.
- When asked what changes would make them feel better about themselves, Hispanic girls (15 to 17 years) were more likely to say being smarter than were American girls overall.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan looked at popular television's influence on black women. Researchers quizzed black and white female college students at the University of Michigan about their reactions to such popular television shows. The researchers found that even though only 5.6 percent of the characters on prime-time television are black women, those black women who were studied were mostly unscathed by watching numerous hours of television programs featuring thin, white women. On the other hand, white women were more likely to compare themselves to the women they saw on television and more likely to have more negative thoughts about their body. But black women shrugged off the ideal of the thin, pretty white woman as "unattainable for themselves and as unimportant to others in the black community," according to the authors. the researchers at Michigan also found that the notions of beauty for black women were different from those of white women. The researchers reported that the black women in their study defined beauty based on traits such as style, movement and character, rather than weight and appearance.