American Media and Physical Perfection

Gabrielle De Encio

     In America today, good looks mean everything.  Sure, we tell our children its what’s on the inside that counts, but we are all lying through our teeth.  Is this obsession with our appearances really good for any of us?  If we choose our mates based on personality and compatibility alone, could we do better?  There is no doubt that some physical attraction is required in a healthy relationship.  However, when so much emphasis is placed on appearance that women and men are dying from starvation, women increase their risk of breast cancer to increase breast size, and men risk impotence for enlarged penises, there is a fine line between attraction and masochism.  What are the effects of this sick devotion to an impossible standard of beauty?

    It is very hard to escape the images of the “perfect bodies” displayed every day by mass media.  They are on TV, billboards, magazines, newspapers, clothing, movies, and the Internet.  We are envious of Pamela Anderson-Lee’s "perfect" breast implants, and we admire Ron Jeremy’s exaggerated penis.  Other celebrities who have sacrificed their health to alter their bodies include: Whitney Houston (breast implants), Calista Flockheart (who I believe is certainly bulimic), Elizabeth Hurley (nose job), the Jackson family (everything), porn stars (breast implants, liposuction, collegian), super models (anorexic and bulimic), and Milton Berle (nose job, who "was so thrilled with his own nose job he had begun to give them as gifts to friends and associates (Haiken))."  Women comprise the largest portion of celebrities who have altered their bodies.  Because of this, women are most intensely targeted by societal pressures to conform to this unhealthy standard of beauty.

   Thin is in.  "Media …may not directly cause eating disorders, but they help to create the context within which people learn to place a value on the size and shape of their body."  Everyday, children watch shows like Baywatch and VIP, and some cartoons that display slim well-toned people of both genders.  Sadly, 40-60% of growing girls who are of “the television generation” think they are overweight.

Two of the most dangerous results of the fairytale portrayal of skinny women are Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa.  Women with Anorexia nervosa "literally starve themselves to conform to the contemporary ideal" (Rathus).  They have often become dependant on diet pills.  Women with Bulimia nervosa binge eat and then purge, either by vomiting or with the help of laxatives and enemas.  In addition to starvation, obsessive exercise is gaining popularity with former anorexics and bulimics.  Studies show that women with previous eating disorders are entering physical fitness professions.  So they may not be starving or purging but instead over exhausting their tiny bodies.

Studies show that in the early nineties 10% of anorexic people were male. Dr. Roberto Olivardia believes that numbers are increasing due to "pressures for physical perfection." Some would believe that a man who is concerned with his body would be very sexually active, but studies show this is not the case. "Males with bulimia, however, appear to be more sexually active then males with anorexia, both premorbidly and at the time of their illness" (Pope).  A man "tends to binge more likely at mealtimes and in public places" (Bordo), which is quite the opposite of a woman, who usually prefers the privacy of her own home.  Little information has been gathered about anorexic and bulimic males because they comprise such a small minority of all anorexic and bulimic persons.  However, doctors estimate that anorexia and bulimia will become more common in males as societal pressure to achieve physical perfection increases.  In addition to anorexia and bulimia, many males are suffering from a new disorder known as muscle dysmorphia, which is also caused by a distorted body image.  Young men with muscle dysmorphia become obsessed with building muscle.  Men with muscle dysmorphia often abuse steroids, and suffer from anxiety attacks and mood swings. Our society’s ideal male body is an athletic, muscular, v-shaped body. It is no surprise that 45% of teenage boys are dissatisfied with their bodies.

        Boobs.  Why are they so sexually satisfying?  Science could explain that they are merely for the purpose of feeding offspring.  So why are 32A breasts considered a genetic curse, while 38DDD breasts can be used to strike it rich?  Either size will still produce the amount of milk necessary to provide a baby with proper nourishment.  Is bigger always better?

        Breast enlargements date back to the 1890’s when Dr. Robert Gersuny began injecting women’s breasts with paraffin.  By the 1920’s doctors were experimenting with autologous fat transplantation. In the 1940’s, the sponge was introduced. The sponge was generally placed behind the breast tissue until breast tissue started growing into the sponge. Finally came the all-famous silicone implants, which are a Japanese invention.  The "rubber envelope filled with liquid silicone” was used for the first time in the United States in March 1962 (Haiken).  Initially, doctors placed the implant behind the pectoral muscle.  For the next 29 years women with breast implants became more receptive to disease, suffered from hardened and disfigured breasts, and experienced constant hormonal fluctuations.  They were experiencing these harsh side effects because silicone was leaking into their bodies.  In an attempt to stop these effects, doctors made silicone implants covered with polyurethane foam. But this was not enough; by 1991, hearings had begun on the safety of silicone.  Doctors have been using implants filled with saline since 1972, and are still using saline implants today. 

          Small-breasted ladies aren’t the only ones to suffer.  It looks like “bigger is better” is the standard for penis size, too.  Penis enhancement enlarges the length or girth of the penis.  For this procedure no foreign or implanted material is used.  The procedure is done in two intervals to allow time for healing.  "On the lengthening procedure, the doctor releases the suspensory ligaments that attach the penis to the under surface of the pubic bone.” Results range from ˝"-2" of extra length.  To increase the girth of the penis, fat cells from the buttocks or thighs are placed below the skin of the shaft.  This procedure can increase the girth of the penis by 50%.  But before you sedate the man in your life and send him in for an upgrade, it should be noted that there are some serious risks involved with either of these procedures.  If the wrong nerve, vein, or ligament is cut, your Don Juan may never achieve an erection again.  Three to four percent of men will gain no length, and some may actually loose length from scar tissue retracting.  And some men may need to undergo more surgery to remove fat nodules.  In addition, most of the increase in size won’t be noticeable when it really counts.  The penis appears larger only during the flaccid period.  And these increases in size do not last forever.  The procedure lasts for five years in about 70% of all patients.  


These were all supplied by, 10-09-00.

· Magazines for women 18-24 contain 10.5 times more diet information then for males.

· All of these advertisements stated that weight loss would improve appearance.

· 74% reported that they loose weight to be more attractive.

· 1 out of 3.8 commercials sends messages of what is and what is not attractive.

· On average a child will see 5,260 of these commercials.

· 42% of 6-8 year old girls want to be thinner.

· 81% of kids 10 years old are afraid of being fat.

· 51% of girls 9-10 feel better when they are on diets.

· 25% of men and 45% of women are on a diet every day.

· We spend an average of $40 billion on dieting and diet products.


Gabrielle de Encio is a student at Santa Monica College.  This is her first semester as a member of the Voices editing staff. 



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