Mass media reflects the basic values and ideals surrounding what is considered to be beautiful. The fashion industry idealises the ‘perfect human form’, which is often unattainable and many people spend their lives chasing. The perfect form is considered to be thin, toned with Eurocentric features and has very little room for diversity. These features are synonymous with being a healthy individual, but how healthy is it to attempt to attain them?
It is no secret that social media and fashion negatively impact both men and women’s psychological and physical health, with many falling into dieting culture, excessive exercise and even eating disorders, in order to try to fit into this narrow vision of what beauty is.
We are all guilty of comparing ourselves to celebrities, who very often have undergone surgery in order to attain the ‘perfect form’, or even just other people we see in the street, wishing we had their figure, their hair texture or their nose shape, but this obsession with comparison is unhealthy, and can lead to long term health effects.
How fashion encourages dieting culture
While we would expect fashion magazines to put emphasis on appearance, health magazines also put huge emphasis on the ways in which their models look, although we may not instantly recognise this. In the magazine world, health is symbolised by appearance, which is often a thin and attractive body. Health magazines are framed in a way in which we believe they are promoting wellness and fitness, but very often they are promoting dieting culture and unhealthy habits in order to lose weight or gain muscle.
We would look at a supermodel in Vogue and although we may compare ourselves to them and even strive to look like them, we would accept that they are a model and that it’s understandable that we do not look like them. However, when looking at a model in a fitness magazine or any other type of magazine, we may not make the same connection, due to the way in which it is framed.
Many magazines feature article about celebrities 'insane transformation' where they either suddenly lose weight, or bulk up muscle, often through unhealthy habits or by expensive procedures and products which are not available for most people.
The fashion industry’s perpetuation of the ideal body causes a great deal of body dissatisfaction, especially in women which can lead to dieting. According to the Linder Centre of HOPE, those who are ‘chronic dieters’ often report feeling guilty, as well as irritable, anxious and even depressed, due to dieting, because of feelings of failure when not achieving the results they want. This feeling of guilt decreases self-esteem leading to poor psychological health and can even lead to disordered eating, which has even further negative effects on physical health.
How men's fashion promotes unhealthy habits
Men's fashion and media tends to promote muscle dysmorphia, in which men are made to feel insecure because they are not as 'big' as male models or celebrities. They openly encourage disordered eating which is portrayed as 'eating a balanced diet' as well as excessive exercise which can cause damage to joint and muscles.
In an article from The Cut author Katie Heaney highlights how male fashion magazines are simply an open platform to applaud men for "Openly disordered eating". While eating disorders are something which are being increasingly addressed in women, the same cannot be said for men.
How fashion is portrayed in social media
With the rise of technology and social media over the recent decades, we have new ways in which we consume fashion. Apps such as Pinterest and Instagram play a large role in how people get inspiration for fashion but the ways in which it is portrayed is less than ideal.
Take a scroll and you will find hundreds of photos of beautiful outfits, all on models who are all thin, with long tanned legs and elegantly slim arms. This is not to say that the models are the problem, or to body shame them - they are in no way to blame for the ways in which the media portrays fashion - but rather the industry is to blame for their lack of diversity. It seems that everywhere we look, thinness is synonymous with beauty and being healthy.
There has been a recent trend that I have seen on TikTok called ‘Is it a fit or are they just thin’, which attempts to explore whether or not an outfit actually looks good or whether the media is just portraying it on someone who is conventionally beautiful.
This is something which the fashion industry does to entice people to buy their products, by placing them on beautiful skinny models so that we too, can look like them! These tactics which sit amongst the backdrop of thousands of posts under ‘Thinspo’ or ‘What I eat in a day’, which frame themselves in a way in which they appear to be telling us how to be healthy rather than the fact they are actually telling us how to be thin. It appears that to be fashionable simply means to be skinny.
Beauty standards are unattainable
It is clear to see that the widely held beauty standard is simple not attainable. The fact that people undergo plastic surgery in order to fit into the category of 'beautiful' shows how it is just not humanly possible to fit into these unrealistic standards that have been set for us by fashion companies. The 'perfect form' is dangerous as it promotes dieting and over exercising rather than embraces the fact that every body is different.
As someone who has had a history of eating disorders, I am all too aware of the dangers and long term effect that dieting can have; from fatigue and low mood, to digestive problems and joint problems. It is important that the fashion industry begins to diversify this ideal form, in order to show young men and women that health and beauty is not all about looking thin or muscular. Rather it is about taking care of mind and bodies by giving them the nourishment that they need.
Health comes in all shapes and sizes and this is something that needs to be portrayed better within mass media and fashion.