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The Evolution of Modeling

Since the early nineteenth century when modeling first began, it has evolved in mental and physical way, impacting models and society.  The overall effect of this evolution has been negative, creating negative and unrealistic images of young men and women all over the world.  Studies show that these idealized images can and have lead to eating disorders, along with various mental health issues, and suicide.  There seems to be a silver lining on the horizon, as many modeling agencies have changed their portrayal of models to include healthier images, which hopefully will inspire an industry-wide change.

Modeling pays well, and the industry continues to attract more and more people, despite the serious risks involved.  The climb to get to the top includes models “starving themselves to attain a level of thinness that the business desires,” which means fighting their health and wellbeing. How much money is worth jeopardizing your health, when the risks involved are not only severe, but possibly also irreversible? Though male models are affected by aspiring to this ideal image, female models are most susceptible to this pressure to be super thin.  From a young age, girls everywhere idolize the “perfect image” of models and dream of looking like this themselves. Celebrities also appear thin on television, film, and magazines, making it seem like a more natural and desirable goal for today’s young women to be thin. Unfortunately, just like most models, who go through pain to achieve their goal of getting thin, young girls everywhere suffer from eating disorders and other illnesses related to poor nutrition. Publicity has recently exposed data that shows the average American woman as 5’4” and weighing 166 pounds.  In stark contrast is the average American model: 5’11” in height, and in weight only 117 pounds. This contrast reveals how unrealistic and harmful a goal it is for young women to aspire to model-type bodies.

Advertisers focus on physical attributes in an attempt to sell products.  Indeed, magazines feature billions of dollars worth of diet and exercise advertisements. Some researchers claim that these advertisers perpetuate unrealistically thin body types in order to create an unattainable dream that will increase diet-related product consumption.  Sadly, these advertisements are an effective mechanism to create “body dissatisfaction to their readers through unrealistic images of women.”  In the 1930s, Marilyn Monroe was known to have had the ideal body shape for all women.  Monroe was a size 6.  However, by today’s media standards Monroe would actually be considered large, as today’s model is no larger than a size 2, making women without this unusually thin and rare body type feel physically and emotionally inferior and insecure.

Recently, an interesting study was done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which focused on women from ages eighteen through twenty- four.  The focus of this study was the specific effect a magazine’s portrayal of the “ideal” body has on a college woman’s body image.  The frequency analysis reports that the majority of women were between 5’3” and 5’8”, weighing 110-149 pounds.  Seventy-five percent of these women were occasionally or frequently happy with their body shape and size.  However, sixty percent of the respondents hardly or never felt that their body was ‘normal’ compared to magazine depictions. Forty- three percent sometimes or nearly always felt that female models depicted in magazines have the ideal body shape and size. Of the college respondents, seventy-three percent sometimes or always felt that they would be more attractive if they looked like a magazine model.  Nonetheless, seventy-three percent rarely or never felt that having their body looking similar to those of fashion models would be good for their health.  This is just one example exposing the negative modeling image that has been portrayed on young women all over the world.

Modeling is a very attractive profession, given the financial benefits, not to mention the perks that come with being a model, such as free beauty products and glamorous events.  Young women idolize the beauty of models and therefore look to copy their body type amongst other attributes.  Hopefully, the growing awareness of the dangers models undergo to obtain their super thin and unrealistic bodies will create a climate of change whereby young women no longer strive to harm their bodies in order to achieve unrealistic thinness.

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