“There Shouldn’t be Something We Have to Conform To”: Students Comment on Media Trends
By Sharhonda Whitfield
As many of us know, perception is everything. Sometimes our perception can be clouded by the things that we see in the media. Often times, being on social media can distort how you perceive yourself or others based on whom or what you follow.
An example of this is the distorted perception of beauty. Dove conducted research which delved into self-esteem, body image, and body confidence. They found that as pressure about beauty increases, the body confidence of a person will decrease. The study revealed that 63% of women believe that social media is influencing today’s definition of beauty.
Among other things, social media venues have become a powerful tool for marketing cosmetics. Studies show that makeup increases people’s perceptions of how likeable a woman is, her competence and her trustworthiness. Even young children have started wearing makeup. A survey done by the Renfrew Center Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research, advocacy and treatment of eating disorders, found that one in five young girls between the ages of 8 and 18 have worn makeup because they have negative feelings about their bare faces.
“Companies want everybody to just wear makeup and that’s supposed to be the beautiful thing about people,” says Kyara Goodwin, a cyber and information security major at Capitol. “It’s like you can’t be natural. The fact that little kids and middle school kids are acting grown and wearing makeup is really weird.”
Meanwhile, the fashion industry has come under renewed scrutiny concerning its attitude towards body diversity. Historically, tall, ultra-slim models have been the norm, with critics suggesting the industry foists unrealistic concepts of beauty on women and girls. Recently, some have started to challenge the stereotype; in recent weeks, two plus-sized models, Ashley Graham and Iska Lawrence, were featured on major magazine covers.
In Britain, doctors have urged the media to use models with realistic body proportions instead of really thin women who, they believe, are linked to the rise in eating disorders. A report by Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA concluded that the “media can boost the self-esteem where it is providing examples of a different variety of body shapes, roles and routes for achievement for both young men and women.” In the UK, ads have even been pulled from TV because the models used were deemed unhealthily thin.
Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries came under fire in 2013 after comments surfaced from an interview he did in 2006. In the interview he says that he didn’t want fat or not so cool kids wearing his company’s clothing. Sales went plummeting because of the comments made.
Capitol student Princess Wilson thinks that “the perception of beauty in media is getting better. We’re being more versatile with what we’re doing. It’s not just this little thin girl that looks she can get knocked down by the wind. It’s varying different shapes and sizes, because like you can look beautiful whatever size you are, but it all depends on how you carry yourself."
Both students agree that obsession with looks, appearance, and fashion can become unhealthy both for individuals and society at large.
"The one thing that really annoys me about the media is the common theme of what people should look like and how things should be. People are afraid to live their own lives. There shouldn’t be something that we have to conform to. It’s kind of really bland in my opinion,” Goodwin said.
According to Kyara, the incessant focus on beauty and fashion distracts people from more pressing issues in our society. “The news tries to make some things seem less important," she says, citing the ongoing controversy over police shootings as an example. "They make it seem like there isn't a serious problem."
Meanwhile, Kyara says, “the media blows tiny things out of proportion, like Kim Kardashian getting implants or how she’s lost or gained a lot of weight, things of that nature.”
The students also agree it’s important not to believe everything you hear and read. Stories concerning celebrities are not always accurate and reliable. Claims about products are often misleading, with companies promising effects that the product does not deliver.
“It’s annoying,” Princess says. “I don’t like buying a product that is advertised to do such and such a thing when it actually doesn’t do anything. Like with a lot of the products that are supposed to wash your hair, but a lot of them just make bubbles and clear out the very minimal of what you need to get out of your hair.”
Such practices, of course, predate the social media era. What’s changed, though, is that individuals have more power than ever before to engage in self-branding – posting only things that flatter us in some way, such as pictures that have been taken from the perfect angle, or edited to give us perfect skin.
Social media provides a glimpse into other’s lives – but it’s often a distorted glimpse, showing only the good things that have happened to them, or even things that did not happen at all.
When it all gets too much, some choose to unplug, taking extended breaks from Facebook and other social media outlets, or staying off of them altogether.
“Sometimes I log out of all social media and I just keep to myself. There are so many negative things on social media and things that I just don’t want to see. It’s not like I can just unfriend everyone for what they post, so I just deactivate my account for a while,” Kyara says.
Photo: Kyara Goodwin (left) and Princess Wilson. Photo by Sharhonda Whitfield.