Ectomorph: lean and delicate. Mesomorph: compact and muscular. Endomorph: soft and round. These are the three main body types. Straight, pear, oval, diamond, apple, hourglass: these are a few of the many terms used to characterize the body. Some bodies are considered ideal while others are shamed. The very words used to describe the three body types have varying connotations and interpretations, which reflect societal values of what is “acceptable” and what is not.
The ways we view ourselves, the image we project upon our bodies when facing a reflective surface, are unique, varying from person to person. But certain trends in perception have emerged as a result of cultural values. From narcissistic viewpoints to dysmorphic viewpoints, there are external factors that influence our personalized body image, media being one of the most influential as evaluated in modern times.
Advertisements are present everywhere in some way, shape, or form. With bodies, certain physical features are presented, often artificially, to fit a particular ideal in order to get people to form a certain view about their own bodies. This holds true regardless of sex, gender, race, socioeconomic class, nationality, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Industries profit on cultivating a belief in people that they ought to change something about themselves. This is the means by which they sell their services. Eyebrows too thick? Come on down and get them threaded. Eyes too droopy? Line them up into a perfect almond. Nose too wide? Just go and buy a new one. Lips too thin? There’s an injection for that—or the Kylie Jenner challenge. Too much fat on your bones? All you need is an incision and some suction. Waist too wide? Take a couple ribs out and be on your way.
People’s bodies are their own and they may express their body image in any way they wish. Though it is important to note that cultural values often influence our choices in physical expression. This is not always a bad thing. For example, the plastic surgery industry is not necessarily detrimental to society. The Smile Train, which provides free services for children born with a cleft lip and/or palate, utilizes plastic surgery. But there is a difference between these types of procedures and the “services” offered by the booming plastic surgery industry: breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, face lifts, and so on. The types of values espoused in such services have less to do with health and utility than mere cosmetic appeal.
When looking at places heavily involved in cosmetic culture, such as Beverly Hills or Seoul, South Korea, one observes a societal immersion in the entertainment industry. Media plays a large role in these locations where appearance is finance. As a result, body image is heavily affected. Billboards inquiring, “have you tried this new no carb diet?” or commercials declaring, “thin is no longer in; phat is where it’s at!” are commonplace in such areas. These sensibilities creep into other pockets of society. Posters instructing, “you have to buff up if you want to be considered a real man,” TV shows airing comments such as, “I like my women hella thick,” movies professing, “Cellulite is disgusting,” and coffee shops asking, “have you gained weight?” have become ubiquitous.
To combat the influences that can negatively affect body image, there are positive messages conveyed by certain body-positive groups in society. This body-positivity campaign can also be found on campus, where messages such as “Confidence is beauty!” are posted in places such as East Hall’s third floor women’s bathroom. This plaque is likely meant to boost esteem and/or reaffirm positive body image. While such messages are undoubtedly helpful to women, we must ask how this affects other genders. Do these messages appear in designated women’s rooms more often than in men’s or gender neutral bathrooms? If so, what does this mean for those experiencing doubt about their body who don’t have access to these messages of assurance? Essentially, targeting a particular group which, admittedly, has experienced a great deal of detrimental exposure when it comes to self-perception may lead to the neglect of those “others” that may be suffering from the same issues.
Confidence may be beauty, but for whom? Are trans-identifying individuals receiving the same support? How about those who do not conform to the gender binary, identifying with neither or both genders? It is clear that the image one has of one’s body is externally influenced. This applies to all demographics. For this reason, it is important to convey body-positive messages to all groups. In the fight against negative body imaging, we must foster an inclusive movement, both on campus and in society in general.
[Images courtesy of Joseph Serrano, Redlands Bulldog photographer.]