What do you find attractive? A certain hair color, body type, or facial feature? But, is that really your opinion, or is it shaped by the media? Social and TV media have a powerful impact on our perception of beauty, often with unrealistic and harmful standards. Today we’ll delve into the ways the media distorts our perception of attractiveness and give some practical advice on how to fight back!
The Filtered Reality
We all want to look our best, but with the rise of beauty filters on social media, it’s becoming harder and harder to separate reality from fantasy. These filters promise to give us perfect skin, symmetrical features, and a flawless complexion. But while it may seem harmless, they are creating a new beauty norm that can make anything that’s different seem unattractive. Recently this problem is being recognized as a new phenomenon called “Snapchat dysmorphia”. In fact, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine believe that it’s linked to body dysmorphic disorder – a condition where individuals obsess over perceived flaws in their appearance. And at the same time, it’s pulling us further away from seeing the natural beauty, both in ourselves and others.
Remember that Old Spice commercial with the super fit ripped guy riding a horse on the beach? Well, that’s just one example of how ads and commercials sell us on not just products but also beauty standards. They show us these toned, muscular bodies as the “perfect” ideal, but let’s be real, most of us probably have a bit of a belly or love handles. And even if you exercise and have a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a six-pack. But by being bombarded with such bodies, it’s easy to feel guilty if you skip that day in the gym. This was shown in a 2009 study published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity – commercials like these made the guys who saw them self conscious about their muscles and overall physical appearance.
The Weight of Expectations
And while some people are told to be muscular in order to be considered attractive, others are ruthlessly shamed for their weight. Celebrities are especially susceptible to this type of scrutiny, with countless examples of tabloids shaming them for their bodies. From Christina Aguilera being criticized for her pregnancy weight, to Adele being ridiculed for her feminine curves, and even to Demi Lovato being shamed for gaining weight after recovering from an eating disorder, these examples show the damaging effects of fat-shaming in the media. In fact, a 2019 study found that fat-shaming can impact society’s subconscious thoughts and lead to anti-overweight attitudes. This sends an unhealthy message that thinness is what’s attractive. But here’s the truth: body type is just that – a body type. It doesn’t define your beauty or worth.
Shades Of Beautiful
TV shows have a big impact on what people think is pretty even when it comes to race. Back in 1982, writer Alice Walker came up with the word “colorism” to describe the way that darker-skinned black people can be judged more harshly than those with lighter skin. Nowadays, Hollywood is guilty of promoting colorism by mostly picking lighter-skinned black actors and actresses to play the main roles in their shows, while darker-skinned actors often get stuck playing sidekicks or don’t get cast at all. This is a serious issue because it distorts people’s perception of Black beauty. But as licensed psychologist Josephine Almanzar said for WebMD, “one of the biggest psychological impacts of colorism is the damage to one’s core belief”, making people with darker skin believe they’re unworthy and causing emotional distress, depression and hopelessness.
Rewiring For Beauty
But how can the media have such influence on what we perceive as attractive? To answer this, we can take a look at the psychological concepts of familiarity and mere exposure effect, first examined by social psychologist Robert Zajonc in the 1960s. Basically, when we’re exposed to something repeatedly, it becomes more familiar and we start to like it more. So when you see retouched images and so-called beauty ideals over and over again in the media, it starts to shape your idea of what is attractive. But here’s the good news: you can take control of your own perception of beauty. Start by unfollowing people who promote these unrealistic standards and follow those who celebrate authenticity. By seeing more realistic and diverse representations of beauty, your brain will start to recognize and appreciate those qualities as attractive. That way, hopefully, you’ll see that natural beauty in yourself and others!
Are there some other ways the media twists our perception of attractiveness? How do you think we can challenge those norms? Let us know in the comments! We hope you don’t let the media’s distorted view of attraction dictate your self-worth, but instead embrace your unique features and celebrate your own beauty! And remember: you matter!
Davis, K. W. (2022, November 14). Mental and emotional effects of colorism are often hidden. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20221114/effects-of-colorism-are-often-hidden
Hargreaves, D. A., & Tiggemann, M. (2009). Muscular ideal media images and men’s body image: Social comparison processing and individual vulnerability. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 10(2), 109–119. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014691
Rajanala, S., Maymone, M. B. C., & Vashi, N. A. (2018). Selfies-Living in the era of filtered photographs – PubMed. JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, 20(6). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamafacial.2018.0486
Ravary, A., Baldwin, M. W., & Bartz, J. A. (2019). Shaping the body politic: Mass media fat-shaming affects implicit anti-fat attitudes – PubMed. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(11). https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219838550
Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2, Pt.2), 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0025848