Before I was born women faced different body image issues than we are facing today, but for as far back as I can remember, there has been a pressure to be thin and toned, with breasts. Growing up in a rural town during my preteen years, the women I looked up to were the ones we were told to admire. We all had our favourite artists, like Brittany Spears and Shania Twain, and at the time the most beautiful actresses and models.
My friends and I ate it up, we fell quite perfectly into a world of glamour and insecurities, where we knew the dance moves to the latest Beyoncé song and brought pictures of celebrities to all our hair appointments. When we became teens we strived to be “sporty”, but wore makeup. We called to coordinate what to wear, but criticized our outfits. We adjusted ourselves to fit all the latest trends.
When I entered university I noticed the shift. I was becoming older, more targeted, and a little more cultured, knowledgeable and exposed to everyone else’s views. The media really stepped it up a notch. Acts and messages in the media were intensifying. The “booty” took over.
Stars like Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez (JLo), Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and Beyoncé Knowles were in fact known for it, especially during the reign of Kim Kardashian, whose booty “broke the internet” on Paper Magazine and was the plot of episodes of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’. Miley blew up the media when she started twerking over two years ago at the MTV Music Awards, and today it is the center of many female artists’ performances. Videos that were once focused on the slim bodies of women now feature up close shots of booties. As girls, it’s what we want, because everyone wants it. We turn back on to a mirror instead of front on, we compliment and critique our friends, and we hear girls say bluntly, after one date, “He’s a butt guy.”
It is true that the “thin” look is in some cases now being replaced by “curvy” women, however, despite the celebration, it is done somewhat poorly in the media. Artists such as Megan Trainor and Nicki Minaj call ‘skinny b**ches’ out in their chart toppers, which raises the concerning questions; why is one type of body, especially one that was consistently shamed, now better than another? Have we really moved forward? I celebrate all types of bodies, among many other women today, and it can be very empowering for women who do not fit the stereotype of being “thin” to have a voice and some recognition, but in the end I believe it’s the same thing when you only accept one type. It is important to remember how great it is to feel empowered, but that we should empower the other side too. Body shaming happens to all different shapes and sizes on the spectrum.
The cultural influence and expectations on women also appears to largely correspond with our media, especially in African-American populations. Studies have proven that there are vast differences in body image across races. This is an interesting fact when it comes to the types of artists we see leading the revolution.
The thought is that our valued images and pressures for our bodies come from our past experiences and histories from our cultures and societies. Interestingly enough, studies support the fact that with white women their body image can be more greatly swayed by others’ perceptions and comments, whereas women of colour are more likely to have positive self views, and generally see their ideal body type as having less to do with weight. They are often more positive about their image concerning weight compared to other races. This can say a lot about culture and society, and is important as a lot of what we see in the media is a reflection of these body image values which are now more accepted. I mention this as it’s been said most women who started this beauty trend are African-American women or other women of colour, most of who have curves and are confident and proud about the size and shape of their bodies. It may be difficult for many of us to achieve certain changes, as we come from many different backgrounds, however we must admit this is very empowering and a well deserved body celebration for a group women who are a part of two populations who have faced and continue to face various oppressions.
Although it feels sometimes like we are pitted against each other, we’re all facing a similar issue as women specifically. Never before in our lives as a generation have we had to worry about such a feature of our bodies like this, we have a whole other area now highlighted for insecurities. Never before as well have we had insecurities such as what has come with the popularity of the Brazilian wax and preferences from the media – as many have become self-aware of their genitals as well. Since 1997 there has been a 471% increase in plastic surgeries for women.
In the US the amount of butt augmentations reportedly doubled in one year from 11,527 to 21,446 in 2014, along with skyrocketing genital surgeries. Butt augmentations can involve a silicone placement – rates of which doubled from 2013 to 2015 –, or a fat transplant from elsewhere on the body. Genital surgeries or labiaplasties involve trimming the inner labia of the vagina and rates have increased to 49% compared to 2013. Labiaplasties are dangerous and can make sex uncomfortable for a while, whereas augmentations are very costly and require draining systems for weeks and the inability to sit and lie comfortably for as long as two months. Breast-enlargement surgeries have also declined and instead reductions are on the rise. Right now it’s what surgeons say is popular due to the people portrayed in the media, wherever women find insecurity, they state it is their job to modify it.
Social media sites such as Instagram give a platform to many individuals to show their bodies. Although these body pictures are most of the time confident and beautiful, it can be damaging to the viewers when constant. Most of us can’t obtain the level of security we want, whether it be through diet or exercise, we have unique individual genes and health statuses, and we may not have the time, means or resources. We know there is Photoshop, filters and makeup, but rather quickly it becomes an example. Many celebrities, especially Beyoncé have been called out for Photoshopping their booties to appear bigger in their own Instagram photos, more than a few times. It’s not only celebrities; many people today get famous from Instagram as a result of working out or surgery to get the “perfect” booty, such as Jen Selter, an American fitness model making a living off of the “belfie” (think about it – it’s a selfie for your butt).
The important thing to take away from this I believe is that what makes women beautiful goes in and out of style, and this shouldn’t be the way. We are part of various cultures and races with different ideas of what is beautiful, and genes which give us possibilities. Women like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss are still two beautiful women in media, who were the once strived for, ideal body type. Overall, it is best to accept our reality is skewed. The booties we see are cellulite and stretch-mark free, they are high and “perfect”. We as women can appear as the parts of our bodies, as we are divided into our assets, instead of being seen as a whole, especially by ourselves. Once we start to pay attention to what we’re seeing or how we feel about the way we look, and not through the perspective of others, we can change how we look at media.
Written by Allie Jewers, Summer Student and Program and Outreach Assistant at the Sexual Health Centre Lunenburg County.
A little about me:
I am a university student taking a bachelor of science in nursing at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, about to enter my fourth and final year of studies. I am actually very new to the area and prior to this position have spent my summers in the valley or at my home in Sheet Harbour, where I worked for the Sheet Harbour Sexual Health Centre. I love my job because I love working in the community through outreach. I get to meet amazing and inspiring people who I learn from everyday and also get to collaborate with knowledgeable and experienced professionals in many fields related to health, education and assistance. The things I learn and discuss at work everyday are things I am passionate about, for example pro-choice health services, reproductive health and pregnancy, and body image. Body image has always been a huge interest of mine that I have been fascinated by because of our culture. My brain is full of what seems like useless entertainment information and facts, but are actually what I use to study and question our society. The influence of which is endless. I attend/watch talks on body image every chance I get and hope to one day teach girls about positive body image and the media from a health perspective perhaps in relation eating disorders, healthy relationships and healthy development. Thank you and hope you find this interesting!