Saturday, February 20, 2010

Men and the Thin Ideal - Repost

The structural factors that perpetuate the thin ideal in women are largely driven by the desire for economic gain. In the Germov/Williams reading, I was struck by the variety of ways women have attempted to adhere to an ideal body image throughout the centuries. The book mentions how women of the 19th century used inflated undergarments in order to have a more rounded, shapely appearance, as was desired by the time. Also, the book detailed the extreme measures women use today to achieve the thin ideal, such as cosmetic surgery and dangerous diet habits. The book also detailed how the ideal body image of the time is always the most difficult to attain. In times of plenty, thinness is in fashion. In times of need, a more shapely appearance is desirable.

Inhuman structural factors, such as the fashion industry, health sector and diet industry dictate what is desirable in society with no reference to what the actual members of society find ideal.

Only those who subscribe to the popular notions of the thin ideal are actually controlled by this notion. A personal commitment to obsess over the thin ideal, the marriage of structural and post structural factors, perpetuates the thin ideal in society. As a result of this obsession, a large percentage of women suffer from poor body image, unhealthy dieting habits, and even life threatening diseases such as anorexia or bulimia. In my opinion, the ideal body as dictated by society is a falsehood and is only a money-earning construct for those industries involved. Structural factors manipulate women into the thin ideal in order to take their money and create life-long followers of what they say. Regardless of what these factors say, individuals will always have their own ideas of what is attractive in themselves and others, regardless of, and sometimes opposite to, the thin ideal and what society mandates.

Lately, there has been a growing movement in society to promote a healthier body image, by embracing the human body and everyone’s individuality. These emancipatory politics are epitomized by The Body Shop’s “Ruby” campaign as detailed in the Germov/Williams reading, and the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty.” On the Dove campaign website,, there are opportunities for self esteem programs for women, pictures of shapely women in their underwear and opportunities to contribute to this topic.

Despite the predominant feminine audience when dealing with body image and societal body ideals, men are also a strong part of the audience. The reading by Bentley focuses on the masculine facet of the dieting scene. In particular, the Atkins diet especially appeals to a manly manner of dieting due to its large consumption of red meat. While women seem to be the primary targets of societal body ideals, men are more strongly held to societal role ideals than women. Throughout the decades, the role of a woman has fluctuated between liberal and free to weak and dependent on men. On the other hand, men have always been held to the manly, masculine standard to be a provider, strong and ascribing to certain tastes and hobbies. The Bentley reading details how it is acceptable for women to enjoy manly activities such as football, but it is frowned upon when men enjoy feminine activities such as ballet.

While it is possible to exercise and eat healthily in order to work towards the bodily ideals of society, it is very difficult, if not impossible to change one’s mentality in accordance with what is accepted by society. The plight of women and body image is a hot topic in society, but the trouble men face in upholding the standard of being male physically, mentally and emotionally is a silent problem. Instead of just having to drop a few pounds or tone some muscles, men must deny their own personalities, emotions and mentality in order to fit in with society’s ideals.

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