The Perfect Body
The media, one of the biggest influences on young people, is crammed with images of "the perfect body", and American life seems to revolve around health clubs, diet pills, and fat-free foods. This, really, seems like a new and fashionable obsession. This phenomenon has even been given a proper name of its own – an orthorexia (Twenge and Keith, p.56). To be absolutely correct, the term coined applies only to nutrition disorders, but it fits the tendency perfectly well. The influence of mass media on public opinion as a whole and on each individual is tremendous, and it especially severely affects the minds of the youth.
The mere fact that beauty standards do exist at all is certainly not something new, moreover, it is inevitable, and it is not so bad. It is one of the primary features of human character to seek for objects to adore and follow, and appearances are not an exception. Humanity has been quite inventive in creating various, often ridiculous beauty standards: remember the body transformations in rural medieval China or the baroque beauty of women, portrayed by Rubens (Wolf 2002, p.56). Most people desperately need a standard to look up to, and the whole trick is to establish a standard that would not contradict the sound and reasonable norms of health and physiology. And, in my opinion, nowadays the standards are closer to those norms than ever. If we do not resort to the extremes and acknowledge that the anorexic images are abnormal, it becomes obvious that there is nothing shameful or condemnable in promoting a healthy body with no excessive weight, healthy skin, hair, teeth, and nails. The problem of despising the signs of ageing, on the contrary, does exist, and it should be solved by showing the mass audience numerable and vivid examples of healthy, natural and dignified ageing. However, the modern obsession with being fit is a really complex phenomenon, if we take as a hypothesis the fact that it is caused, on one hand, by the self-loathing and disrespect for the body you’ve been given and, on the other hand, by the narcissist tendencies, that, according to Freudian psychiatry, are present in the structure of personality of each individual. The question is not how these seemingly different reasons could have merged into one, the issue is why did narcissism in all his primitivism prevail.
These two tendencies are being spurred and fueled by the media and the social networking opinion, as a consequence. The problem is that if that self-esteem is low and the person is insecure, he or she becomes very easy to convince, persuade, and manipulate, thus, being an easy target for the advertising material.
There is one more relatively new tendency in advertising and shaping public opinion
The sexualization of children in mass culture is a really alarming trend, however, the responsibility for this tendency lies primarily on the parents of the children who are filmed and photographed for such campaigns. As to women’s sexuality, the variety of ways and methods of showing and enjoying it nowadays actually excludes the convictions in the “rigid and clichéd” way of exposing it.
Also, last but not the least, lots of commercial examples and excerpts shown in the movie are based on sarcasm or irony and do not really aim at making women feel worse about themselves or at making men ashamed of displaying their feelings and emotions. The provocative images and pun lines cannot sincerely humiliate a person who has the slightest sense of humor and a normal self-esteem.
However, the very root of the problem lies in exactly that – the deadly sin of vanity that is also called narcissist syndrome. The whole modern American culture is pierced by it. According to Twenge and Keith (2009), the insanity over the public image of oneself has taken mutative forms: “it is now possible to hire fake paparazzi to follow you around snapping your photograph when you go out at night”. The Internet community came to invent a really sharp and correct name for all this madness and for people who become its victims: attention whores. People really try to seem what they are not, and look where it took us all: even the financial system couldn’t endure all the consumption loans and mortgages taken for the sake of vanity itself. Everyone is desperately trying to get attention in any way available: from self-branding to explicit violence.
All of this is not just a minor characteristic of our time, but merely the top of the iceberg, which has underneath a really dramatic sign of our time: the grand shift of values. Money, fame and glamour have pushed all other values aside, if not replaced them at all. These are not abstract moralistic assertions, the doctors seriously use the term NDP, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is equally important to understand that the trend we’re talking about is not the grumbling of an ageing person who believes that grass was greener when he was young. The narcissist epidemic can be measured and quantified: “the fivefold increase in plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures in just five years, the growth of celebrity gossip magazines, the increasing number of people who give their children unique names, Americans spending more than they earn and racking up huge amounts of debt et cetera” (Twenge and Keith, p.28). The danger of this trend is the increasing pressure on people, especially young ones, to self-promote, “be popular” and keep up with the expectations of the society, not let your friends and family down by being “not cool enough”.
As many destructive things, narcissism actually originated from a good and noble cause: the global promotion of self-respect and love for yourself regardless of sex, race, religion, weight, sexual orientation or other things. However, it mutated as time went by. The problem is that people tend to confuse between self-respect and narcissism.
We could say a word about orthorexia, which is an eating disorder featuring a person refuse to eat most of things and is close to being both bulimic (vomiting after a meal because of guilt and rejecting food at all). In fact, the obsession with dieting pills, gym, excessive attention paid to the “fashionable healthy looks” and the aforementioned orthorexia are nothing more than a magnified method of showing the world that you are too good for the junk it has to offer you, and you want to make your body as perfect as possible in order to brag and obtain the craved attention.
The multitude of messages that we got used to receive from various movies, television, radio, internet and advertisements, have the direct impact on our personalities and points of view. Cultural literacy is noticed to be derived with the appearance of the first newspapers and magazines, conveying some important messages to the public. However, we need to separate the seeds from the chaff and filter the information that breeds narcissism and makes us easier to manipulate.