Home BeautyBody Image Do Women Only Want Unrealistic Imagery In Magazines?

Do Women Only Want Unrealistic Imagery In Magazines?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

In the Booty Paint post, the following conversation happened:

Really, though…this is why I can’t handle the fashion industry sometimes. Like, I love fashion, I’ve seen practically every ANTM episode, and I think runways and photoshoots are amazing, but can we have some real girls modeling every once in a while???? And when I say real girls, I’m not even talking about size…I’m talking about real flaws and imperfections. Real boobs. Real laugh lines. Real dimples on our butts, lol. Put the girls in the fly clothing and hairstyles, but leave in some freckles, birthmarks, and wrinkles every once in a while.

I saw a documentary on the fashion industry once called “America the Beautiful” (I think you can still watch it on Hulu), where the documentarian basically talked about how distorted our views of beauty are due to the fashion industry. A lot of the people that he interviewed said something along the lines of “I know this is a problem, and it sucks that girls have a distorted view of what they should look like, but…I’m not going to do anything to change that because I am making money off of fake perfection.” So until consumers stop buying into the ideas of these perfect bodies, we are going to continue to be constantly bomarded with them.

Honestly, though, I think it helps me to hear stuff like this, because then I never set unrealistic expectations for my body. The knowledge that a model’s perfect booty was painted on backstage makes me feel a lot better about my own imperfect (but still adorable) booty. -Gloria

I understand your point, and that call is always being made by women who want to see pictures of other women with “flaws” but when someone actually posts a picture of a woman with flaws, the other women in the crowd usually pick her apart every way possible. Someone posts a lady in a swimsuit and all you hear is, “what’s that on her forehead,” “her stomach doesn’t look right,” “her arms need a little bit more work, she needs to go back to the gym,” and it goes on and on no matter how beautiful the woman is or what the commenters look like.

Just saying, I don’t see the point to asking to see “real women” when the only thing that happens is that she gets torn down in the process. -Mac

I have to agree with Mac on this one – I don’t know if the people calling for un-airbrushed bodies are the same that nitpick a less than perfect one. I would hope not. And even though I generally avoid gossip/pop culture sites, I’ve read enough to know that Internet anonymity allows for some very cruel commentary on women’s bodies.

Then again, as I see it, it’s all a part of the same spectrum of body image criticism that I see many fat-o-phobes engage in, or the obsession if a woman is TOO thin. It’s madness, really, and I think a woman has to make a concerted effort not to be sucked in, if only for the sake of her own sanity. -Daphne

Mac, that is the realest comment ever. Women are their own worst critics. Of course I can’t lump all of these ‘women’ together- I think if you read comments on blogs etc, for every 20 nitpicky broads, you get the 1 girl who will be sensible.

Just think about when a post comes up about Beyonce or Rihanna or what not comes up. -Danielle

Mac, if that ain’t the TRUTH, I don’t know what is! Let a supermodel come down the runway without those touches, she’s be shamed into oblivion by the media and some “real women.” We (general audience/readers/etc.) *say* we want to see reality in print or onscreen, but the moment a star is seen without make-up, or who – God forbid – has a budge in their belly, or visible stretch mark … it becomes a firing squad. Oh, except for those nobly obligatory ‘no air-brush,’ ‘real women’ magazine editions and stuff.

I think it also boils down to people not wanting to see ‘themselves,’ in those limelight capacities. As Golda said, the allure is the fact that some portrayals are unrealistic, sadly. -Paula

Now, I’ve written the following, before:

See, a while back, I had a conversation with a magazine columnist and we had a long, hard talk about magazines and their habit of not showcasing enough of reality on their pages… and I cannot lie. What I was told was profound, frustrating and realistic:

If magazines sold you reality, they’d never make money. You go to magazines for fantasy – beautiful clothes, beautiful shoes, stories that are so amazing that you wish they were you, beautiful scenery and, unfortunately, bodies that are enviable. People are just more likely to buy something that’ll inspire them than they are to buy something that they can – and do – see every day.

Though I paraphrased it a bit, the nuts and bolts of what she said is still there. If the only image I’ve ever seen of the body I want to have is in the magazines and that’s what I’m aspiring toward, am I literally focusing my efforts on a fantasy? [source]

Lots of women lament the fact that the magazines don’t show “real women” – a phrase I despise – but I have to wonder… are these women seeking out and supporting the many magazines out there who do, in fact, show women who are not airbrushed into oblivion?

Let’s suppose the answer to that question is yes. Are any of those mags as famous as what we see every day? The “Marquee” magazines? If it’s merely an issue of doing what’s profitable, I’d imagine that fantasy sells.

In the same token, I’m reminded of the outrage that erupted when Maura Kelly, a then-writer for Marie Claire, wrote that watching “fatties” “do anything” “disgusted her.” Y’know, especially considering how any woman above a size 4 has been, historically, too fat to be featured in Marie Claire.

But then, why do we support something that many of us have identified as harmful? Or is it not harmful, and it’s merely the way we take these images and apply them to our individual every day lives?

What do you think? Do we tear apart “our own?”

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Daphne June 24, 2011 - 11:11 AM

But then, why do we support something that many of us have identified as harmful? Or is it not harmful, and it’s merely the way we take these images and apply them to our individual every day lives?

Unfortunately, I think the bulk of women who buy/read certain magazines DON’T think it’s harmful. I mean, not really. Sure, they may temporarily reflect on the lack of realism of those glossy magazine photos, but how many go right back to perceiving that as an ideal? It’s a vicious cycle – most women want to be perceived as attractive, and look to the fashion world for the standard.

Yet the fashion world has never been about showcasing the range in beauty of women, at least not in my opinion. It’s about clothes and “style,” being conspicuous, and of course, making money by selling propaganda. So many women look to a source that has rarely, if ever, had the beauty of women as its primary motivation.

And it will continue, unless the bulk of women decide to reject it. But why would women do that, if they are rewarded by striving for and/or succeeding to obtain the standard?

I don’t know – there is a weird, destructive co-dependent relationship between the women’s fashion magazines and the public.

Gloria June 24, 2011 - 2:54 PM

This is what I was trying to say…the fake pictures can be very harmful to us, and we don’t even see it because we are so used to it. At some subconscious level, we are expecting boobs to be bigger, waists to be tinier, and booties to be smoother than we would have in the ’60s or ’70s, but this isn’t necessarily because models today just happen to be bustier, tinier, and firmer than the models were back then. They are photoshopped, squeezed, lifted, and airbrushed to look this way, and so we think this is the norm. I understand that women in fashion are constantly picked apart at the FIRST sign of imperfection…but the definition of “imperfection” in the fashion industry is changing now, too.

I think that if we allowed something like smaller boobs to be more normal in the fashion industry, instead of boobs lifted and padded by the latest bra, eventually, smaller boobs wouldn’t be criticized nearly as much as they are now. Now, I know that there would still be haters out there talking about those small boobs in a negative way, but…There. Will. Always. Be. Haters. That is never going to change. People are always gonna have some idea of what the perfect body looks like, and one person’s definition will be very different from another’s. Some people may look at the above picture and think that the model looks perfect. Some people will think that she’s too thin. Some people (very few, hopefully) will think she’s too big. No model is ever going ot be able to please 100% of consumers 100% of the time. That’s why I think the fashion industry should stop overediting everything, because one day, those small little “flaws” will stop being “flaws” and start being “features.”

seejanesweat June 24, 2011 - 12:02 PM

If you’re overweight, you’re criticized. If you’re underweight, you’re criticized. If you’re a size “Perfect”, you’re criticized. The way I see it is Jesus was perfect yet even he couldn’t make everyone happy. That being said, all you can do is work on you to be the best you you can be. Learn to love yourself, flaws and all and know that the world is airbrushed. No one is truly what the seem to be. Even the most beautiful woman in the world has flaws and insecurities and she will cover them up so you don’t see them.

Ravenelvenlady January 21, 2012 - 6:40 PM

Well said.

Kait June 24, 2011 - 12:02 PM

I really think we do. Its become ridiculously normalized, especially if its minimally or quietly done. We’re socialized from a young age to judge judge and judge some more anything that is outside of the norm. The heavy girl running…we should laugh at her since its not going to last anyway (or at least that’s how I felt others saw me at first). The class valedictorian cannot be cool. And what’s up with those weird girls who compromise their beauty by wearing all black and dying their hair weird colors?

Who hasn’t heard other girls and women saying such things? And who hasn’t said such things once or twice, even if we don’t want to admit it?

I’m the first to acknowledge that I was a pretty judgmental person. This blog, along with a number of others that I’ve started reading in the last year, have brought so much knowledge and awareness to my life that I’ve worked on consciously redefining my oft-negative first impressions. Instead I try to find something beautiful in that person, either physically or otherwise. Am I perfect? Heck no. Are there still moments when I see someone and think “OMG why?!” Absolutely…we all slip up and old habits are hard to break. Especially when the rest of our culture places such a premium on appearances, perfection, and fitting in.

Audriel June 24, 2011 - 1:10 PM

I was lucky enough to have parents who made sure I understood that the girls in magazines did not look like that i n real life. They in fact told me so often I began wondering if my mom was just jealous of the girls and being mean about them, but overall, I understood that it wasn’t real. I was never much for magazines unless they had a celebrity interview I wanted to read or make-up tips, or something about music. I had my peers to tell me my body was not the ideal, or the norm, and that I needed to change because I was ugly to look at.
I do think many women like to tear apart their own because it’s what they know, and the instinct to tear others down to make yourself feel better can be hard to ignore. I try not to, not in type, and in words, because I will always remember what it was like to be on the other side of those words.

Eva June 24, 2011 - 2:18 PM

Please, please, please watch “America the Beautiful” on Hulu. It’s really good, I watched it on Monday and I’m still thinking about it.

It really made me think of what I consider normal, and how TV can erode a culture that is thousands of years old (I’m talking about what happened to the young women from Fiji).

It used to be that we looked in our neighborhoods, looked at our family to see what “normal” was. Now we look at TV, movies and magazines and what we think is normal isn’t even realistic.

Deb June 24, 2011 - 3:34 PM

I agree with what’s been said here – these images have become the norm for us and on some level, are accepted. Though we may know consciously that many of them are unrealistic, on another level we are making comparisons. I used to work in the fashion industry many years ago, and often the women in my office would sit around and talk about how much weight they needed to lose. They were not overweight by anyone’s definition, but to them, they could never be too thin. I wasted many years holding myself to some ridiculous standard – thinking I was “too big” when I was perfectly fine and healthy. Comparing myself to an unreal standard was destructive to my self image. Now I’m working my way out of that and choosing health and self love. Not an easy journey, but well worth it. Just wish I could go back and tell my younger self to not believe the hype. I would’ve been so much happier without that nonsense in my head.

LBC June 24, 2011 - 4:11 PM

See, this is why I read Horse & Rider–nobody in there is even thinking about whether or not her butt looks big in those Wranglers. All we care about is can she ride? They run articles by and about women all the time, and they do fashion advice (OK, for Western shirts and chaps, but still), but they don’t use models. I’m pretty sure that the most feminist magazines are ones that don’t cater directly to women.

(Have you ever seen a dedicated equestrienne’s butt and thighs? Yeah. Underfed fashion models don’t stand a chance.)

Somebody gave me a gift subscription to Bust a few years ago, and it’s supposed to be super-feminist and all that stuff, but I’m still seeing a lot of skinny, wispy, doe-eyed girls in there. I guess most of them are musicians and artists and not technically models, but apparently you still have to look like you have model potential to be a successful post-pop singer. So, in some ways it’s completely the opposite of Cosmo but in some ways it looks very much the same. It’s like exclusive, insider-only, if-you’re-alluring-enough, feminism.

Danielle June 25, 2011 - 1:34 PM

great post Erica.
I was at my docs office yesterday and I picked up a 17 magazine just for the heck of it. It’s scary what is being fed to our girls. If you have a magazine with 5000 pictures of skinny girls, in various stage of undress and fully made up, but then you have 1 article that talks about not needing to be skinny (you know, the token article that tells you to love yourself despite your size etc)- what do you think an impressionable teenager is going to believe?
We live in a superficial , glossy society that is aspiring to be a lie.

Tatiana June 25, 2011 - 7:23 PM

I think the problem is that people aren’t encouraged or raised to have self-sufficient egos, to decide what their own standard of beauty is. People readily buy into what other people are selling.

Magazines like Marie Claire are a reflection of what is already believed and supported in our culture, which is how these magazines are able to manifest. But people feel that the magazines (and media like it) are what’s causing self-esteem issues; it’s not. People around you are believing that they themselves are not worthy, so you become worthless as a result. Few people have the self-confidence to deal with constant backlash about how they look, especially when you consider the fact that for women, beauty is considered the Golden Ticket.

I would say that most women want to be beautiful, or perceived as such, and this insecurity is exposed in our dealings with each other. Most people have low self-esteem, and are vulnerable to the ideas of others; it just so happens that these very same people are in charge of our country’s magazines, television, and movies.

So I think that’s the reason that even if they posted a “real woman”, she would still be attacked because this is still a nation of women (and men) who possess low self-esteem and are susceptible to the influence of others’ negativity and feelings of worthlessness. And why I believe that the solution to creating and maintaining self-esteem is not something that can be accomplished by dismantling or destroying media, but by focusing on the interior (soul/spirit) so that you can triumph over other people’s opinions. Changing the external, doesn’t change how we feel about ourselves. But changing the internal will. At least in this particular case of self-esteem and body image.

Adia November 11, 2011 - 10:32 AM

I don’t think that magazine images are harmful. I think that’s a scapegoat. If you look at a person who you know has dedicated her life to being extra thin and feel bad about yourself, that’s on you. I was big for most of my life (just lost 77lbs and counting this year) but being big didn’t define who I was. I bought magazines and still do to ogle the pretty people in pretty clothes as a departure from real life – a fantasy maybe. I no more wanted their bodies than I felt like a little poor girl (which I am not) because I couldn’t afford to be clad in couture all day long. I think that as a community women need to stop scapegoating and start being more proactive in helping our young women learn how to have healthy bodies and self esteems (and men too – music and movies don’t make you kill someone, tv isn’t why the US is declining, etc). We need to work on our own self confidence and then a little airbrushing won’t be anything but something fun to look at while your sitting by the beach feeling a little bit sorry for the emaciated girl who dedicated her life to that instead of other pursuits.

One more thing – I don’t think that having women with stretch marks or whatever in magazines is going to change anyone’s self image. Realistically, I agree with the previous posts that we’re not going to rejoice and say look, she has bumps like me. We’re going to frown and criticize (worst case) or just ignore that picture (best case) because the reason we picked up a magazine in the first place is to see the “ideal”. We all know they’re airbrushed anyway.

Noelle March 5, 2013 - 2:43 PM

“I don’t think that having women with stretch marks or whatever in magazines is going to change anyone’s self image.” Adia, this comment echos my thoughts.

Getting to the root of this issue will require us all to be reintroduced the true meaning of terms like Self Image, Self Esteem, Self Love…

I also don’t buy into the notion that we want to see what has been dubbed as “real women” when we pick up magazines. I say that because we are real women. We are surrounded by real women: at work , on line at the grocery store, at PTA meetings, at the gym, at the beach, etc, yet somehow we don’t see the realness…

Do we miss all the real around us, while looking for it between the pages of magazines?

CurvyCEO January 3, 2012 - 2:22 PM

Absolutely we want unrealistic images. I recall reading (might have even been on this blog!) about how people complained to plus-size retailers about using mostly models on the thinner side of “plus-size” in their ads – the size 12 and 14 models as opposed to the size 18 or 20. But the response was that when they did use larger models, their revenue dropped! (Same phenomenon as mainstream magazines finding that they made less sales when ethnic models were featured on their covers.) Even I am forced to admit that in some cases when I see clothes modeled on a woman who looks about my size (22) I am less inclined to think it’s attractive . . . I don’t know if that’s the fault of my own body image issues or just sucky pictorials by the advertisers. I have a pretty high self-esteem so I’m inclined to pin it on the latter (smile).

Adinrob January 9, 2012 - 7:52 AM

Women, girls, babies, are taught from the cradle that other women are the competition. We are brainwashed to secretly hate each other for being prettier, thinner, smarter, having a better boyfriend or job. Really, don’t you get jealous of your friends’ successes? It’s a disgusting, vicious cycle that is really quite perverse. You look at that magazine, and you despise the skinny girls at the exact same time that you would kill to be them. For what, a couple pounds of fat? I gave away my subscription to Cosmo because I realized, after 5 years of not reading it, that I can’t stand looking at a bunch of skeletons dancing around in their underwear, being taught that pleasing their man is the most important thing in life. I pity the next generation, because this is what they have to look forward to.

Annette March 5, 2013 - 7:42 PM

As someone who hasn’t been obsessed with magazine images I would like to see women portrayed as they really are.

It billions are made of selling a certain image. Yeah we tear women apart I feel because somoe of us are socialized to feel we need to compete other people for mens affection. We have buyed into the programming. This prepares you to judge yourself and other women harshly and prepared to spend what you have charge beyond what you can afford to “be that women who has it together”. They are good cause they will forever have you chasing that dream which is an illusion. Most of those women need to village and then some to be that illusion.

I spent too much time and money when I was younger trying to get approval from other women I worked with. It seems there is always some type of image women need to be apart of. The best thing is to ask yourself who are you and what feels comfortable for you. Peer pressure is a killer. I hope women do take back their power and create their own realistic standards. I just think perfection is biizzy work to keep us hooked and spending too much time and money.

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