Male or female, the depictions of what it means to be sexy surround society through social media, commercials and celebrities. The Reflections Body Image organization at Slippery Rock University is dedicated to empowering women through challenging media-based ideals of beauty and thinness, according to their website.
“[The media says] if you’re not this impossible thin ideal then you’re just not worth it and until you fulfill it you won’t find happiness or love or even be successful,” Chelsea Taylor, a senior psychology and sociology major and president of the group, said.
She explained how this portrayal translates to individuals posting pictures on social media sites such as Instagram and Fade as a desire for reassurance from others.
“It kind of hurts your heart to see someone crave attention for something. It’s because these peoples’ body image is so low that a lot of these posts are [present]. It’s not so much because you’re proud of your body for working out, it’s because you need reassured that you are the thin ideal – that you are beautiful,” Taylor said. “The need for reassurance is something that I think society needs to work on.” She specified that if people want to post pictures working out, they are welcome to do so, but that it should be for the right reasons.
However, some do not end up with pictures on social media sites by choice.
“We have girls in the group who are afraid to go the gym because they’re afraid of someone taking a picture of them and posting it on social media. They shouldn’t be afraid to do something,” freshman psychology major Kasey McComb said.
The negative impacts of social media aren’t always directly related to the individual. Ashli Barron, a sophomore psychology major, described a post she saw on Facebook in which a girl watching a beauty pageant said how seeing the girls made her feel really “crappy” about herself.
“I was just thinking ‘you shouldn’t feel that way by watching these beautiful women on TV, you should feel confident about yourself and feel that you’re beautiful and they’re also beautiful,” Barron said.
The Reflections Body Image group has been one way McComb has learned to appreciate beauty in all forms and feel better about her own body image.
“[Reflections] made me feel better about my body image and it made me want to go back. I still want to go back to this day,” McComb said. “Reflections helps you realize there are more forms of beauty. There’s not just skinny and fat. [Beauty is] not just your size.”
Still, Taylor points out that there are problems in society, even given a good effort. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is aimed at widening the definition of beauty and has feature a number of commercials since launching in September 2004.
“We love the Dove commercials, but even with the Dove commercials, some of them still, like the one with the ‘normal’ women, one of the ads is to do firming cream so you’re still kind of insulting the body image regardless,” Taylor said. “No one really wants to see, unfortunately, a normal woman or man being portrayed unless they’re being edited.”
She praised one commercial involving a self-portrait from Dove, mentioning that the group actually plans to mimic the concept at Slippery Rock University in April.
Commercials influences on body image do not stop with females, according to Taylor.
“A lot of it impacts the men,” she said. “We see pictures of Calvin Klein models so we hold a standard even though a lot of women would be like ‘no we don’t,’ but we do.”
Barron agreed, saying, “even though there’s a strong portrayal of what a woman should look like, I’m starting to realize that there’s also a big influence on what men should look like to. In our society women are going to be more attracted to a muscular man but in both ways, in women and men, it’s not about that, it’s about proving what type of person you are on the inside. That’s the most important thing. I think the media and society really downgrade that.”
The Reflections Body Image club meets every other Monday at 6 p.m. in Vincent Science Center Room 305. The next meeting will be Feb. 23. In addition to the self-portrait project, the group is planning random acts of kindness events, placing positive sticky notes on the bathroom mirrors and hosting documentaries and events for eating disorder awareness week this semester.