Close X

Beauty Redefined: Rejecting the Media's Impossible Standards

Lexie Kite and Lindsay Kite - January 18, 2011

Thinkstock.

They’re sad facts that many of us know: You will never see an average American woman represented in the mass media as a “beauty ideal.” And it is completely reasonable to assume that every image of women you see in the media has been digitally manipulated. So why is that where we get our standard for what is normal and beautiful?

In a world where a constant—and we mean constant—flow of media images far exceeds the number of women we could ever see face to face, this abnormally thin and digitally-enhanced feminine ideal has become the norm in our minds. A counterfeit, dangerous, unattainable norm.

Be Ye Therefore “Perfect”?
Unfortunately, we as Latter-day Saints are not immune to these harmful media messages. Though no religion-specific data exists to show rates of eating disorders or body image issues, numerous accounts from diligent parents, priesthood and auxiliary leaders of struggling girls, and women speak for themselves. And one of Forbes magazine’s annual rankings may indicate that our quest for perfection took a wrong turn somewhere along the way: Salt Lake City, home to the worldwide headquarters of the LDS Church (and where an estimated 50 percent of the population is LDS), was ranked the “Vainest City in the Nation” in 2007 and 2008, and was in the Top 5 in 2009. This ranking is due to the city’s record-breaking amount spent on beauty products and treatments like Botox, an amount that is ten-fold the amount spent in cities of comparable size. If you’ve looked at the billboards along any Utah freeway, you won’t be shocked to hear Salt Lake City has the most plastic surgeons per capita, at six per 100,000 residents, trumping New York City and Los Angeles.

When Thin is Too “In”
In the last 15 years, the media’s depictions of women have compacted into a standard of beauty that is further from reality than ever. Consequently, women’s body hatred has skyrocketed.  When asked their ideal body weight, 75 percent of U.S. women chose a number that was actually 10 percent or more underweight. This is particularly significant considering 67 percent of U.S. women are classified as overweight or obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And as obesity doubled in incidence from 1980 to 2004, there was also an incredible rise in eating disorders during the same time period.

Women’s reported bodily “disgust” doesn’t seem so shocking when we consider the dramatic shift in our definition of beauty over the past 60 years. Take the iconic Marilyn Monroe of the 1950s, at 5 feet 5 inches tall and 140 pounds during the height of her fame. Though corseted and exceptionally busty, her figure represents a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) of 23.3. (BMI is the standard used by the World Health Organization to determine a healthy weight.) Her fuller figure stands in stark contrast to today’s beauty elite, who most often take the form of a rail-thin and surgically enhanced feminine ideal. The “Sexiest Woman Alive,” as ranked by men and women alike, is actress Angelina Jolie, at 5 feet 7 inches tall and close to 100 pounds, which equates to a 15.7 BMI.

This is startling, considering a BMI of 18.5 and below is considered “underweight,” a distinction that can result in dire consequences like malnutrition, bone loss, organ failure, infertility, and a severely weakened immune system—none of which we ever hear about in a media industry that represents underweight as normal.

The Lies We Buy
While it would be easier to call this a media conspiracy and pin the blame on a scheming mastermind, the truth is that there is one simple motive behind it all: money. The beauty product and weight loss industries are flourishing at our expense—somewhere to the tune of $100 billion per year.

In one revealing example from the 90s, a prominent women’s magazine featured gray-haired models in a fashion spread. When one of their foremost advertisers, a hair color company, withdrew its entire ad campaign from the magazine upon seeing the un-dyed hair, the magazine was forced to avoid featuring gray-haired women in a positive light in any of its pages. The same pressure exists throughout any media outlet that features advertising for appearance-focused products, and it would be a challenge to find one that doesn’t.

This plan to convince viewers that female worth is dependent upon appearance is incredibly successful. But once we recognize we’re in a battle, we can start to defend ourselves.

The Battle to Take Back Beauty
If you’ve read this far, you’re already equipped with a few self-defense skills. We can start by training ourselves to ask and answer pivotal questions, such as the following, about the media we’re exposed to on a regular basis:

• Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads, commercials, and product placement that may affect the media content.)
• Do I feel better or worse about myself after viewing this media?
• Is the media I consume promoting real health or unattainable ideals that focus solely on appearance?
• How are women presented in my media choices? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like me or the women in my life?
• Are my health and weight-loss goals based on concrete measures of fitness or wellness, or are they motivated by a desire to look a certain way or fit into a certain size?

By acknowledging that very few girls and women feel comfortable in their bodies, we can begin to realize it is the standard that needs changing—not us. We should never feel like our bodies are some sort of burden to bear instead of a precious gift we’ve been given!

Learning to recognize and reject the negative ideas so prevalent about women’s bodies is a wonderful step toward being comfortable with our looks and taking better care of ourselves. The ongoing process of redefining what “beauty” and “self-worth” mean ignites a spark of change that can spread to many others within our realm of influence, from a daughter who sees her mother appreciating her body rather than criticizing it, to sisters who forsake worldly judgments and embrace every woman as a friend.

Redefining Reality
When it is so easy to get caught up in the way we look, sometimes the best way to improve self-esteem is to forget ourselves for a moment. That might involve visiting someone with stories of a time when media consisted of radio melodramas and newspapers, or shoveling the driveway of a friend whose health restricts him or her from being able to do so. Forget about expensive makeup and diet pills—the best way to improve your appearance is to have a little more light in your countenance! Service in any capacity fills us with love and light that radiate from within and draw people near.

Since we’ll see more images of women in one week of media than we’ll ever see face to face, we must regularly give ourselves a reality check by remembering what real beauty looks like. This definition accounts for much more than superficial attractiveness, whether it’s the acknowledgment of an inspired church lesson or a well-played soccer game, a tasty meal or endearing laugh lines on the face of a friend. Though media definitions of beauty aren’t going to loosen up, we know we can reclaim our power by turning away from images that hurt us and looking directly at one another. We can take control every time we turn away from media that causes us to feel sub-par or portrays women as sexual objects instead of thinking, feeling humans, or when we speak out about what we perceive as harmful.

When billions of dollars and countless hours are spent fixing perceived “flaws,” we must recognize that where we spend our time and money reflects our priorities. When appearance is our concern over other things, such as health, cultivating relationships, or developing Christ-like characteristics, we must re-prioritize. When girls and women judge and are judged based on their appearances, we must redefine what we value. If we find media ideals have more influence in our lives than we’d like, we can work to reject those distractions that prevent us from moving on to more uplifting things.

Since these controlling ideals are held in force by silence, with women feeling shamefully alone in their “disgust,” we all need to keep the conversation going. We can constantly point out the unrealistic nature of media images and talk to loved ones about re-thinking beauty. Using these strategies to recognize and reject harmful media messages, we can not only defend ourselves in the battle to define beauty, but we can win the fight for girls and women everywhere.

*Read the full article in the January/February 2011 issue of LDS Living.

© LDS Living magazine Jan/Feb 2011.
Comments 41 comments

ajones said...

10:01 AM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

Really interesting article - well done. I have to say that I'm comforted by the fact that the women we see in the media are not really "them." Even they would be surprised at how they look after all the touching-up. We don't need all that "stuff" to be pretty - we are who we are; be happy with it. Great article.

rb_1986 said...

11:32 AM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

What a great reminder! Something women need to hear on a regular basis!

melgrow said...

12:01 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

This is such an important topic. Girls need to learn to be healthy, not skinny- those are two totally different things. As a personal trainer and wellness professional, I try to promote this idea as well. Beauty comes from within and taking care of the body that God has given us.

lizzy said...

01:04 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

I really enjoyed reading this article. We are often expected to meet unrealistic standards as a result of the media. As SA looking for a partner I often find the single brethern on dating sites have their sights set really high on finding Miss America. They have criteria which the average LDS women would be hard pressed to meet. The funny thing is while they expect such amazing things they themselves based on their profiles are not Mr America. We as members of the church are not meant to judge but we do especially when it comes to the way we look.

newport said...

01:35 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

Wonderful article! We need more information like this to remind and teach us what reality is! As the article says..Keep the conversation going.

mroesberry said...

01:40 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

Sherri Dew said it best, "If we could comprehend how majestic and glorious a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom will be, we would rise up and never be the same again. We would gladly take upon us the name of Christ-which means following Him, becoming like Him, and dedicating ourselves to Him and His work. Women of God who honor their covenants look differently, dress differently, respond to crisis differently, and act and speak differently from woman who have not made the same covenants. Women of God who know who they are have influence that has no limit and no end." What type of woman do you choose to be?

cotho said...

02:04 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

Good article, but as we try not to judge a person by appearance, please keep in mind that just because someone is thin, it doesn't nessicarily mean they have an eating disorder. Believe it or not, there are women out there that struggle to gain weight, so be kind.

dwunderli said...

04:00 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

This is a great article. It's very important to realize that every single image we see in the media has been enhanced in some way and it goes way beyond smoothing wrinkles! I sometimes wonder if the scary, over botoxed, puffed up, alien look (see Meg Ryan these days) will become peoples new definition of what a beautiful face looks like. Heaven help us!

jackier said...

04:07 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

I really loved this article! It's important for us to have a reminder of what the media is doing to alter our perceptions of what is real, attainable beauty. It's important that we love and accept ourselves for who and what we are and not let our self worth be tied up into something so fleeting.

simiedie said...

06:06 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

This article causes one to ponder Alma 40:23. If all are restored to their perfect frame, will the implants, injections and too skinny bodies and such be left in the grave?? I would imagine God's idea of our "perfect frame" and societies idea are pretty different!!

brookie said...

09:31 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

This article is so great!!! I wish that all young girls could read this! There are so many "role models" that we all try to emulate. If we could all understand just like the Kite girls said those "role models" aren't realistic. These girls have such a great message! Thank you!!!

novae said...

11:29 PM
on Jan 18, 2011

Report Abuse

I got Excited when I started to read this! THIS Article is what my business is ALL about! I own an on-line clothing store & have gone through 2 photographers, for one reason or another. I have decided to do the photography with a good friend who BELIEVES in this Article! -- NO MORE PHOTOSHOPPING my Models & using as much Natural light as possible! -- They are Beautiful just the way they are & the clothes that they are wearing/selling for me will look just as Cute on you as they do on my friends (models) because what you see is what you get! Mom's, Sister's, daughter's etc. should be Proud of who they are & what they look like no matter what! Thank you OH so much for this Article! I will be refering to is often in my business blog. :o)

jenafish said...

12:33 AM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

The first vision makes it clear that a "perfected" body looks a lot different than we may think! And definately not the version portrayed in magazines. Think about when you look at depictions of the Prophet Joseph's description of Heavenly Father and the Savior's resurrected and perfected bodies... it exposes the media portrayals of perfection as false. So sad that SLC was voted most vain, we should keep our sights on perfection as it really is and not fall into the trappings of the world. It should be that we spend our time and energy on perfecting our hearts rather than the outward appearance!

yonmoore said...

12:51 AM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

I didn't know that about salt lake, but it's not surprising with all the billboards I see all over. Good grief. Good article. This author is obviously very well informed, insightful, and intelligent. I think the author should keep spreading this message every chance she gets.

dopeyk9 said...

08:32 AM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

As a mother of 3 girls, I find this article to be right on target. We really need to help our daughters (and ourselves) have positive body images and not what the media has distorted.

lightme said...

03:27 PM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

Loved this article! Very timely. Have Yahoo! users noticed a recent diet ad showing a "little black dress" already ultra-thin, and then making it so thin that the person inside would have to have no organs and no ribs? I thought the "fat" version of this dress was too thin. And it almost seems to be suggesting "getting thinner" for the sake of "getting thinner" with no limit in sight! Beware of the diet campaigns, as well. Remember that they are out to make money, first and foremost. Also, I and my mother noticed that the "ideal weight" index doctors use today is about 15 pounds lighter than the index that was pre-80's. I was a stick in college, 5'5" and 125 lbs, my doctor now tells me that 120 lbs is my ideal weight at age 35! Even the professionals are caving to the media, so we need to be extra careful to hold onto truth.

kristenpowell said...

08:31 PM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

You girls are amazing! This article is such an eye opener and something we need to be reminded of...especially younger girls. Thanks so much for the little boost of self-esteem! :)

kydalco said...

09:01 PM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

This is such a powerful and beautifully written article. I hope this message will continue to be shared with everyone and I applaud Deseret Book and LDS Living for including this important topic in their magazine and on-line. As the mother of two teenage daughters who, like all of us, are being bombarded with these "perfect images" and struggling with feelings of failure and inadequacy when we can't reach the unattainable level of perfection that the media has set for us, I applaud the insights and the advice contained in the article. We need to be happy with ourselves and love ourselves for who we are, daughters of God, and quit trying to compete with these enhanced images that exist on magazine covers and in other forms of print media.

ldk9 said...

09:18 PM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

As one of the authors of this article, thank you so much for your comments! Please keep them coming! For more information on our work, find us at http://beauty-redefined.org/ or on facebook by searching for the group Beauty Redefined. We're 25-year-old twin Ph.D. students at the U of U who are so excited to spread this message, and we hope you hope you believe this message is as crucial and timely as we know it to be! Just fyi, the full version of this story is available in the hard copy LDS Living Magazine at any Deseret Book or LDS Distribution Center. And the illustrations are beautiful!

emilym.d. said...

10:17 PM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

Thank you for this message. As a photographer, I get so frustrated when a beautiful woman asks me to enhance her to fit the media's standard. I hope more women embrace this message.

kutee_pi said...

10:41 PM
on Jan 19, 2011

Report Abuse

Wonderful message. As a young women leader I am hitting the bookstore to buy a magazine for each of my girls. Thank your for a treating a delicate message in a perfect way. You should be part of the Time Out for Women series,or Especially for Youth.

mckalin said...

08:20 AM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

I found this article very enlightening, even as a male reader. I am glad that this message is being spread. I've seen many times where the media's depiction of how a woman is to look have ruined my friends image of themselves. We are different and beautiful in our own way. Thank you so much for this article.

avilawalker said...

08:53 AM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

Thank you for publishing such an timely and important article. It's time that we stand up to such ridiculous, unattainable standards of beauty and help the next generation of little girls to feel good about themselves. Please continue to promote this important message.

whit said...

09:26 AM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

Nice work, girls! I always enjoy your messages and your great perspective on this topic. This is great!

melany said...

10:14 AM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

lexie and lindsay are the coolest! i definitely admire their work on this subject and their words should be heard by as many women as possible. we are not our bodies, we are daughters of god and our bodies are a gift from Him. great work, ladies!

andreajudd said...

12:34 PM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

I love the ending it was so inspiring! i truly believe that the media and a focus on women's appearance and sexuality is a tool that can be used for great evil, to make us forget how much we truly have to offer from our minds and our hearts. This message especially needs to be brought to the attention of young women! I would love to see more on this subject.

mrsward said...

03:14 PM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

This article is well-written on a subject that is important. The authors have presented the delicate topic in a perfect manner relating it to the Gospel and how special a woman is in the sight of God. I read this on the web and looked forward to the magazine. When I received it in the mail and read the article, I was not disappointed. Well, well written. Very intelligent authors. I hope to see more from them!

tjm said...

07:19 PM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

Excellent article. Well researched and well written. Definitely a topic that should be adressed more by major media outlets.

hoan said...

09:40 PM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

You can blame the media, but they only give us what we ask and pay for. Salt Lake is dead last in the nation in the use of alcohol, but number one in the use of prescription painkillers. You have to ask yourself, what is it in the Mormon church that leaves women so empty that they seek happiness outside themselves? It starts with the belief that we are somehow not quite as powerful as priesthood holding men and never perfect enough for God. Couple that with the judgment and spiritual one-upmanship that is rampant in religion and you start to get a truer picture. Our problem is not that we are duped by the media, but by our interpretations of religion itself.

wink said...

09:58 PM
on Jan 20, 2011

Report Abuse

I don't necessarily think using prescribed medication instead of alcohol or other escapist substances means LDS women are "empty" in any way. In fact, as a woman in this church I've heard more positive, empowering, pro-woman messages than I've heard anywhere else in the world. What is really important here is that the message these authors shared is a seriously important one that people need to be talking about. If there's anything that makes people feel "empty," it's obsessing over appearance and unrealistic goals rather than the bigger perspective of what good we can do for other people and being valued for more than just what our bodies look like. Thank you for bringing this conversation to light! We need to see much much more from you! I know what you're saying is true.

arh said...

12:14 PM
on Jan 21, 2011

Report Abuse

LOVE THIS! It's weird how normal all the perfect women's bodies in media seem in our minds, when really, they're not normal at all, and they're not normal for a reason. Too many people make too much money off us feeling bad about ourselves and comparing ourselves to a beauty standard no one will ever reach. Woemn of all ages and men too need to hear this message on a regular basis. Well done!

chica10 said...

12:50 PM
on Jan 21, 2011

Report Abuse

I loved this story. These women just introduced me to a topic that is so pertinent in my life and has so much effect on me and those I love, and I didn't even realize it until now. I read the whole story in LDS Living magazine before seeing it online, and I knew what I was reading was true. I feel better about who I am already and I'm so glad this was published!!! Great work!!! I'm making sure everyone I know checks this out.

anj said...

05:49 PM
on Jan 21, 2011

Report Abuse

Thank you! I love this story. This topic is real and needs more people talking about it.

alyciabelle said...

10:30 AM
on Jan 24, 2011

Report Abuse

This article is exactly what I wrote my Senior Paper on! Such an important topic... http://crowleyparty.blogspot.com/2011/01/beauty.html

asampson said...

02:07 PM
on Jan 26, 2011

Report Abuse

This is an amazing article. I have been to one of the Kite's presentations on the topic and it is amazing. The media has a way of defining many ideologies which may or may not be realistic. Being able to recognize and point out false representations is the first step in taking control of how media affects us and the people we love. I wish all women could read this. It is so so important. I posted it on my blog for all the women I know and love to read.

jolyns said...

05:43 PM
on Jan 26, 2011

Report Abuse

I am so pleased to see this article bring to light a topic that is so pertinent to LDS women, and look forward to seeing this subject spread to all women. It is about time we readjust our perspectives and take control of what is valued about women. In today's modern world, we are accosted by constant media. It seems so crucial that empowering messages for women, such as this article, be just as constant to combat the ill effects the flooding of media no doubt imparts on our society. Good work girls, look forward to hearing much more from you.

curlimee said...

11:54 PM
on Jan 31, 2011

Report Abuse

As a freshman in college, I deal with the infamous "Freshman Fifteen" with all of my friends. I've learned that it can either be a weight loss or gain, but either can be equally dangerous. Each girl seems so concerned about becoming 'perfect' before her time is up and she's too old and ugly for a man, that she tries everything possible, including awful diets, revolting pills, and personal insults to try and shave off the pounds. She might spend an extensive amount of money on worthless beauty products, but if she gets the attention of a boy, it all seems worth it. We need to know that, yes eternal marriage is extremely important, but that if a man isn't going to love us for who we are on the inside, regardless what we look like, we'll be miserable. Especially if we're hollow from the empty efforts on our exterior. I know we need good examples to love their bodies so we can be courageous enough to do so as well!

annettejudd said...

03:48 PM
on Feb 02, 2011

Report Abuse

This was such a well written article. It gave clear examples of the problem and solutions. Thank you for explaining how confused we have been about our image and helping us to realize that we are valuable and beautiful no matter what!

lorilou said...

02:53 PM
on Mar 28, 2011

Report Abuse

I'm so glad that this topic is being talked about. As a youth I became critically aware of what I believed I needed to look like in order to be happy and, up until about six years ago, felt the emotional burden that food, diets, and a critical self-image often bring. Having traded this burden for health and peace of mind, I am compelled to share my lessons learned. I figured the best way to share was to write it. STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! WINNING THE EMOTIONAL BATTLE SURROUNDING FOOD AND WEIGHT LOSS. (stopthinkingaboutit.com) My candid story shows how you can be happy AND healthy / healthy AND happy. The difference is staggering.

hilpil said...

08:53 AM
on May 18, 2011

Report Abuse

In high school I was always on the big side, not obese, but larger than most. After serving a mission I got sick and lost weight, staying thin until getting pregnant. In between my first 4 children, I was always able to get thin again. After my 5th, I couldn't get thinner than what I was in high school. For a few years I tried not to dwell on it and accept it, but then had my 6th child. Maybe it's my age, but I have started to take pride in my "out of proportion" belly. I no longer care that I look like I'm 5 months pregnant all the time. This tummy has worked hard and produced 6 fabulous kids! I'm proud of it! I'll never look like Angelina Jolie OR Marilyn Monroe, but I really don't care anymore. My body has and is fulfilling its purposes here on earth and I'm extremely grateful for that.

snickerdoodlewy said...

10:10 PM
on Jul 24, 2011

Report Abuse

Loved this article!!! And so very true...part of the problem is that the men in our society seem to buy into this to a very large extent. As a single adult, I stopped going to the dances in Utah because I never got asked and when I worked up the courage to ask them. Most of the time they said no. It's a meat market down there. I just wanted to dance....not marry them. Sheesh, men! It wasn't like that at the LDS singles dances back east or in most other places I've been to away from Utah. It will never change until the men change their outlook and the way they treat women.
Leave a Comment
Login to leave a comment.