Throughout history, women have been expected to conform to numerous contradictory beauty ideals, and have often been forced to turn to plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures in order to achieve features that are considered attractive, only for these features to soon fade as new body parts emerge as a fad for society to idolize. The media plays an important role in the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies. As a result, the photo-collage project for this assignment visually demonstrates and explores how the repeated exposure to idealized images of female body types in popular culture, negatively influences everyday women’s sense of self. Situating this study within the context of body positivity, this project will first explore the process of creation involved in constructing the body-collage. The second looks at the form of the photo-collage and how it visually conveys messages of female attractiveness. The final will be an analysis of how the media creates unrealistic expectations for female bodies, through the repeated showcase of ideal body types.
The photo-collage was created through the selection of images of women featured within a variety of popular magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Women’s Health, GQ, Harpers Bazaar, and Rolling Stone. These magazines were chosen as a focus for this project because they are popular sources that gear themselves towards a female audience, and thus, have a lot of influence on women’s perception and understanding of beauty, fashion, and fitness. In choosing which photos to include within the collage, I mainly focused on selecting the magazine’s cover photo, as well as the images that accompany the cover story, as these are the images that the magazine publisher have chosen to represent their brand, content, and message. As a result, the cover photo sets the tone for what resides inside the magazine. In addition to this, the cover photo is what gains the most public attention, as it is the first photo people see when browsing through magazines on shelfs, news stands, grocery aisles, etc.
Deconstruction of Women’s Bodies
A photo-collage is a form of art which combines various cut-up visual elements to create a new image, in order to convey a specific message and/or idea (Evans 157). The form of a photo-collage offers the ideal vehicle to call attention to the body types society values, through visually demonstrating which bodies and features are continuously represented within popular culture. The photo-collage contains images from popular magazines in order to demonstrate how women’s bodies are represented within the media. The constant portrayal of a very specific and narrow type of feminine beauty is damaging to women’s self-confidence. Through these images, the media leads women to believe that they need to look like the women portrayed in magazines, in order to be perceived as beautiful. The photo-collage calls attention to the idealization of unrealistic beauty standards, and how society accepts them as “normal.”
In looking through various cover photos on magazines, there is a noticeable trend of who lands on a magazine cover. These “cover girls” all represent idealized images of women, as they all have slim waists, toned stomachs, lean legs, big butts, plump lips, perky breasts, etc. The term “cover girl” also carries important social and cultural meaning, as it is often used to describe an attractive and young woman. The continual showcase of the ideal form of these specific features, conditions women who view these images on a regular basis to believe that they must prescribe to these beauty standards, in order to also be perceived as beautiful and attractive. Due to this, my collage is a representation of the ideal feminine form. In addition to this, the act of cutting up (disembodying) women’s bodies, further demonstrates the deconstruction of the feminine form within the media. Women’s bodies are no longer viewed as a whole, as their value/worth is determined in relationship to their specific body parts (i.e., how big their butt is, how tiny their waist is, and how toned their legs are). The objectification and sexualization of women in society, reduces women to their sexual body parts.
Is Your Body “In Style?” Probably Not!
The ideology surrounding the “ideal” feminine form is one that is constantly changing and evolving (McComb and Mills 165). In the 2010’s, for example, the “thigh gap” became the standard of beauty for women, which encouraged many individuals to achieve a feature that is determined by their bone structure. Today’s society has begun a cultural shift towards the “big booty” era, epitomized by curvy celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. However, how long will it be before big butts are no longer in style, and what will happen to the women who no longer fit this mold of beauty? Just as clothing and fashion go in and out of style, so too do women’s bodies.
The frequent depiction of unrealistic body and beauty standards in mass media negatively influences women’s body image attitudes, as they serve as unrealistic aspirations for social comparison. The images within these magazines glamorize “thin celebrities and models, [which] promote[s] body shapes that are unattainable for many young people” (Maltby, Giles, and Barber 18). In a study conducted by Brittany M. Williams, Karen Christopher, and Jennifer Sinski, ordinary women were shown pictures of celebrity body profiles, in order to examine the effect these images have on their perception of other women’s bodies and their own. One woman stated, “I know this is the body God blessed me with, but looking at [these] images, I just feel fat. I feel like I need to lose more weight. They look fantastic” (Williams, Christopher, and Sinski 8). Within the media, women’s bodies are regulated through perpetuating images of “trendy” and “ideal” bodies (e.g., slim-thick), causing many women to feel inadequate in comparison (McComb and Mills 166).
The Media plays an important role in the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, through the representation of ideal female body types. As a result, the photo-collage project for this assignment demonstrates how the repeated exposure to idealized images of bodies, negatively influences everyday women. However, magazines such as Teen Vogue offer a more body-positive and feminist approach, as they feature stories and cover photos of individuals who have different body types such as Devery Jacobs, Brettman Rock, and Charitha Chandran, and celebrate their beauty. Ultimately, these types of images send an important and empowering message to a new generation of young women. As a result, the photo-collage and theoretical framework that this project is situated in, demonstrates the need for more realistic and diverse portrayals of female bodies in the media.
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Alas, Mert and Marcus Piggott. Photography of Kim Kardashian. GQ Magazine, 16 Jun. 2016,
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