By Heang Sokuntheary
Do you remember what was the first cartoon you watched when you were a kid? And what was your favorite TV show or drama back then?
As a kid, I watched many things like cartoons, dramas, children’s programs, songs, and more. But my most favorite TV shows were K-pop and K-drama. They were so popular that most local TV channels screened them most of the time. I remember singing Korean songs, wanting to look like Korean women, and dreaming of going to Korea even at that young age. Most Korean actresses that I saw looked beautiful, with their flawless skin, slim tall body, high nose, and full lips. Somehow, they looked so cute too…
In my Teenage years
Growing up watching K-drama, I have always wanted to look pretty, just like all those women I saw in the movies. Ever since I was 14, I have felt so insecure about my looks. Even back then, I remember looking at myself in the mirror every morning, seeing all the problems I had: my nose and my eyes were too big, my face ugly from all the pimples, my hips too fat, and my curves nowhere in sight. I felt ugly, and unpresentable. At night I would pray that I’d wake up in the morning and get the transformation I wanted, but every morning I was disappointed.
I didn’t know why I cared so much about my looks. No one had ever come to me and said,“Oh, you’re ugly,” or “You’re fat,” or anything like that. For many years, I couldn’t find the answer to this question, until I got into university. As a media and communications major, I started to figure out why. Before long, I realized I had been in the trap of media influence. What I saw in the media heavily shaped my idea of beauty. How does the media do that?
Does media create the concept of BEAUTY?
Perhaps, you wouldn’t just see the beauty standard portrayed in movies. They are on your phone and computer screen, your social media feed, your television, the magazine and newspaper you read, and even on big billboards you see along your way home every day. Basically, they are everywhere.
Let’s think back to when you see an advertisement about a cosmetic product or service. Can you imagine how the models look? The female models are usually tall, slim and sexy, right? They possess similar features like long legs, smooth skin, nice eyes, a high nose, and nice curves. And what about male models? All those guys have flawless skin and body, and are tall, masculine, hot, you name it. But let me ask you, have you ever seen those models in real life? Do they look the same in reality?
I can say those images are not how the models really look like. They are just the stereotypes which give teenage girls and boys the motivation to do anything they can to look like those models. Because here’s the thing: fewer than 5% of people could ever achieve the ideal body presented.
In a survey of 601 people, around 75% thought that the media, advertising and celebrity culture heavily shape society’s beauty standards.
In today’s markets, the cosmetic and beauty industry has been using these standards to sell their products. In magazines, even the original look of the models still isn’t good enough. Those magazine or web editors are using digital help, like photoshop to manipulate the reality, and promote the very unrealistic image of what is beautiful, which make women and men strive for something unattainable.
Actually even if you are not a magazine editor, you also edit your photo in your smartphone application, right? Some people, before posting their photos on social media, at least try some effects on their photos, such as to make their face and skin look smoother. Some other people might also wipe away a little bit of their waist or hip, to make it look a little bit smaller.
So what do people do?
Girls and boys are rushing out to the gym, getting on unhealthy diets, such as skipping lunch and dinner, to get the body goal. They keep starving day and night, just to make sure they won’t have anything to gain weight from.
A recent report that surveyed 1,300 girls found that more are having low self-esteem and feeling unhappy with their look. Those symptoms of being body-dissatisfied is enough to weaken their self-confidence, which could contribute to depression, and lead to several physical illnesses, emotional despair and societal problems.
The same report found that girls who consume media and advertising spend a lot more money on beauty products. Even at the young age of 11 to 16 years old, most girls in the survey already put much effort into their looks such as wearing makeup, shaving their arms and legs, and wearing padded bras. Some of the younger girls, aged 7 to 11, also wear makeup, use nail polish and occasionally wear high heels.
What’s more is cosmetic surgery. If the cosmetic products couldn’t satisfy those girls, they are not afraid to go under the knife, and going on a painful process of operation.
A yearly report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeon estimates there were around 17.5 million cosmetic procedures around the world in 2017, and over 200,000 of the procedures were for teenage girls and boys aged from 13 to 19 years old. Among the millions of surgeries, the most popular were breast implants, the removal of body fat, eyelid surgeries, nose reshaping and surgeries for flat stomachs. .
With all these harmful effects, I am against the ideal beauty image we see in media these days. Why do we have to follow such standards? For so long, it’s almost become a culture to everybody.
The way to solution
Media is believed to have a huge influence to both the individual and society as a whole. It controls the information we get, whether it wants us to think or discuss about certain issues, such as politics, fashion, beauty or any other specific cause like climate change, for instance. Plus, living in a media-surrounded environment, people start to find it hard to separate the true reality and the one on the media. Some media messages such as advertisement, news, or social campaigns can have a great influence to people’s views and behaviors, and finally causing people to agree with them.
You might not realize that you are influenced by media, until there are some harmful consequences. So, one solution to prevent being blindly influenced by the media you consume is to be media literate. But how?
Let’s think back to when you consume the media. What type of contents are taking in each and every day? Through which mediums? Do you understand what messages the media is producing? Then, how do you define those messages? Are you aware of who is making the content, and for what purpose? And after you consume this media, what is your reaction toward those messages? These are the questions you must ask yourself each time you sit in front of the TV, click to some websites, or scroll though your social media feed.
Dear readers, after reading all of this, how do you feel? Do you feel like you are in a similar situation like me before? If you still think that you aren’t pretty enough or perfect, just remember that nobody’s perfect. If anything, the one who’s always there for you, who love and care for you is yourself. You are the one who is in control of your own life and happiness. So, stop all those negative feelings you have toward yourself, and embrace your beauty. Just don’t care about all those beauty trends in the media, or even better be aware of what the media is giving to you everyday.
At the end of the day, it all comes to your understanding of yourself, and your critical thinking used while consuming media. Now that you know the ways the media wants us to think, do you think we should let those beauty standards bother us anymore? What do you think we should do to stop that false reality created by the media from damaging our self-esteem?
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.