The culture-wide sexualization of women can be psychologically detrimental to a woman’s self esteem because it gives women unrealistic expectations of what their bodies should look like. Trying to live up to physical standards of size zero models or the sex appeal of curvy porn stars is exhausting and emotionally frustrating. All it takes is one Google search for a woman to feel inferior or that she is not attractive enough. Advertising and pornography paint a picture of fantasy not reality. No one can be as flawless as images that have been photoshopped or videos that have been edited. Without cosmetic surgery, photoshop, film editing, and professionally done hair and make-up most of the world population is rather average in physically attractiveness.
I’m not advocating that the idea “sex sells” is damaging to women and should be prohibited in advertising. It is a fact of life that images of attractive individuals (especially attractive women) brings attention from consumers regardless of if the images are relevant to the products being offered. I am in no way on a crusade against sex in advertising or pornography. I’m merely pointing out that pressure women place on themselves to look like the women found in advertising, modeling, and pornography can be psychologically damaging.
The concept of beauty has become severely more narrow and unattainable, putting increased pressure on women looking to meet society’s photoshopped beauty standards. Journalist Marisa Meltzer argues that the current standard of beauty defined by “anorexic thinness” is an unhealthy idea that is not advocative of a natural human body and gives individuals a skewed expectation regarding body image (body image refers to a person’s feelings of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of their body). According to British Biologist Dr. Aric Sigman, some women who see underweight women will have an instantaneous change in brain chemistry which decreases self-esteem and can increase self-loathing. This distorted expectation is not limited to anorexic thinness, it also applies to the expectation of having a perfectly curvy and seductive body similar to the images of women present in pornography. Living up to these various ideas of physical attractiveness is emotionally and physically draining.
Why do women try to live up to a distorted concept of beauty? The answer is simple. Women want to feel attractive according to society’s standards regardless of how unrealistic they may be. Having a lean or seductively appealing body has become associated with not only beauty, but also with happiness and success. In Naomi Wolf’s article The Beauty Myth, it states that “thirty-three thousand women told American researchers they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal.” The dieting industry earns roughly 40 billion dollars per year in America due to the amount of people dissatisfies with their bodies. In a survey conducted in 1997 by Psychology Today, 56% of the women and about 40% of the men are dissatisfied with their overall appearance. Likewise, in a longitudinal study that evaluated body image across time and age between males and females, men placed higher emphasis on their physical appearance than women, even though women report body appearance dissatisfaction more frequently.
Weight dissatisfaction, body surveillance, and body shame are intensified when one speaks and thinks negatively about the weight-related size/shape of their body compared to the images portrayed in advertising and pornography. However, even when women reach a weight or size they want there are other obstacles in the way preventing many from attaining complete satisfaction with their bodies. Cellulite, varicose veins, wrinkles, and stretch marks are every woman’s worst nightmare. There will always be some degree of dissatisfaction regarding one’s physical appearance even after all the dieting, exercising, and cosmetic surgery money can buy. That is not to say one should avoid setting personal physical goals, seeking out body alterations, and working towards a healthy lifestyle. However, it is important to remember that it is more progressive to focus on what you are rather than what you are not.