Gendered Societal Expectations of Appearance and Their Effects Upon the Individual
It has long been generally accepted that we as humans are influenced greatly by the things that surround our everyday lives. These things can include friends, family, co-workers, the media and even society as a whole. The society in which people live can play a huge role in how they view themselves and how they view others. Over the years researchers have come up with many theories as to how and why society has such a large influence on people. Now-a-days there are appearance prescriptions for everything in our society. It is not good to be too fat, but it is not good to be too skinny either. The way a person looks, dresses and acts is a large factor in how other people will think about, talk about and respond to them. These societal prescriptions also differentiate between other factors such as gender, race, level of education and more. Interestingly most of these prescriptions for appearance in society today are relatively unspoken until someone violates them. This paper will attempt to shed some light on the complex societal prescriptions regarding personal appearance and body imaging; more specifically it will delve into how those prescriptions are gendered within society and how people respond both positively and negatively to those prescriptions. As previously stated appearance prescriptions are very strong in our society especially when it comes to societal expectations regarding gender. These gendered expectations cause people to do all types of things for the sole purpose of fitting in to societal norms. Some women exercise religiously to maintain a good looking body, other women go tanning regularly because they think it is embarrassing, or even unacceptable, to be pale; there are also many men who do the same things for the same reasons. While looking good is not a bad thing sometimes these societal prescriptions, or expectations, can cause people to go too far. When people are not satisfied with themselves and their appearance they can become desperate and have feelings of inadequacy about their physical appearance. These feelings of inadequacy can lead to depression or making destructive decisions which can include but are not limited to over-eating or even eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. There have been numerous studies done on the relationships between societal pressures to be thin and body dissatisfaction among both men and women. One such study, from the University of Texas at Austin that studied the effects of social pressure to be thin on women said that “These same pernicious messages (that one is not thin enough) are thought to foster negative affect, because appearance is a central evaluative dimension for women in Western culture” (Stice, 2003). This study tested what sources most influence societal expectations of appearance and the different ways those expectations can negatively affect women (Stice, 2003). It concluded that some of the biggest social pressures to be thin come from the mass media, family members and peers (Stice, 2003). It also concluded that the negative effects of these social pressures can go in two different directions, this is not to say that women negatively affected cannot fall victim to both types of effects (Stice, 2003). A synopsis of this study could say that societal expectations to be thin often create body dissatisfaction within women (Stice, 2003). This body dissatisfaction, which can often lead to depression, frequently leads to either restrictive dieting or binge eating. Restrictive dieting, while not bad in itself, can lead to unhealthy eating habits such as eating disorders, laxative abuse or other methods of losing weight that can be extremely harmful to the person practicing them, and binge eating “because it is commonly believed that eating provides comfort and distraction from negative emotions” (Stice, 2003). A similar experiment,...
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