We live in a world where more is less and less is never enough. Commercials on TV and web abound selling us dreams of a life that would be impossible to achieve without these products. Likewise, markets are flooded with merchandise that promise beauty in a jar, a killer body by consuming weight loss pills, a great social life by virtue of sporting an expensive handbag and so forth. Movies and TV shows feature stars that are embodiments of perfection itself. Every year the bar for perfection is set just a notch higher thanks to the pressures of media and marketing. Unfortunately, material goods and outwardly appearances alone can only provide fleeting satisfaction. Is it any wonder then that more and more men and women feel the pressure of being less than perfect?
When our image of ourselves is based not by who we are inside, but how others perceive us, how are we to find happiness? In US alone, more than 19 million people suffer from depression out of which nearly twice as many women as men suffer from depression every year. Depression is even more common amongst young people. Although both men and women may feel the pressure of society, surveys suggest that women are more susceptible to feelings of insufficiency and low self-esteem. Could it be that sometimes we are our own worst enemies? Women are notorious for being unfairly critical of themselves. Young impressionable women are constantly exposed to ads showing thin, well-proportioned models that are not only beautiful to start with, but these pictures are also photo- shopped after. Women who are more likely to make upward comparisons with these extraordinary portrayals of feminine beauty may end up feeling less than attractive.
Movies abound where men are attracted to a woman who is not only stunningly beautiful but practically a wonder woman. She is an excellent career woman during the day and then in the evening she will change her Business suit for a sleek gown showing her perfectly chiseled body. She will then jump on the stage flip her hair and make an impromptu performance that would put the Spice girls to shame. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against a multi-talented woman. In truth, most of the women I know are really nothing short of amazing. They are excellent career women, great moms, perfect daughters, loving wives, sisters and friends in need.
My problem is merely with the portrayal of women in mass media. Such roles set high standards of expectation. The criteria for attractiveness just keeps becoming impossible to achieve while becoming more and more shallow. If the average American woman is 5’4” and 140 pounds why do we have actresses representing them who are 5’11” and 120 pounds? Why can’t we have more role models with less than “perfect” looks? Why are feminine characters in most movies, so two-dimensional and focused on their physical attractiveness?
In truth the portrayal of women as nothing short of “wonder women” is exacerbated by the fact that we women are tough critiques of our achievements and accomplishments. The ABC’s series “Ugly Betty” hinges on the portrayal of an attractive yet less than glamorous Betty fighting to make her mark in the glamour world while fighting her own self esteem issues caused by how her peers perceive her. To me, ‘Ugly Betty’ is a classic example of a regular working girl in today’s world. I am waiting for the media world to take more risks and start creating flesh and blood characters where women like men are valued as characters rather than their physical and sexual appeal.