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Stereotyping Essay

1061 words - 5 pages

As media becomes an ever more powerful force in shaping the world's perception of itself, an individual's struggle to maintain a unique identity and self-understanding apart from media influence becomes increasingly difficult. Damaging to the idea of the self are the racial, gendered, and class-based stereotypes (always artificial and frequently physically, fiscally, and emotionally unattainable), which are broadly perpetuated and, because of their persistence, are apparently not broadly questioned. The prevalence and power of gender (especially female) stereotypes in the media are addressed in this paper.
Heightened public awareness of both the existence of and potential damage caused by ...view middle of the document...

The media, without question, shapes this public response. It can be argued (and has been, on many occasions) that, because the media portrays celebrities' bodies as attractive, desirable, and "good," they become national symbols of these characteristics. Conversely, bodies that do not meet this lofty goal frequently are, consciously or unconsciously, regarded as "bad" or ugly. Consider the most recent (and extremely popular) advertising tack used by Subway, the national fast food sandwich chain. "Jared," the protagonist of the recent slew of television commercials, allegedly lost hundreds of pounds while on a diet consisting primarily of the chain's fare. Jared's "before" pictures show him considerably larger than his current size, but they also show him alone, with no friends or family. In stark contrast, however, his "after" action shots consistently show him not only thinner, but also constantly in the presence of a beautiful woman, presumably his significant other. The advertising message is clear: fat=bad, ugly, unhappy and alone, thin=happy and with attractive partner. Through these commercials, Jared has assumed celebrity status, solely on the basis that his body has changed to approximate more closely the current standard of attractiveness.
Sadly, though, there is a severe disconnect between the male and female body types lauded in the media and those of the public at large. A shockingly small minority of the population has the genetic dispensation to match with what the media purports to be attractive. For women, "desirable" physical characteristics (as they are portrayed in the media) include being thin, long-legged, slim-hipped, and large-breasted. The media-portrayed "desirable" physical characteristics for men include being muscular and possessing a full head of hair. Some characteristics are portrayed as desirable in both sexes, such as being tall, fit, athletic, young, and light-skinned.
In the gap between what is implicitly beautiful in the eyes of the media and the physical reality of the popular majority flourishes a market of "self-improvement" products and services, ranging from hair dye and makeup to tanning salons, dieting, and plastic surgery. It seems as though nearly everyone, at some point in his or her life attempts to alter him- or herself in a physical way, in order to conform more closely to the marketed "norm" of attractiveness and desirability. Television,...

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