Pop culture setting unrealistic standards for young women?
By Emily Young eyoung@sentinelandenterprise.com
http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/ci_2737012

Lunenburg mother Kelly Arciprete said her 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, loves Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, two teenage Disney stars who have become increasingly thin, popular and trendy during the past few years.

Arciprete, 46, also said her daughter's classmates tease her for not wearing the latest, sexiest styles.

"This all started in first grade. A lot of stars wear brand names. That's what they see and what they want. Even the Gap is getting a little risqué," Arciprete said. "They're taking our children's childhoods away. There's no rush to grow up, but they see it and want to be it."

Olivia Arciprete already expresses concern about her figure.

"I constantly tell her she's beautiful. But the kids tell her she's fat. Constantly," the thin mother said. "The media impacts these kids incredibly. Even if they're involved with sports, it still filters down. Shopping for uniforms, it filters over. She wanted to wear tight pants and I said, 'You can't run in tight pants,'" Arciprete said.

Robert Thompson, professor and director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said while it's difficult to blame the media for reflecting what culture deems as beautiful, it certainly hasn't helped.

"We have had images of beauty throughout cultures long before the electronic media ... On the most obvious level, if you don't look that way, you feel bad. There is a sense of one's self image that can be assaulted by the images."

Douglas Gentile, director of research at the National Institute on Media and the Family, believes there is a direct correlation between images in pop culture and female body images.

"I think many, many studies have shown that to be true," Gentile, who's also a professor at Iowa State University, said. "There are some studies done which show if women watch a half hour of what's considered normal television, and show a few advertisement with exceedingly skinny women, afterwards women feel worse about their body and worse about themselves. I ask my students all the time, 'Do you feel better after looking at Glamour magazine?' They all say no. Well, of course not. Advertisers, they're whole mission is to make you feel bad to buy stuff."

Unrealistic images

Fitchburg State College student Mary Shaw didn't hesitate when asked if Hollywood's lean bodies affect everyday women and their personal-body images.

"There's no way to be that skinny. It's not fair to have a boyfriend comparing you to that," Shaw, 21, said. "I think it's a big issue. My mom raised me with a strong belief on it. She talked about it."

FSC student Erin Chisholm, 20, also is familiar with the pressures Gentile noted.

"There's definitely pressure. If you see it around you -- in some stores now, the largest size is a size six. And it makes you feel bad. I still feel   bad when I eat a crap load of junk food," Chisholm said.

FSC student Courtney Caruso paused for a moment when asked whether she knows girls with eating disorders.

"I can count a good 10 girls here with eating disorders. One friend, I talked to her mother, who said, 'She's been to hospitals before and it didn't help,'" Caruso, 18, said Tuesday. "It sucks. A lot of friends who are not fat say, 'I can't eat dinner.'"

But FSC student Brittany Durgin, 19, thinks the media's damaging imagery is geared to younger girls, like Olivia Arciprete.

"I think that obviously weight is a big issue. It seems that advertisers are going for younger and younger girls each day. It puts a lot of pressure on them. Young girls are looking at magazines instead of the world around them," Durgin said Tuesday.

Counting calories

Leominster resident Carol Crisci, 38, said her 14-year-old niece already is counting calories.

"I see her not eating because she wants to be thinner and I tell her not to worry. It's sad the way they're making the clothing for these young kids. They think you have to show off your body to be good looking. Their showing their belly buttons, and showing their thongs. They're buying from Victoria's Secret."

Crisci said she, too, feels pressured by popular culture to achieve a weight that might not be achievable.

"It's everywhere. The desperate housewives, Terry Hatcher, that's not how thin a woman should be," Crisci said. "I still feel the pressure. If you're not a size 1, 2, they you don't look good. Look at all the magazines. All the models are not normal, but that's what's thrown in your face all day long."

Nina Selvaggio, president of the National Organization of Women's Massachusetts chapter, said there's a limited population of women who actually fall into Hollywood's definition of beautiful.

"Our stance at MassNOW, we think the media is harmful to young women. It's definitely hard not look like that, and feel good about yourself in every-day life. I have heard girls in elementary school dieting," Selvaggio said.

Selvaggio, 31, believes young girls were aware of their bodies when she was growing up. However, she thinks with young stars like Lohan are perpetuating the problem.

"I remember telling my mother that I had fat thighs. I was pre-10," Selvaggio said. "I think the problems are just getting worse and worse. I'm the president of MassNOW, and I still struggle with my body."

The extreme results of having a low self-image are drastic.

"There's a whole host of eating disorders, from full-fledged anorexia or bulimia, which can lead to death. I have several friends recovering from eating disorders," she said.

Robert Hynes, director of counsel services at FSC, said between one and five percent of college-age women across the country are clinically diagnosed with an   eating disorder.

"Ninety percent of eating disorders are with females, but we're starting to see males increasing at higher rate. That's also believed to be media influenced," Hynes said. "We used to get away without doing much, but now we're seeing the same potent images being throw at us."

Extreme eating disorders can lead to death, as well as several other permanent problems, Hynes said.

"Skeletal damage, disrupted periods, inhibited growth, substantial suicide risk," Hynes said. "You can do long term damage."

Hynes said there was a far larger population of women whose self-images are affected by pop culture images, but don't develop severe eating disorders.

"We have a much larger pool of sub-clinical issues. They're engaging in disordered eating. They feel like if they're eating too much, they have to work out six times a day," Hynes said. "The majority of women with sub-clinical problems, or even clinical, they don't show up in my office. The vast majority of them do not believe they have a problem and won't show up."

Judy Norsigian, executive director of the Boston non-profit, Our Bodies Ourselves, said there's been a sharp increase in plastic surgery in recent years.

"The result of this obsession to ascertain the perfect body type is a stark increase in cosmetic surgery. There's been a tremendous increase in women seeking breast augmentation. The number under   women under 18 who are seeking out of breast implants is tremendous."

The non-profit launched a new edition of its 35-year-old health book, "Our Bodies, Ourselves," less than two weeks ago.

The book now includes a chapter on maintaining a good body image because of the increasing pressures from the media to attain the super slim figure.

"If anything, the trend is worsening," Norsigian said. "There are growing pressures to convey the perfect body type that might not be health for them."

Gentile said she's surprised that more younger women aren't angry about the issue.

"Today's generation of young women are complacent to it. I speak to all these young 19-year-olds in my classroom. I'm a child of the 60s, they don't even see anything wrong about it. I just stare at all these girls and say, 'Where's the rage? Why aren't you angry about this?' I've yet to figure it out," Gentile said.