For as long as one can remember, women of every genre have been plagued by some degree of desire for acquiring an ideal body image. This is not surprising as it is natural human tendency to come across as the best and be envied by others. However, in today's' modern times, this desire is steadily becoming an obsession and an unhealthy one. The most prominent reason for this phenomenon is increased exposure to Fashion and the unrealistic body images that are promoted through it. Here there is a need to clear the terms "fashion "and "body image as used in this paper. Fashion refers to any style or practice that gains popularity among the masses, Most commonly this term is used with reference to style of dressing, the latest looks , accessories and even acceptable mannerisms. Body Image is a complicated aspect of the self concept that concerns the individual's perception and feelings about their body and physical appearance,(Cash & Pruzinky, 2002).This paper is an attempt to understand how Fashion promotes the image of ideal women and its consequences on the women of today.
Globalization has brought about drastic changes in the business arena. The increased interaction among different cultures has helped the Fashion Industry to grow and flourish. Consequently the impact of fashion on the general perception of people , especially the youth of today has increased manifold. Following the latest trends or as the youth of today says " being in vogue", is considered to be a pre requisite for attaining social popularity. From this perspective, the fashion industry tends to have an enormous influence on the thoughts and the actions of people of today, especially the women. This phenomenon could be both a boon as well as a bane , depending upon the message that the Fashion industry is communicating to its audience.
In earlier times, appropriate curves constituted an ideal body image which was much more realistic and attainable. Unfortunately this is no longer true. Now a days the sociocultural standards of feminine beauty can be seen in all forms of media, barraging women with images that portray what is considered to be an" ideal body" of an "ideal women". The problem here is that most these images are unrealistic and the body type that they promote is almost unattainable by normal , healthy women.Infact most of the modles used by fashion houses and promoted by media are reed thin and considered to be much below the healthy body weight. Popularity of such unrealistic modles, sends an implicit message to the general public, that in order to be considered beautiful , you must be unrealistically thin, only then will you considered fashionable.
As a result of these trend women , especially those belonging to the younger generation turn to drastic measure such as starvation and excessive workout to attain the desired body type, thus falling prey to ailments such as anorexia and bulimia. These are considered to be psychological disorders that at times may have life long repercussions. On the other hand those women, who are unsuccessful in reaching the so called "size zero", become increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies. "Prospective and longitudinal studies confirm that dissatisfaction with one's body , or negative body image, can be understood as one of the most consistent and significant precursors to negative self perception, negative emotional states and unhealthy body related behaviors(cf. Grabe,Ward,& Hyde, 2008), thereby highlighting the dangers of falling prey to the desire of having a image of an ideal woman.
Researchers have tried to analyze how ideal body types as promoted by fashion industry , tend to impact the way a woman feels about her body. One of the theories that explains this phenomenon is known as the "Social Comparison Theory".Through this theory an attempt has been made to understand how individuals evaluate themselves in comparison to their peers and social categories. The main argument is that people tend to compare themselves with others at many individual levels.Depending on the target of comparison , a person will judge themselves to be either better off or worse than the concerned target. A downward comparison happens, when a person finds herself to be better off than the target on a certain dimension and in an upward comparison that person usually finds herself to be lacking. As evident, downward comparisons lead to feelings of happiness and upward comparisons can cause depression.With the plethora of ideal body images that are popularized by media , women constantly feel themselves engaged in an upward social comparions.Since these ideal"reed thin" images have assumed the tag of perfect body types, women usually find it difficult to attain them thereby becoming a victim to feelings of negative body image and depression. In addition to this, the extent to which women engages in such social comparisons also indicates the extent to which a woman will be impacted by the ultra thin body types depicted by media. Tiggeman and Mcgill(2004), found that women who indulged in high degree of social comparison were more likely to be negatively impacted by the ideal body images. Consequently , these women appeared to be at a higher risk of developing extreme preoccupation with weight and appearance thereby falling prey to severe eating disorders and psychological impairments. This study has been extremely helpful in assessing the negative impact of ideal body images supported by the fashion industry and media.
It is a known fact that the Fashion Industry tends to promote ideal body images as it uses the most glamorous modles who seem to have perfect faces and perfect bodies . The fashion houses adopt this strategy so that their products appear to be more attractive and hence appeal to a larger audience. From this perspective the fashion industry seems to be justified in using such modles and come to think of it , this may not be such a bad thing. The modern women of today , who tend to lead hectic lives , trying to juggle home and office responsibilities, hardly seem to have any time for themselves. However , when they come across glamorous and fashionable modles, it forces them to sit up and take notice and accordingly take measures to groom themselves better. This may mean paying more attention to their clothes , accessories and taking out time to visit beauty parlors . Such pampering helps a woman feel good about herself and this in turn has a positive impact on their confidence levels and mental well being. However this is possible only if the women population is mature enough to realize that the body types promoted by media are imaginary and do not exist in real life. With the advancement of technology a lot of computer graphics are used to make the modles look perfect. If women don't get preoccupied with unrealistic images, following the ideal woman as propagated by fashion , may not be such a bad idea.
I would like to conclude that the concept of "ideal woman ", does not exist in this world. Each and every one of us is flawed in some way or the other. We must understand that the ideal woman, as popularized by the fashion industry is a sales gimmick that does not exist in reality. Modles are ordinary women like us who are packaged in fine feathers so that they give the appearance of being perfect. There is nothing wrong in wanting to look good and appreciating the beautiful body types that we come across in media and fashion industry, as long as we realize that what we see is just an image not reality.