Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dying to be Perfect

Susan Bordo is a modern day contemporary feminist that links modern consumer culture directly to the formation of gendered bodies. The body is a symbolic form, the surface of which culture is inscribed. According to Bordo, the body is a metaphor for culture. In her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Bordo discusses the impact of pop culture, such as television, advertisements, and magazines, on shaping the female body.

Pop culture creates an ideal of what the female body should look like. The anxiety women feel while trying to attain this ideal body sometimes results in typically female disorders such as hysteria, agoraphobia, and anorexia. Bordo categorizes these disorders as “obsessive body practices of contemporary culture.” She also includes plastic surgery, obsessive dieting, and manic physical training. However, Bordo further goes on to say that although these practices may be bizarre or extreme, they are actually completely logical manifestations of the anxieties and fantasies fostered by our culture. This ideal female body is represented as what is normal, natural, or even real.

While the media emphasizes thinness as the standard for female beauty, most of the bodies idealized are usually atypical of a normal, healthy woman. A model is defined as a standard or example for imitation or comparison. Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today’s models weigh 25% less. Women between the ages of 18-34 have a 7% chance of being as slim as a fashion runway model, and the chance of being as slim as a supermodel is less than 1%. Still, 70% of young women said models influence their idea of the perfect body shape. Even the supermodels themselves often pass out on the runway from starvation, and some have even died from anorexia.

A Brazilian supermodel named Ana Carolina was dropped from a runway show for being “too fat,” and soon after developed anorexia. She literally starved herself to death. Just six months prior, her sister, also a supermodel, had died after collapsing on the runway from starvation. Even supermodels, who are seen as an idealized female body are impacted by trying to reach an unattainable beauty. After several models died of anorexia and passing out on the runway was coming more and more common, a French woman named Isabel Caro who herself has been an anorexic for over fifteen years, posed naked for a billboard to protest size zero models during fashion week in Milan, Italy. In the clip above, CBS interviews Isabel Caro, a perfect example the effects the ideologies of our culture have on women, as well as the mental and physical disorders that result.

Works Cited:

Bordo, Susan. “The Body and the Reproduction of Feminintiy.” Leitch, Vincent. The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001. Print.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and The Body. Berkely, California: University of California Press, 1993.

Studies-Eating Disorders Program at Stanford University School of Medicine. 2010. Web. 7 August 2010.

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