Forbes published a fascinating article, Can Media Help Shift Our Beauty Ideals Back in a Healthy Direction? The story challenges our long-standing beliefs that our attraction to beauty is largely culturally based e.g., we admire thin people because their thinness is a reflection of wealth.
Instead, the article cites a study conducted by scientists at Durham University in England that proves how over-exposure to certain imagery determines cultural norms. When people were shown many images of overweight or thin women over time, their views of attractiveness changed. The more the subjects were exposed to thin women, the more they found them attractive, and the more they were exposed to overweight women, the more they found them attractive!
While this study depicts we human beings as quite impressionable, there’s a silver lining here according to the article. If the media can be accused of manipulating us with constant exposure to harmful images, then, they can easily expose us to healthy images and help us change our expectations of ourselves and others.
I believe it. Media — advertisements, articles, fashion spreads, and all — have the power and the duty to make a positive impact on our lives. As the legendary ad man, Bill Bernbach said over a half a century ago, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
Let’s not eschew the media for their use of harmful portrayals of people, but rather, encourage it to feed us a diet of healthy visuals.