Words by Hallie Saculla

Across the country individuals are recognizing a link between body image and the media’s perception of beauty. While there can be many causes for this relationship, the effect on young women prevails as the the most troubling consequence.

“Media, as in advertising to get our attention, shows us ideal, perfect human forms,” said James Leone, D.C., F.A.C.O., NutriMost Wellness and Weight Loss specialist. “It is human nature to measure ourselves compared to what is considered an ideal standard. When we are aware of differences between where we are and what the perfect examples are, we may feel we are flawed or less than normal or perfect.”

NutriMost Wellness and Weight Loss is a program designed for individuals to lose weight by eating clean and taking supplements. Leone began as a chiropractor in Boardman, Ohio, but recently added the NutriMost Wellness and Weight Loss program to his practice for clients to keep weight off and stay healthy.

In a 2017 study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 80 percent of women say images of models in the media makes them feel insecure, and 58 percent of college-aged females feel pressured to be a certain weight.

With statistics that high, it’s no surprise that Leone is busy everyday. Seeing a diverse clientele in age and gender, Leone has suspicions as to why those statistics may be so.

“I have known of young American women who had eating disorders of the undereating and overeating variety,” Leone said. “It is my opinion that the media’s portrayal would cause eating disorders in order to achieve their representation of the commercially ideal female shape and size.”

Megan Stier, a former Miss Ohio and top national pageant competitor, feels that although she had a strong upbringing of encouragement, she felt the pressures to fit a standard.

“I have always been a larger pageant girl, and seeing the beauties like our reigning Miss America or Miss Universe could sometimes have a negative effect on me and how I viewed myself,” Stier said. “I thought the only way I could win was to look like they do.”

Throughout her time in the pageant industry, Stier found that living a healthy lifestyle and having a fit body was more important than looking a certain way. Even so, she blames the media as feeding young girl’s minds with thoughts that they are lesser than the models in images they are bombarded by.

“We constantly compare ourselves to who we see in the media as our role models, and we idolize their lifestyles and sexualize their bodies,” Stier said. “Therefore, those images influence girls to believe they must look and act that way to be loved, instead of being true to themselves and loving themselves in return.”

Although opening a social media account to see a timeline flooded by flat stomachs, hourglass figures and Kardashian-esque physiques, advertising is a driving force in traditional media that carries serious liability and influence.

A USA Today study revealed that 47 percent of girls in grades 5-12 wanted to lose weight specifically because of models in magazines, and 69 percent of girls in that age range said that magazine images influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.

It’s impossible to not consider the one tool that’s used extensively: Photoshop. Photoshop is a piece of software that can digitally alter an image. With advertisements, specifically those of fashion brands, Photoshop is used to physically modify the appearance of a model for aesthetic purposes, such as slimming one’s waist or clearing acne.

In the pageant industry, one of the most important pieces of competition is the official headshot. This headshot is used as a first impression for the judges, pageant coordinators and fellow competitors to see the girl competing before meeting her in person. While Photoshop is unavoidable in advertisements, it’s also unavoidable in pageant headshots.

“Photoshop can be a powerful tool, just like makeup, to emphasize the natural beauty of each person –  not to change their image all together,” Stier said. “Maybe to fix the stray hair that got blown out of place or brighten the photo to look more colorful; however, where I begin to dislike Photoshop is when the photo no longer represents the already beautiful person in the original photo.”

In 2015, the French government passed a law that prohibits models from working if they do not fit in a certain BMI bracket. This strict standard resonates well with some in the fashion industry, but others like Stier feel the law is too stern.

“I think models should be held accountable to physical exams to make sure they are maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” Stier said. “Some people are just tiny, and they shouldn’t be labeled as ‘unhealthy’ for it.

Although there are countless models in the American market with a low BMI, there are also those who embrace their curves and promote a healthy lifestyle. Models like Ashley Graham and Denise Bidot encourage their millions of followers to eat right and love themselves.

Despite living a life of self-love and acceptance, there are still those who feel they would be happier if they fit into a certain dress size. Leone cautions individuals to avoid fad-diets and lose weight the healthy, “old-fashioned” way.

“Change, if desired, is easier when we are not resisting what is and more likely to come from an attitude of happiness and knowledge,” Leone said. “Then, if they would prefer to change any aspect of themselves physically, educate themselves about what it would take to do so, and make those changes.”

Leone encourages individuals to avoid food that is processed or prepared commercially. Food that is not organic or substantial, has pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, neurotransmitter disrupters, added sugar and bad fats that adversely affect weight, shape and health.

“[Women should] know that beauty and health come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and preferences, both for ourselves and from the opposite sex,” Leone said. “Accept and love yourself as you are now.”

Hallie Saculla is the fitness and recreation reporter for The Burr.