Women in bikinis
How the media portrays (women's) body image

Women’s bodies, mens bodies, women’s body hair, photoshop, perfection. How is body image represented in the media, and can we ever change the way that bodies are portrayed?

Swedish model and photographer Arvida Byström, challenges the perceptions of femininity and regularly goes out with her body hair on show, to ask and raise questions about the representation of women’s bodies.

Byström campaigns against it being the norm for women to shave

Swedish model Arvida Byström
Swedish model and photographer, Arvida Byström

In magazines, and the media in general, women aren’t portrayed in this way – we have become so desensitised to what is (has become) the norm, that we’re shocked when we see what is in fact completely normal.

We are presented with this idealistic representation of something which isn’t true so often -we see something that we are not used to seeing everyday,

It’s being shocked that draws us to this image – clever. It’s sending a message, there’s no doubt in that, however, it’s not the so-called message which was the aim – as this was an advert for Adidas shoes.


Adidas probably would have had nowhere near so much publicity if it wasn’t for the model having not shaved her legs, so rebelling against the norm, was beneficial to some degree.

Body image and the way we’re represented doesn’t just relate to body hair, but also weight.

In magazines, the idealistic portrayal of a person is, clear skin, thin, essentially ‘perfect’. What we don’t realise is that majority of the time, these images are photoshopped, but we’re so used to being fed this stereotype, that we think it’s the norm.

When body image becomes an issue.

It’s human nature to want to fit in, to conform to the norm. This was so much of an issue, that a couple of years back, photoshopped images were banned under French law.


There was an article in both The Telegraph and the BBC in late 2017 which reported that Marisol Touraine, the former health minister said: “It was intended to avoid promoting inaccessible ideals of beauty and to prevent anorexia among young children”.

A lot of people who exploit their natural form, receive ridiculously harsh death and/or rape threats, by the people who don’t like what they see.

This can predominantly be seen with Arvida Byström, where says that she received death and rape threats because of her unshaven legs. Things like this can affect a person’s mental health, an example of this is Jesy Nelson, from Little Mix.


In a BBC Three documentary which aired Autumn, 2019, Jesy Nelson said: ‘Odd One Out’, the singer said that comments about her appearance made her so unhappy, she “just wanted to die”.


She goes onto explain how the messages she was being sent, were heartbreaking as she just wanted people to look at her and think that she looks good. 

Therefore when bearing this in mind, when it comes to magazines, it’s almost as though it is the safer option, which is to give people what they want. 

Body image is criticized in situations where it isn’t necessary, such as Jesy, because she isn’t overweight. However, to some degree, it can be understood why the media has shun to the idea of displaying body images of all types – such as very overweight people. An example of this was when Tess Holliday appeared of the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, later resulting in her being accused by Piers Morgan of ‘glamorising obesity’.


This wasn’t necessarily the case, as the intentions were more to do with body positivity. There’s nothing wrong with being on the larger side, however, Cosmopolitan is a lifestyle magazine which is aimed at younger people. Therefore, by displaying an obese woman on the front page, is almost as if they are condoning the lifestyle

Future of body image representation in the media

Personally, I can’t ever see our bodies being properly represented in magazines, at least for a long time. As for fashion websites, I can however see there being some change, considering we are slowly, but surely, attempting to break the stereotypes surrounding body image.


Have any similar thoughts, or want to share a new perspective…please feel free to get in touch



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