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?
Arvida Byström is known for challenging perceptions of femininity and regularly poses with her body hair on show. She is a Swedish model and photographer, who uses her body to ask and raise questions about the representation of women’s bodies.
Looking like a model up to a certain point, yet potentially trying to bridge the gap between model perfection, and everyday reality – Byström campaigns against it being the norm for women to shave.
You could assume that this image is quite shocking, initially. The reason for this is that when you think of magazines, and the media in general, women aren’t portrayed in this way, ie. displaying hairy legs. 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 know what’s normal, however, the way that society perceives women is almost as though we should be a certain way. Therefore, when we see something that we are not used to seeing everyday, gives it more of a “wow factor”.
Although, saying that, this “wow factor” is what (cleverly) draws us to this image. 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’. However, 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. 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 ago 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 Ardiva Bystorm, 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 is 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. She was accused by Piers Morgan of ‘glamorising obesity’, which wasn’t necessarily the case, as it was 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 saying that it’s ok to be like that.
Personally, I can’t ever see our bodies being properly represented in magazines, or 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