As you guide your grocery cart toward the checkout line and past the magazines, an impossibly toned bikini-clad beauty catches your eye. The headline reads ‘Christina Milian’s Amazing Post-Baby Beach Bod!’ You want to keep pushing toward the cashier but you can’t resist picking it up. Really? No stretch marks? No cellulite? Instantly feeling frumpy and about 10 pounds (okay, maybe 20) overweight, you trudge on.Back at the casa you turn on the TV and flip through the channels as you unpack your groceries. “Jennifer Aniston, fantastic at 42!” “Demi Moore looking younger than ever with hubby Ashton Kutcher!” “The hot young cast of Gossip Girl!” Maybe the news will provide a much-needed dose of reality. Oh, there’s Kate Middleton floating down the steps of a private jet looking as though she’s just stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Defeated, you sit down with a bag of potato chips and watch Hoarders—guaranteed to make you feel like an extremely efficient supermodel by comparison.
Mass media has an insidious effect on our self-esteem. Under the onslaught of these glossy images, it’s a quick trip from feeling the intense need for a make-over and a brand new wardrobe to just giving up all hope of ever measuring up and inhaling a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Both ends of the spectrum have negative consequences. Let’s face it; a spending spree is out of the question for most of us. And while, there’s nothing wrong with indulging your sweet tooth on occasion, binging only leads to a spiral of shame.
Understanding the artifice of these images is the key to navigating the barrage of idealized beauty with your self-esteem, and wallet, intact. Remember that it’s not reality—it is carefully manufactured entertainment. Looking fantastic is a job for these women. They are paid to constantly work out and always look impeccable. In fact, most have a team of professionals dedicated to their physical maintenance. And, of course, lighting and the magic of Photoshop are also a vital part of the illusion. If you really think about it, that’s a lot of work for a fairly vapid result.
The good news is that celebs and fashion magazines have been steadily fighting back against overzealous retouching. Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, and Jane Fonda have all, very publicly, demanded that their photos not be retouched. Jessica Simpson recently graced the cover of Marie Claire completely barefaced and unretouched. Harper’s Bazaar, Life & Style, and US Weekly have all run pictorials touting all-natural photos. And Dove’s successful Campaign for Real Beauty uses regular women with a variety of skin tones and body types in all of their advertisements.
Read Related: Why Women’s Magazines are Bad for You
And now even the AMA is getting into the act. In a June 21, 2011, press release, the association announced its new policy regarding Body Image and Advertising to Youth addressing the link between unrealistic media images and eating disorders in adolescents.
“The appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image. In one image, a model’s waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist,” said Dr. McAneny. “We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.”
When you’re leafing through the latest copy of Elle and find yourself heaving a deep sigh of longing and resignation, repeat this mantra: These images are a fantasy. I am a beautiful, vibrant, interesting, REAL woman.
So enjoy the pretty pictures. Indulge in the fantasy. Appreciate high fashion. But remember that the average woman in the U.S. is a size 14, while size 10 is considered ‘plus size’ in the world of modeling. And know that you are far more beautiful than any starlet or supermodel, because you are living a full and rounded life. Enjoying food. Raising your family. Cultivating a world of interests beyond yourself. Exercising to stay healthy for your family. And should your confidence falter, there’s no shame in googling ‘stars without make-up’ or ‘celebs with cellulite,’ for a reassuring reality check every now and then—or as often as you feel the need.