Children as young as three years old discriminate against their peers for being overweight, yet societal body ideals are culturally negotiated and genetically influenced. This volume in Lucent’s Hot Topics series presents a positive and healthy range of thinking about body image for young people at a moment when they are particularly vulnerable to anxieties related to image.
The book frames body image as a societal and historical construct. An overview relates how body ideals differ across time and culture, from the medieval Chinese practice of foot-binding to the unapologetic corporeality of Rubens and the dramatic hourglass figure popularized by the Gibson girl. Lankford also traces how social upheaval in the 1920s and 1960s led to more androgynous fashions. The current emphasis on physical fitness has also altered the shared cultural ideal. Media-saturated contemporary culture is appropriately characterized, as "in industrialized cultures, body images, including perceptions of overall physical appearance, is probably the most important component of an adolescent’s global self-esteem" (p. 12-13).
While Lankford admits it is difficult to determine the role that constant exposure to ideal body types plays in the development of self-esteem, he does demonstrate that most Americans are confronted with thousands of media-created body images on a daily basis. Testimony about manipulated media images is provided from Kate Winslet and America Ferrera, actresses who have spoken out against airbrushing and other common commercial image alteration techniques.
Since models tend to weigh 23 percent less than the average woman (p. 59), the dissonance between the ideals and the reality can produce eating and exercise disorders, particularly as advertisers play on teens’ and tweens’ insecurities in order to market products that purport to make them feel more attractive. Calvin Klein’s 1981 campaign featuring Brooke Shields is also presented as pioneering in its confusing conflation of sex, young people, and advertising. Most conversations of body image are gender-specific, so it is refreshing to see the disproportionate dimensions of G.I. Joe dolls quantified here as being as unrealistically disproportionate as those of Barbies and to see the Marlboro Man demonized for promoting unrealistic aesthetic ideals alongside the more traditional scapegoat, beauty pageants.
But the volume is not limited to a discussion of body dysmorphic disorders nor intended as a practical primer for improving body image. It also includes a discussion of body modification practices, beginning with counterculture techniques, such as tattoos, piercing, and body modification. The chapter on decoration also covers plastic and reconstructive surgeries, collagen and Botox injections, and liposuction. The implicit conceptualization of body modification as an attempt at altering image is interesting.
The text is supplemented with discussion questions for each chapter, an appendix with organizational contact information, and an excellent bibliography for further reading on the subject in the form of books, periodicals, and websites. Endnotes link to source material from citation throughout. Recommended for school libraries.