As a student of psychiatry, I have always been fascinated with psychology and the intricate dynamics of the mind. What intrigues me even more is the how we as a society have learned to use and manipulate our knowledge of psychology to perpetuate commercialism to the point where our conscious and subconscious mind works on the basis of calculated triggers and infiltrating suggestion. One of the largest markets involved in this type of psychological manipulation is the weight loss industry, which also overlaps with any product marketed towards body image. What’s also interesting to note, is how over the years our perception of beauty and body image has changed because of this psychological marketing.
Because women have been the ultimate target for body image, I’m going to focus on the changes associated with their commercial markets. Let’s examine a bit of fashion history. If we look back at the Victorian era, the concept of beauty was often defined by women with tiny waists, milky white skin, and hair styled in large updos. To obtain this idealized image women would often wear very tight and constricting corsets and cake on huge amounts of facial powder to obtain that milky white appearance. Needless to say, the level of discomfort was often overlooked and painfully ignored, just to achieve the ideals of society. In the 1920s and 1930s fashion began to take an edgier form and women began exploring more masculine clothing that incorporated such pieces as the blazer – eventually developing into the woman’s business attire. Now the norm was a more structured silhouette rather than flowing fabric which was reserved for formal gowns and Sunday dresses. In the 1950s and 1960s the “voluptuous woman” with curves began appearing in ads and fashion magazines. This of course was the Marilyn Monroe era and she became the ideal body type for every woman to follow. The 1980s and 1990s returned back to the more slimmer and thinner woman as the ideal figure but with more emphasis now on larger breasts – hence the invention and propagation of breast implants. However, interestingly enough the mid 1990s also introduced the concept of it being o.k for a woman to have a more visible behind. You may remember Sir Mixalot’s famous “I Like Big Butts” song that till this day is often associated with the “booty trend”.
The point I want you to understand is that there is no concrete concept of beauty. History has proven this to us with it’s constant and erratic fluctuations in what is perceived as beautiful. So why does this change occur? Who creates this change? And more importantly, why do we follow this change? Our society is full of celebrities and models who we deem beautiful and flawless – but are they really? For example, Jennifer Lopez was one of the first singers/actresses to flaunt the “perfect ass”. But would we consider her body beautiful if we were living during the 1930s? Today’s runway models would most likely be laughed at (and referred to as prepubescent boys) if they tried to pose for the calendars of 1960s. And the models of Victoria Secret would most likely be considered trashy whores of the Victorian era.
The fact of the matter is that our perception of beauty often gets defined by those who can profit most from it. For this reason you’ll notice that regardless of what trendy clothing store you go into, you’ll find the same style in every single one. The models we see on t.v all share similar body types, and conforming to what is “normal” is what makes you beautiful. And if your body type doesn’t conform to this norm, then where do you stand?
So the next time you’re walking in a mall and see a giant Gap, H&M, Guess, or Abercrombie ad, step back and think about the message behind the picture. Then think about the intentions of the company that made the add. Then think about how those intentions make you feel about yourself and your body. Angry yet? Congratulations – You just understood corporate mind control.