Body diversity and inclusion is becoming a popular presence in mainstream media as new role models of different shapes and sizes come to the foreground. Alongside it, there has been a realisation that the lack of different body forms in movies, advertising and TV can lead to negative self-perceptions of self amongst women of all ages. Yet, the tone of popular culture appears to be changing for women. Role models are now diversified, and supermodels don’t have to be a size -2 but rather reflect a more realistic version of the modern woman.
Until this century, there was always one type of woman that held precedence in mainstream society. In the 1950s, it was the housewife. In recent decades it was the supermodels of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Yet, now, with body positivity movements and greater body diversity on TV and in magazines, role models like Ashley Graham and Lizzo have come to the foreground as body inclusive activism has become popular in modern culture.
To the naked eye, it might seem that media culture is expanding its blinkered perceptions of the female body, to include more realistic and diverse images of women. Nevertheless, women are still being objectified in modern media in their highly gendered and feminised roles. Just a look to the expanding Jumanji franchise, with Karen Gillian, whose outfit has been highlighted as only affirming female objectification, can show that the problem has not disappeared. It seems that mainstream media, in print, film and television, have stubbornly ignored body diversity for so long that now it is finally being embraced, they are once again behind because they still not only neglect body diversity in their advertisements and blockbuster movies but there is little to no representation for the non-binary or transgender even in TV shows which were once known for their ground-breaking subject matter, like Ru Paul’s Drag Race. This may appear inconsequential to some, but studies show that nearly 80% of women feel that representations of the female body in film, advertising and TV make them feel insecure. That’s a startling statistic in the modern century where the movies and advertising companies that simultaneously pride their brand on body inclusion, also are the worst offenders for lack of diversity.
Not only this but with the creation of shows like Love Island the problem appears to only be getting worse. Love Island is incredibly problematic in many ways—such as its lack of diversity on all counts, including in the representation of the female body. Yet, Love Island has not only worsened the problem for women, by highlighting that only a particular form of woman is sexy or attractive. For instance, the one ‘plus-size’ contestant last year (Anna) spent the entire time on the show calling herself and being known as the body diversity contestant, rather than being an average participant. This year there isn’t even that—body diversity is at a definite low point for the show, each is supposed to be tanned, cellulite free and flawless. Not only has the popularity of Love Island amongst young people affirmed the exclusion of different versions of the female body but it has only exaggerated the issue by projecting the problem onto men, also. The idea of a heterosexual, masculine man is now a gym-honed muscular body. The growing popularity of protein shakes, the gym and magazines like Men’s Health—not to mention the ever-encroaching Instagram—means that male role models now include Chris Pratt, Dwayne Johnson and the Avengers. Hardly the epitome of body diversity. One look at the line-up of male contestants on this year’s Love Island shows a consistently similar body type. Now, men of different ages and backgrounds feel an immense pressure to go the gym to achieve this look that is supposedly the ‘perfect’ version of the modern man. Not to mention, as the contestants inevitably leave the fully catered villa back into reality, they use social media platforms like Instagram to continue the projection of a particular body form by promoting their bikini pictures alongside an advertisement for tummy shrinking tea and teeth whitening kits. All products that have often been proved to be dangerous for consumers but exploit young men and women, as they rush to buy them whilst the influencer has yet to try them but simply cashes the check.
Advertising, movies and TV shows, particularly Love Island, have huge platforms in which to make a stance and send a message to those watching but consistently fail to do so. It is well-known that poor representations of the body can have a huge effect on a person’s self-worth and perception of their own body at all ages but particularly in one’s formative younger years. Having low self-esteem as a result of your particular body shape being underrepresented in the mainstream can affect a girl’s entire perceptions from childhood to old age. It is also something which is entirely avoidable. Changing the perceptions onscreen of what is attractive or the average by widening and diversifying those on a public stage can help to improve self-perception for both men and women rather than exacerbating the issue.