Psychological and Cultural Causes
The thinner and the less curvaceous the body, the higher is a woman placed in the hierarchy of physical attractiveness. Kareena Kapoor’s size zero figure allured millions of fans across the country to attain the impossible. Through much of the Indian history a full-bodied figure was esteemed, but in recent decades, stemming from the social pressures to conform to cultural standards of beauty, women aspire for the “swimsuit” body and restrict food intake.
It's a two way causal process really, with the society affecting the media/culture and vice-versa. For eg. to advertise a shaving blade, a woman touches the soft cheeks of the man. Through the process of classical conditioning people start associating attractive women to products. This not only leads to objectization of women, but contributes to a larger causal effect in society where women are desirable only if they are of a certain "type". This turns into a vicious circle, with the media then, feeding this already built notion and expectation in the minds of its audience.
Naomi Wolf, an American Author says that competition amongst women on the basis of their bodies is vigorously encouraged by the beauty industry, for it has a vested interest in women’s dissatisfaction. This is proving to be true in the Indian context with the establishment of a flamboyant and large "beauty" and "healthcare" industry that plays not only on the weight factor but also the colour of the skin. The findings by Hemal Shroff, on body image and eating disturbances in India replicate and extend previous work in the U.S., Australia, and Sweden, suggest that there are similar potential risk factors such as media and interpersonal influences, cross-culturally, that may explain the development of eating and shape-related problems.
Thus, research validates the fact that women’s bodies are socially constructed as objects to be watched, and assessed. Ironically, women themselves engage in self evaluation. Such beliefs then, ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is only when women free themselves of the “beauty myth” and get sensitized to the social construction of their bodies as objects and understand that cosmetics and clothes are just one of the forms of self expression among an array of others, that they can start growing beyond the social constructions of femininity, respecting their bodies and focus on staying healthy.
Our common erroneous perceptual hypotheses about women’s bodies need to be altered. Each one of us, as a woman should make an effort to not blindly conform to the prevailing aesthetics and to not be dependent on men’s preferences, but let the health concerns govern body satisfaction. It is also incumbent on men to expand their thought and look beyond a woman's body. It is a slow process no doubt but concerted efforts from both sexes is imperative.
Dear Fashion Industry/Media,
Please look beyond the unhealthy and unrealistic images to which you have become immune. I urge you to widen your perspective and pay heed to the unfortunate social implications of the fantasies for men and skinny physical ideals for women that you propagate.
(This column has research contributed by Divyanshi Chugh)