American culture is becoming increasingly concerned with beauty and body image. Body image is “a subtle and complex phenomenon that represents the byproduct of the mind’s subjective translation of the experience of the physical body into a mental image it ” (Wolfe, Nichols, & Decelle, 2010). Much of people’s self-image is “formed by way of social comparison, ” in which people judge themselves against others, even those on television, to develop their own self-image (Festinger, 1954; Kalodner, 1997). For women in American culture, the media depicts few variations of females from which they can draw their ideas of beauty. Analyses of current programming have concluded that “women on television are overwhelmingly young and thin” (Wolfe, Nichols, & Decelle, 46).
One way of understanding how the media’s portrayal of beauty affects women is through self-conception through other. Much of how people see themselves comes from comparing themselves to others, including those in the media. Gradually, people “begin to perceive [themselves] from the perspective of another person, a viewpoint that gradually…becomes that of the society at large” (Wolfe, Nichols, & Decelle, 46). During this process of self-conception through other, people are likely to find disparities between how they look and the “cultural ideal” that they are seeing.
The distinctiveness postulate suggests that the more one perceives a stimulus, such as the “cultural ideal” of beauty, the more likely that person is to internalize that stimulus (Wolfe, Nichols, & Decelle, 49.) The media constantly emphasizes the importance of beauty with countless commercials about beauty products, and shows containing women trying to achieve the perfect appearance. Women on television “who are characterized as successful at work, at home, and in love are almost exclusively attractive, reinforcing the importance of beauty to a woman’s achievement and happiness” (Wolfe, Nichols, & Decelle, 39). Repeated exposure to programming with these messages can lead females to believe that success and happiness come from beauty, or that happiness is beauty, neither of which are necessarily true.
A prime example of this message can be seen when one watches Fox News. Fox is not only one of the top news sources in the country, but it also has prominent local branches in places such as Cleveland. The news network tends to be an informative and reliable news source, and is something that a woman may watch every morning (an example of consistent media influence). The majority of the femaleand reporters that appear on Fox 8 are young, slim, attractive blonde women, with hair that is highlighted, curled, and hairsprayed to look put-together and professional, and a good amount of make-up. Of the six female anchors on Fox Cleveland’s morning show, five are attractive, white, young looking blonde women that one would typically see in the media (the sixth female is African American, but with many Caucasian features). The Cleveland Fox 8 reporting team also includes five women, two of which are white, blonde, and all of which are attractive. These women are consistent representations of the “ideal career woman” figure in a rarely-seen position of power and authority in the media, and are part of the image that females consume when watching television. anchors
Five of Fox 8 News’s six female morning show anchors.All five women have a similar appearance. (images retrieved from http://www.fox8.com/about/station/newsteam/)
Another prominent female Fox 8 News host is Greta Van Susteren. She joined the Fox team in January of 2002, as the host of the prime-time news and interview program, "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." Greta has been a reporter for many news cases, including the trials of Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson, and those following the death of Anna Nicole Smith. She also provided on-site coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings (Fox 8 News Network, 2010). Her program “On the Record” is the highest rated cable news program in the 10:00 p.m. timeslot (Fox 8 News Network, 2010). Forbes Magazine also recently dubbed her one of the world’s 100 most powerful women (Fox 8 News Network, 1).
Before her employment with Fox 8 News, Greta was a lawyer and legal commentator for CNN. She was very “low-maintenance;” she wore minimal make-up and insisted that her brunette hair not be done for the camera – she ran her fingers through it and nothing more (Smolowe, J., 2002). In the month-long break between her employment at CNN and her new career at Fox, Greta cut and colored her hair and received an eyelift. When she appeared on Fox for her debut, Greta looked more like the typical image of celebrity beauty.
Before and after Great Van Susteren’s makeover. Retrieved from http://creativeadvertisingworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/greta-20van-20susteren-20cnn-2d2006.jpg
When People Magazine covered her story, they asked the following question about Greta’s make over: “Will Van Susteren's makeover increase the pressure on TV personalities to look ever younger? Her colleagues say it's already there. "The fact is that what you look like on television matters," says former NBC News president Reuven Frank. Anyone who has appeared on TV—or even in a home video—can relate. "When you go on television, you come home and look at the tape and you think, 'How did I look?' You don't care about what you said," says Court TV's Steve Brill. "That's what television is—it's a picture"” (Smolowe, J. 2) Greta says she was not pushed by her boss to receive the makeover, but whether this is true or not, it is likely that there was a pressure on her from the media field to better her appearance to increase success in her field.
Through watching the morning show on Fox 8, or Greta Van Susteren’s program, it is obvious that their anchors and reporters are highly valued for their appearance. While these news people are attractive to viewers (who are more likely to watch [those who they deem] good looking people than ugly), Fox may be imbedding a negative idea into the heads of their audience members. If women frequently watch Fox News, they may begin to judge themselves against these women. Television “cultivate[s] expectations about what beauty ‘looks’ like and how significant it is in everyday life” (Wolfe, Nichols, & Decelle, 40). Viewers are likely to attribute the successes of these prominent women in television to their beauty, and thus feel that they have to be attractive in order to be successful. This vision of beauty overshadows wisdom, hard work, and experience as a means to success, and, overall, supports a superficial society that values upon appearance instead of ability.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140
Fox 8 News Network (2010). Greta Van Susteren. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/bios/talent/greta-van-susteren/
Greta Van Susteren images. Retrieved from http://creativeadvertisingworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/greta-20van-20susteren-20cnn-2d2006.jpg
Kalodner, C. R. (1997). Media influences on male and female non-eating-disordered college students: A significant issue. Eating Disorders, 5(1), 47-57
Smolowe, J. (2002, February 18). Nipped, tucked and talking: Greta Van Susteren debuts a bold look on her new show—and breaks a tv news taboo by spilling the beans on her cosmetic surgery . People Magazine, 57(6), Retrieved from http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20136440,00.htm
Wolfe, M. A., Nichols, S. L. , & Decelle, D. (2010). Race/gender/media; considering diversity across audiences, content, and producers. Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson Education, Inc.