My Project: UR Beautiful: A Fight Against the Western Thin Ideal
My project focuses on body image and the thin ideal, and how the media has both perpetuated this ideal and been used to fight against it. It looks at the history of the thin ideal, how these ideals have been portrayed in Seventeen magazine over time, and then potential solutions and what needs to be focused on in order to create a society that values women of all shapes and sizes.
Talking about body image has always been important to me. I’ve seen how images in the media have affected me and people I care about, and for a long time I’ve wanted to be a part of combatting that. I had a vague idea about creating a documentary on the subject my senior year of high school, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. Then when I got to college, I joined the club UR Images because I liked the idea of being part of a club that promoted body positivity around campus. The idea kind of took off from there.
My initial question with this research was, “Is it possible for the thin ideal to go away?” I figured that looking at the past was one of the best ways to predict the future, so I wanted to look at magazine images over time and see if and how they changed, and if that change suggested that the thin ideal could eventually fade away.
I was also asking about solutions: what types of solutions have been shown to work, what hasn’t, and what other research suggests is the best way to fight against the thin ideal.
I saw a change in the type of language that Seventeen used to talk about women’s bodies. There’s more of an empowering tone about loving your body, but the types of images haven’t changed at all from 1950 to now.
So there’s this odd way that the media acknowledges and attempts to address body image issues, but it’s not in a way that’s completely beneficial. There are a lot of ways that even positive media campaigns need to watch the way they talk about women’s bodies. I also found there are a lot of different media interventions and media activism that do a good job of helping foster a positive body image to young girls.
There is a lot of work to be done and we should aim to be intentional in that work, but I do think that we are getting closer to a point where thin doesn’t have to be the ideal.
Dr. Nicole Maurantonio is such an amazing person and was a big help on this project. She helped me shape this project and pushed me to take it in directions I probably wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. She was good at helping me sort out all of these ideas in my head that I wasn’t sure quite how to articulate.
The best part about having her as a mentor was that she was also just so excited about my project; to have someone who is as enthusiastic about your ideas as you are is so wonderful and it encouraged me to keep going when there were small rough patches. It made me feel good as a researcher that I was tackling a topic that people cared about and were interested in.
Conducting research was an amazing experience, especially because this was an independent project and I was driving the whole process. In a lot of ways that was scary because I’d never done anything like that before, but it was also a lot of fun and really exciting.
I’ve been working on the project since summer 2015 and I wrote a 20-page paper based off of it that I got to present at a conference in Baltimore. That is something I wouldn’t have expected to happen before. I made a documentary that will hopefully be used to educate younger girls about the topic.
The coolest part was probably that I got to look at issues of Seventeen from all the way back to 1950. The old magazines were so different and cool, and I got to spend all day looking at magazines, so even though the process was a lot of work, it was definitely a lot of fun as well.