Self image shouldn’t be governed by media influence

Matthew Plotnik

Ever look at yourself in the mirror and wish you were like your favorite actor or actress?

It’s common for us to desire a specific look or weight because society portrays a distinct mold. Media outlets have a stronghold on the “ideal person.”

Take a good look at television shows or magazines, which usually depict flawlessly beautiful models. Rarely do we see the Average Joe modeling for Tommy Hilfiger or leading a cast on a television show or movie, unless the depiction is negative.

Unfortunately, the same “perfect” image is portrayed to the young audience as Disney princesses have stomachs the size of their arms. It is a prevalent, unhealthy image that urges young women to do whatever it takes to look like the media icon.

I never really understood how much of a problem this was until a recent discussion in class. We were learning about an online site called Second Life, a virtually simulated world. Users create avatars, or characters, that live and breathe within this fantasy world. People join this site because it allows them to lead a separate existence. A socially awkward, overweight postal worker might create a character that has a chiseled body, tons of friends and his own business. Sounds harmless, right?

One of my classmates raised his hand with a concerned look on his face. He asked our guest speaker, a video-game engineer, whether this program should be seen as a problem because of the message it sends. The student believed the program allows people to escape the real truth that they are not happy with themselves and should work to fix their problems, whether it is their weight or appearance. The speaker responded that maybe society as a whole really has the problem.

We do have a problem: I have been persuaded by television advertisements. I try to diet and exercise not only because it’s good for me, but also because I want a specific body type. I have it in my head that I need to have a six-pack and large muscles to be attractive — but that just isn’t true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not in the eye of mass media. This concept is difficult to accept because it’s become a part of our culture.

I don’t think any of us could really imagine a time when attractive people were 50 pounds overweight and had imperfections, or a time when we didn’t look for the women whose stomachs measured the same as their arms.

Unfortunately, I’m being idealistic. The media has an incredibly powerful and pervasive grip on American society. Resistance seems futile, but we must remember who is giving us this message.

Who are these media giants to tell us that we are not ideal? It is not their right to dictate the definition of special. We are all ideal if we believe it to be so. Our favorite actors and actresses are no better than we are; they are just playing fictional parts.

The next time you look at yourself in the mirror and wish you had a smaller stomach, bigger breasts or larger muscles, remember that you define who you want to be, not some advertising executive or studio mogul.

Matthew Plotnik is a columnist for the Daily Trojan of the University of Southern California. This column was made available through U-Wire.