Feminism and Women’s Self Image

Published 22 Jun 2017

Women’s looks have primarily been influenced by media and the images it projects. From early adolescence, a girl begins placing her value on what is the “norm” according to peers, television, movies, magazines and billboards. Since its inception, the feminist movement has attempted to counter the negative, false images imprinted upon girls’ self images.

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The standards of beauty that the media portrays are unrealistic and set young girls up for a negative self image. When a young girl, then later a woman, never feels as if she is good enough, based on media influences, she is left feeling less-than and inferior. As a woman ages she becomes defined as even less desirable. The media rarely portrays a woman over 30 as beautiful, vibrant, sexy or desirable. The ingrained message women (and men) receive is that mature women are not attractive or sexy. This continual bombardment of unachievable standards sets women up for lifetimes of poor self-image.

This image, usually contrived from seeing models as idols, is at the root of the problem. The Barnard/Columbia Women’s Handbook says, “The range of actual body types in the past was no different than today. What has changed is what has been set up as the ideal. Studies have shown that while 25 years ago the average model weighed 8% less than the average American woman, today’s model weighs 23% below the national average. The exclusion of so many women from representation is a denial of the wide range of bodies and appearances. Instead of marveling at the assortment of body shapes, we continually compare ourselves with each other. We begin to objectify our own and other women’s bodies.”

So women have ingrained a sense of competition with other women. They also feel innately inferior to the “standard”. Women have these feelings more strongly than men. In the article, “Mirror, Mirror” the author explains, “Why are women so much more self-critical than men? Because women are judged on their appearance more than men, and standards of female beauty are considerably higher and more inflexible. Women are continually bombarded with images of the ‘ideal’ face and figure – what Naomi Woolf calls ‘The Official Body’. Constant exposure to idealized images of female beauty on TV, magazines and billboards makes exceptional good looks seem normal and anything short of perfection seem abnormal and ugly. It has been estimated that young women now see more images of outstandingly beautiful women in one day than our mothers saw throughout their entire adolescence.”

Since its inception, feminism has attempted to correct this faulty image. According to www.usinfo.state.gov, feminism is defined as “The view, articulated in the 19th century, that women are inherently equal to men and deserve equal rights and opportunities. More recently, a social and political movement that took hold in the United States in the late 1960s, soon spreading globally.”

Feminism tries to make the media take responsibility for its influence and the images it projects. In a talk given by feminist journalist Rose Simone, she said, “A good journalist is aware of the fact that his or her reality is not the only reality. A good journalist should try to reflect the diversity that is out there . . . and the ability to do that involves being able to see and understand that just because you have not experienced something, such as racism, or just because you would personally not perceive the same thing as another person, that doesn’t make the other person’s set of experiences less real or less worthy of reporting.”

Other ways feminism attempts to overcome negative beauty/body images are by education and instilling a sense of responsibility. In “The Good Body,” author Eve Ensler says, “The Good Body began with me and my particular obsession with my “imperfect” stomach. I have charted this self-hatred, recorded it, tried to follow it back to its source. Here, unlike the women in The Vagina Monologues, I am my own victim, my own perpetrator. Of course, the tools of my self victimization have been made readily available. The pattern of the perfect body has been programmed into me since birth. But whatever the cultural influences and pressures, my preoccupation with my flab, my constant dieting, exercising, worrying, is self-imposed. I pick up the magazines. I buy into the ideal. I believe that blond, flat girls have the secret.”

Although feminism has made great strides since the 1960s, there is still a long way to go in enhancing women’s self image. As long as women compare themselves to false images of perfection portrayed by the media, they will be haunted with low self worth and a need to reach an unattainable goal.


  • Public Face/Private Suffering: the female body (Chapter 3, Reshaping the female body: the dilemma of cosmetic surgery) by Kathy Davis Beauty Secrets (Chapter 3, Dress as Success)
  • The Barnard/Columbia Women’s Handbook 1992 (Chapter 3) The Good Body by Eve Ensler
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