CSUN adjunct sociology professor Melanie Klein advocated the understanding of media images and their effect on the self-esteem during a lecture held by CSUN’s Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating (JADE) Wednesday for national eating disorders awareness week.
“By being constantly plugged in and mediated to, our culture has lost the connection between mind and body,” said Klein, who also teaches women’s studies and sociology at Santa Monica College (SMC).
JADE’s theme for this year’s eating disorder awareness week focused on internal and external beauty, said Grace Wiesmann, JADE graduate coordinator.
“We wanted to promote a positive body image that wasn’t only based on what the media shows us,” Wiesmann said. “We want to enjoy who we are and recognize what we enjoy about ourselves.”
Klein said students need to become aware of how much media they consume, whether it be through television, advertisements, internet or via smart phones, and learn how to deconstruct those images to cultivate and maintain a positive self-image.
Klein, who has personally experienced disordered eating and poor self-image, said reducing media consumption could help individuals feel better about themselves because they remove the temptation to compare themselves to others.
“Body images have fundamentally changed in the past 20 years,” Klein said.
Klein emphasized that the images with which people are inundated daily do not reflect reality although the ideals they represent are expected to be emulated.
Beauty icons from the 1950s and 60s were just that, icons, not images to replicate, she said. Today, women are told they can and should look like modern beauty icons and are shamed when they cannot fit that mold.
For the past ten years, Klein assigned her students an exercise: they are to stand still, clothed, in front of a mirror for fifteen minutes followed by another fifteen minutes without clothes. Klein said she receives similar feedback every semester.
“Students tell me that they noticed they started picking apart their entire bodies and identifying flaws,” she said. “So I ask, how did you come up with the idea that these things were wrong?”
Klein said there is a correlation between the increasingly provocative images distributed through media and the rise in body loathing. She cited Facebook as a portal through which people are seeing and scrutinizing themselves, in addition to films that emphasize beauty as the fundamental reflection of a person’s worth.
Relationships with the opposite sex have also been affected by this media influence. Klein said studies show that young men have difficulty achieving and maintaining erections because they are more aroused by altered images of women.
“When (men) get women’s clothes off, they’re not as turned on,” she said. “Real women have stretch marks, moles and dimples.”
Klein said men and women must shift these perceptions to maintain perspective.
“Instead of complaining that my legs are jiggly, why am I not grateful that I have two legs? Some people don’t have two legs,” she said. “But that’s not enough, we’re pissed that the legs that allow us to walk do not look like those on the magazine.”
This creation of an unattainable reality has permeated modern society. Klein said no demographic has been spared from this criticism, including pregnant women, men and children.
Junior Dinia Sepulveda, 21, said she attended the lecture to educate herself in order to help family members who have eating disorders, one of whom started dieting at 4-years-old.
“It opened my eyes to the (importance) of not staying quiet,” the sociology major said. “(My cousin) is a teenager now and I want to take the responsibility to say something.”
When a friend or loved one asks the dreaded question, ‘Does this make me look fat?’ rather than assume they are seeking validation, Klein said to consider they may be unaware of what they look like.
An impulse to compare bodies and engage in self-deprecating behavior may alter the way people physically see themselves.
“You do not go from pretty to ugly or from thin to fat in five minutes,” she said. “There has been no change in your actual body but a shift in your body image.”
Although the mental reflex to compare oneself to others is natural due to the way modern media socializes its audience, Klein said a daily exercise could change that habit.
“Rather than pick out what is wrong with you, find what you like about yourself or what you are grateful for,” she said. “The way we are treating ourselves now is a waste of time.”
Klein said that taking two minutes to have a positive conversation with oneself could effectively shift negative body images and bridge the gap between mind and body.
“It’s a waste of energy to put ourselves down,” she said. “We’ve lost the magic and miracle of our bodies.”