This could very well deteriorate into a chicken vs egg argument, but Laura (daxahol) made some rather interesting points in her comments to my Useful Idiot post. The big question is: Does the print media control the broadcast media or is the broadcast media controlling the print media… Even if we had an answer to this we could continue arguing the merits of historical and cultural shifts in the idea of attraction and beauty. But as my favorite general, Sun Tzu, once said, "Wage war with one enemy at a time lest your enemies gang up on you and kick you in the crotch!" I’m paraphrasing.
I mean, should we begin our discussion with media (art really) in the early 1500s when Sandro Botticelli was painting pictures of women with "child bearing" hips? Should we move forward to the late 1500s and early 1600s when Peter Paul Rubens was painting larger women and single-handedly gave millions of out of shape women in the future the ability to write RUBENESQUE in their Match.com profiles with a straight face?
The idea that media controls male perceptions of beauty is flawed for the simple reason that men don’t really care. They like what they like. Otherwise you wouldn’t have groups on the Interweb solely devoted to BBW or as some prefer to call them, plumpers.
Women are infinitely more concerned with their weight than men are. So long as you have big breasts and a firm (notice I didn’t say small) ass, you’re golden. Granted, most men want their women to be happy and healthy… but supermodel thin? Doubtful.
But for the sake of argument, lets explore some possible causes for unrealistic perception of women in the media. I could point out that the "ideal" weight isn’t generated by the media as much as it is created by lazy fashion mass merchandisers. I mean, it is much easier to set a standard (such as they are) that is general (size 0, size 1, size 2, size 3, etc) and hope that a majority of women fall into the pre-sized standards. Once the sizes became relatively standard, then the merchandisers saw that certain sizes sold better than others. With that data in hand, they ordered more "small" sizes. This information is shared with fashion magazine editors who in turn extrapolate that the major portion of the female population can be readily placed in the "smaller" size category.
Does this explain it? Hardly.
You then have to take in the very real idea of female vanity. Women don’t want to walk into a shop and buy a size 15… so they’ll buy a size 10 with the idea of dropping some weight and fitting into the new fashion item. Of course, this once again pads the numbers for merchandisers who order more size 10s and less size 15s. It is a vicious cylce of self-loathing. Women don’t want to admit they are bigger than they’d like so they buy smaller sizes in order to motivate themselves into losing weight.
This is an issue of both cultural and economic supply and demand.
Now, Maxim and Stuff and whatever other magazines do publish pictures of highly airbrushed women. But can they be blamed for perpetuating the myth of the female form? Once again it is a chicken egg argument. Are we responding (we as in Men) to an inherent attraction to skinnier women or are we responding to the available media perception? Its hard to say, but I do know that subconciously (and instinctually), the alpha male is more attracted to women with wider/child bearing hips. Historically, men have always liked larger women up until the late 50s and early 60s… guess what happened during that time? Women started controlling fashion magazines rather than just controlling editorial.
Want to blame someone for the start of female objectification and the beginning of the unrealistic interpretation of the general female form? In 1965 Helen Gurley Brown remade Cosmopolitan after the success of her bestseller Sex and the Single Girl.
Overnight millions of fashion mags started to innundate us with incredibly skinny girls who looked "healthier and more vibrant" than the normal housewife.
Am I saying that it is all your fault ladies? Yeah. I am. So long as you keep buying magazines (and fashions) that perpetuate the unrealistic image of women, you have no one else to blame but yourselves.