Ever heard of the saying, ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder?’ Indeed, the topic of beauty is a controversial topic that concerns individual morality and ethics. It contains many challenges, especially how it should be treated by the media.
The most obvious challenge is the difficulty of upholding the media’s fourth estate role of allowing us to define ourselves “in terms of the self knowledge we are able to distil from the images in news and entertainment.” (Horne, Lucky Country) To put it cynically, this is because media organisations are corporate organisations with commercial ties to the beauty industry that dictate the notion of ‘beauty’. Schultz argues that “the news media has become “a source of real and significant power and influence, an industry prepared to exercise and pursue self-interested commercial, political and cultural agendas” (Schultz 1998, pg 1). So, rather than presenting beauty objectively, “beauty is perceived as whatever promises that product offers and the masses agree with it.” (Helium, Stembridge) By presenting beauty as difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries increase their profits and growth (Media Awareness Network: Beauty and Body Image in the Media, http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm)
Clearly, the media has a tough time to represent beauty realistically according to our everyday life standards, because of their financial interests. This is the major challenge to overcome. Ads from the beauty industry and their endorsements from beautiful celebrities like Jessica Alba for Revlon in the media only add to this unrealistic portrayal of women. The representation of women’s beauty in the media can also be called ‘tabloid news’ so the commercial interests of media companies are even clearer. When celebrities are just so gorgeous nowadays, much more than normal people, it is really difficult for media companies to give a balanced representation of physical appearances, especially if are trying to profit from tabloid news. We all remember the tabloid magazine criticisms of the ‘best and worst dressed’ and the ‘best and worst beach bodies’, right? These only further pursue this bias towards ridiculous standards set by the beauty industry. As Hirst and Patching say, “Here we begin to examine the contradiction between the idealistic view of journalism as the fourth estate, and the competing view that the media is just another business”. (Hirst, M. and Patching R (2007) Journal Ethics: Arguments and Cases, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2nd Ed.
The Media Awareness Network paints a contrasting picture on beauty to commercial media organisations. Why? Precisely because they are a non-profit organisation that aims to achieve a 4th estate watchdog and guarddog role on how well the media are keeping citizens informed, and how the media is affecting people’s lifestyle choices. They report that the media’s representations of beauty are unattainable for most women which can lead to unhealthy eating habits and increased self esteem issues. As media activist Jean Kilbourne concludes, “Women are sold to the diet industry by the magazines we read and the television programs we watch, almost all of which make us feel anxious about our weight.” (Media Awareness Network: Beauty and Body Image in the Media, http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm)
This challenge of balancing social responsibility with their commercial interests is probably the biggest hurdle in the media’s representation of beauty. If we don’t take action to reform this unrealistic picture of beauty, the media and beauty industry’s encouragement of ‘perfecting our physical appearances’ will only provoke serious effects. Depression, loss of self-esteem and eating disorders name but a few.