The Effect Body Image has on Gender

What it means to be a pretty girl or a handsome guy stems from multiple sources in society. These characteristics vary, depending on gender and the internalization of these ideas. Female body ideals are strongly associated with thinness, large breasts, and other signifiers of "sexiness." Male ideals are associated with leanness, but more specifically with muscularity. These body ideals come from society itself and what is portrayed in the media. As they become older, women and men watch, internalize, and attempt to become the ideal body. Internalization causes negative effects on both men and women. They began to work for these unrealistic bodies, and most fail to do so. This failure causes a psychological toll because they feel the only way to be desirable and acceptable is by having these ideal body images. The high level of desire to achieve the ideal status leads to drastic measures, such as plastic surgery.

Society’s standards for men and women play a crucial role in how they feel they should look. Once these standards are constantly brought forth, people began to internalize them. For example, the emphasis on weight in America leads women to going the extra mile to be thin (Bessenoff & Snow, 2006). One of the main outlets that men and women receive these unrealistic ideals from is the media. It serves as the main outlet because, since women and men are exposed early to shows and movies that display classic gender stereotypes and characteristics. The fictional characters show what it means to be a boy or a girl, in terms of appearances. Young boys and girls tended to take notice of the princess who has luscious hair, a perfect nose, and displayed female stereotypical behavior (Coyne, Linder, Rasmussen, Nelson, & Birkbeck, 2016). Upon seeing this, children begin to feel that they are only noticeable if these gender characteristics are achieved. This internalization sets the course of their path to incongruence between their ideal self and actual self. This incongruence can lead to feelings of anxiety and distress, when the person’s ideal body image and actual body do not match up. In the example of Disney princesses, they represent a thin ideal that is unrealistically positive and desirable (Coyne et al., 2016). In many cases, such incongruence leads to extreme measures to achieve the thin ideal. The most common form this measure takes place in is plastic surgery. 

Most people who get cosmetic surgery want to enhance something about themselves. They want to fix an insecurity that has long made them ashamed to be who they are. This body dissatisfaction stems from the media and the ideal body image they portray (Coyne et al., 2016; Bessenoff & Snow, 2006). Cosmetic surgery is used to help achieve this ideal body image, which puts this field of surgery in a positive light for many. Due to women being objectified, they see cosmetic surgery as a way to enhance their appearance (Menzel, Sperry, Small, Thompson, Sarwer, & Cash, 2011). Women internalize these objectifications from society and use it to fuel their desire for cosmetic surgery. The pressures surrounding women from family and peers to get cosmetic surgery leads to more body dissatisfaction (Menzel et al., 2011). It is seen that way because they are meeting the standards of others that they have internalized over time. In terms of men, they are reduced to their stereotypes. They are supposed to portray what strength and power looks like, with their abs, chiseled jaws, and perfect hair. Some of these same characteristics come from Disney princesses in childhood. Men follow the trends of society so they can fit into the schema as best as they can. The more cosmetic surgery is favored, the more men see wrong with their body (Menzel et. al, 2011). Overall, society plays a crucial role in why and what each gender decides to enhance with cosmetic surgery. Men and women play by society’s rules on what makes them their gender and what is expected of their gender. 

Observing the effect of media on gender is something that fascinates me. It was shocking to see how the internalization of such ideal body images can lead people to the extreme. I think a topic such as this is important because the reason people choose to get cosmetic surgery needs to be evaluated more. I think these findings need to be considered more when people have psychological evaluations to determine if they need surgery. Cosmetic surgery changes a person’s appearance and the reason for doing so important. If their internalization of this ideal body image is the reason, they do not need to have such a life-changing surgery. They would be doing this surgery because of what other people think they should look like. This could lead to multiple surgeries after, considering that the standard being forced onto them is unrealistically perfect. The desire constantly is fueled by the need to achieve the ideal body image because that image is seen as acceptable one in society. They would be chasing a reality that does not exist, which would only cause them psychological harm in the end. I think the subject of the ideal body image is important because the media should include more diversity. The ideal body image of a woman is someone with large breasts, full lips, high cheekbones, and a skinny waist. The ideal body image of a man is chiseled cheekbones, washboard abs, and perfect hair. These ideas do not reflect every man and woman, so they should not represent every person on TV. Diversity is important in the media because it shows that people do not have to have all of these specific characteristics to be an attractive man or woman. The media portrays an ideal that cannot be obtained, even by plastic surgery. I think they do not need to advocate for the “perfect” man or woman, but they need to advocate for the variety of men and women. Teaching people to love their actual selves, rather than an unrealistic self is so important. When you love and are comfortable with yourself, the pressure to get surgery from the outside world does not matter. The important thing is that people stop doing cosmetic surgery to fulfill this need to be perfect. The definition of perfection does not rest with other people because everyone has different definitions. It lies in what make people beautiful to themselves and not others. 



Bessenoff, Daniel Snow, G.,R. (2006). Absorbing society's influence: Body image self-discrepancy and internalized shame. Sex Roles54(9-10), 727-731. doi:

Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E., Nelson, D. A., & Birkbeck, V. (2016). Pretty as a princess: Longitudinal effects of engagement with Disney Princesses on gender stereotypes, body esteem, and prosocial behavior in children. Child Development87(6), 1909–1925. 

Menzel, J. E., Sperry, S. L., Small, B., Thompson, J. K., Sarwer, D. B., & Cash, T. F. (2011). Internalization of appearance ideals and cosmetic surgery attitudes: A test of the tripartite influence model of body image. Sex Roles65(7-8), 469-477. doi: