Great Expectations

What do G.I. Joe action figures and Playgirl magazines have in common? They’re both media ploys that subconsciously drill unrealistic physical and social expectations into your mind.

Jennifer Hsu/Guardian

When our eyes are subject to thousands of images of airbrushed models and television shows such as “”America’s Next Top Model,”” it’s no surprise that media has skewed society’s standard for what women should look like. Susan Bordo, a professor at the University of Kentucky specializing in modern crises of the female body and beauty, argues that “”ideals of beauty can be endlessly tinkered with … remaining continually elusive, requiring constant new purchases, new kinds of work on the body.”” It’s easy for media to set the standard of beauty, but it’s even easier for media to change the standard whenever it sees fit.

When media is blamed for setting unrealistic social expectations, it is usually the female population that is believed to be the victim of airbrushed celebrities and plastic surgery; however, males are subject to the Adonis complex, a condition describing male physical insecurities. According to Harrison Pope, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University who has done extensive research on the Adonis complex, in the last 25 years Playgirl models have lost 12 pounds and have gained 27 pounds of muscle on average. In addition, such subconscious advertising has plagued even child accessories. Pope also said that G.I. Joe action figures have changed from an original 32-inch waist and 12-inch biceps to a more updated 29-inch waist and 16-inch biceps. It’s clear that media has moved toward a less realistic expectation of the male form.

With media influence becoming so widespread after the introduction of the Internet, it is impossible to deny its power in controlling how the population looks at itself. It’s not just limited to standards of beauty: Media controls what kind of music we listen to, how we view issues and even what we wear. The media sets social expectations and because it has such a wide audience, whatever it says easily becomes a universal standard – even if it’s for the worse.