The self-portrait essay

My understanding of the society I live in changes from day to day. When Obama was elected, I had great hopes for this country and that racial equality would finally balance out and that old prejudices would disappear - Black people would get better jobs, everyone would be equal, and the Democrats would take care of us and see to it that my parents and their parents get a fair deal here in America. I had unrealistic expectations, like most young people. I did not realize that the economy would go down so quickly. But I have the encouragement of my family and church, to forge ahead and attain my goals.

We are native Suirnamese people, South American, and my descendants are Indian. My parents brought me to America when I was four years old. I am nineteen years of age. Since I am fully Americanized and have grown up in America, I have never experienced immigrant prejudice; my skin is light and I have no accent. I would have to label myself in the American society as a young female adult.

I see myself in society as a young female trying to keep up with other females who are judged on their ability to look good, wear the right hair styles that are contemporary, display stylish accessories and clothing on a daily basis, and keep the figure because fat people are discriminated against, openly, no matter what age they are. This society is health conscious, weight conscious, clothes conscious, designed brand conscious, body pamper conscious, sex conscious, and materialistic. I see myself as having to keep up with other females my age; if not, I am excluded from social events and activities that enjoy prominence in my community. If I don't have the right clothes for church benefits and extra-curricular activities in my social network, I am not accepted into the group and it is a zero tolerance situation as far as young females are concerned. With regard to what is expected of me by other females, and how I see my own self-image, it is easier to go along with my peers and stay competitive with them, then it is to drop out of the social network, become an outsider and not be accepted by my age group.

In order to stay popular, well-liked and trusted by my peers, I have to maintain the correct appearance so that I remain status quo with the other young female adults who aspire to become educated, successful and financially secure.

There's no way to deny the importance of high beauty standards in this country, today. One cannot turn away from billboards, television ads, magazine pages, newspaper clips, or even video games that perpetuate the slender, perfect body with perfect long fingernails - glamorous hair and make-up and sexy clothes that are clingy and revealing. There's no way to get away from the broadcasts about fat Americans and European dislike for fat Americans; and everywhere you turn, there is someone behind you that looks like Madonna or any one of thousands of perfect role models flashing in the media. They are cultural heroes and their femininity is no longer denied. I guess that in order to rule the world, a woman has to be a Barbie doll so that she will gain attention from men - even if she doesn't have the brains to go with it. Perhaps that is the message that women and advertisers are communicating in the 21st century. Furthermore, since society is so set on stressing the importance of a thin body and a gorgeous face, it is not a surprise that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia to overcome the female fear of becoming fat are on the rise today (Media's Effect on Girls, 2009, 1-4). They are what they consume, and it is killing them.

Coming to America when I was four years old was a tremendous culture shock for my parents, but not for me. My mother never realized that female beauty could be so concentrated in exacted guidelines and standardized measurements as it is here in America. It is most puzzling how American women can subject themselves to such a biased standard of configuration. In my country of origin, Suriname, women are valued for their individuality and natural charm and beauty. We don't have a standard look of "fashion beauty" nor do we feel obligated or condemned to a life of copying what we see in magazines. Although we do have fads, as all countries do, our maturity lends to individual styles which are socially acceptable and respected. There is no need for false imaging to gain social acceptance. However, this was the country my parents, grandparents and descendants grew up in. Over the years as I was growing up, my parents realized that they had to furnish me with everything my classmates had; just to keep me from being bullied by classmates.

Apparently, the influence of advertising in America is so persuasive that women cannot relate to themselves unless they emulate their stage stars and media stereotypes. Female appearance is central in America, and according to Dr. Smith, professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin, "ads with female models are usually for appearance-related products, and by the time girls reach adolescence, they redefine their image and envision their futures" (Advertising Images of Girls, 1997, 2). Thus, advertising and media supports send messages that could limit their aspirations, undermine their self worth and endanger their health. Example: body-pampering with soaps and shampoos that show lady (thin lady) in the shower, with long beautiful hair, perfect dimensions and perfect everything. Then she steps into a sexy little dress that she could not wear until she joined Jenny Craig and lost 25 pounds of unwanted weight. Now she is perfect, acceptable, and the dress she is wearing can be bought at a Wal-Mart and the thin body can be purchased at Jenny Craig Diet Center, and the shampoo and soap can be purchased from any local discount store. So the advertisers are happy, the actors are rich, and the female viewer is frowning because she can't wear the skinny little dress because she hasn't lost enough weight to fit into a size 5.

The emphasis on female appearance tells American females that they are under pressure to be thin. On the other hand, this tells boys and men that women are supposed to be, above everything else, a pretty and perfect package and "something to behold," but not necessarily to respect (Advertising Images of Girls, 1997, 2).

All I can hope to accomplish as a young female adult is to fit in, get a good education and career, not rely on marriage to fulfill my identity, and keep a close affiliation with my church and community.

Bibliography

  • "Advertising Images of Girls and Women." (Fall 1997). A Report from Children Now. 1-5 Available on http://www.childrennow.org/media/medianow/mnfall1997.html
  • "Media's Effect on Girls: Body Image and Gender Identity." (03 April 2009) 1-4. Available on http://www.medianfamily.org/facts/facts_mediaeffect.shtml

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