Body Image – Music

Music is a significant medium in a young person’s life, particularly during the teenage years. While other media may occupy a greater number of hours, it is most often from music that teenagers define their identities and draw cues about how to dress and to behave.

Consequently, we would expect youth to take representations of body shape found in imagery associated with music (videos, album covers, interviews with musicians, and so on) very seriously, and research has supported this: one study found that just ten minutes’ exposure to music videos featuring thin, sexualized performers led to a measurable increase in body dissatisfaction. [1]

Pop starSo how do music videos, as well as other images associated with music, influence youth? For girls, the message is overwhelmingly that they should be thin, attractive and sexual. [2]  What’s more, this message doesn’t vary between different genres of music, [3] as nearly all performers must meet this standard to be commercially successful (or else have their images electronically manipulated to meet that standard). Even those few performers whose sexuality is not a large part of their appeal encounter a strong pressure to conform to popular standards of beauty once they become successful, receiving considerable positive media coverage of their weight loss such as “Adele’s Thin New Look Revealed” [4] and “Jennifer Hudson Weight Loss: Her Son Only Knows Her As Size 0”. [5] When female musicians gain weight, it is often covered in a negative light: for example, discussion of Christina Aguilera’s weight gain (which hardly resulted in her being overweight) was presented as something she needed to defend (“Christina Aguilera Silences Critics Of Her Curvy Physique, Loves Body”; [6] “Christina Aguilera Defends Her Figure” [7]) rather than a natural developmental occurrence for a performer who became famous at 17 and who is now an adult. Female performers who are not sexualized at the beginning of their careers, particularly those who become successful as teenagers, are frequently under pressure to adopt a more sexual persona as they transition to an adult career. [8] When this happens, discussion of the performer often moves from her music to her sexuality, leading to a much greater emphasis on body size and other physical attributes both in how she is presented in videos and in media coverage. [9]

Hip Hop starThough boys receive different messaging, music is similarly influential: perhaps due to the heavily ripped physiques now standard among male hip-hop, heavy metal and even country singers, teenage boys who watch music videos are at higher risk of becoming obsessed with bodybuilding. [10]

There are exceptions, of course: many genres of music present both male and female performers with much less emphasis on their appearance. Some even take on body image issues in their music, as in Amanda Palmer’s song “Map of Tasmania” (a paean to unshaved body hair). [11] Unfortunately, the emphasis on thinness and sexualization is nearly universal in the more mainstream genres, and Janell Hobson, author of Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, suggests that it may be getting worse: hip hop once boasted female performers such as Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill and Macy Gray, “but now that mainstream hip-hop has become corporate, such women have been mostly silenced […] or marginalized to make way for the video dancers, models and sex workers employed to fuel the hip-hop pornography economy.” [12]

 


[1] Beth T. Bell, Rebecca Lawton, Helga Dittmar, “The impact of thin models in music videos on adolescent girls’ body dissatisfaction,” Body Image, 4:2, June 2007, 137-145.
[2] Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Adolescent Girls. American Psychiatric Assocation, 2010.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Robert Pace. “Adele’s Thin New Look Revealed”. The Insider, December 21, 2011. <http://www.theinsider.com/gossip/47702_Adele_Tweets_post_surgery_pic/index.html>
[5] Nadine DeNinno. “Jennifer Hudson Weight Loss: her Son Only Knows Her As Size 0”. International Business Times, January 9, 2012.
[6] “Christina Aguilera Silences Critics of Her Curvy Physique, Loves Body”. The Post Chronicle, January 10, 2012. <http://www.postchronicle.com/news/entertainment/article_212395948.shtml>
[7] “Christina Aguilera Defends Her Figure, Says Boyfriend ‘Loves My Body’ ”. The New York Post, January 10, 2012.
[8] Andsager, J. L., & Roe, K. (1999). Country music video in country’s year of the woman. Journal of Communication, 49, 69-82.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Marika Tiggemann (2005). Television and Adolescent Body Image: The Role of Program Content and Viewing Motivation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24:3, 361-381.
[11] Peter Gaston. “Amanda Palmer Fights for Pubic Hair Freedom.” Spin, January 13, 2011.
[12] Janell Hobson. “Can’t Stop the Women of Hip Hop.” Ms. Magazine blog, February 24, 2011. <http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/02/24/cant-stop-the-women-of-hip-hop/>