From Love Island to Fat Monica: How TV Affects Beauty Standards

Woman watching TV eating popcorn
Francesca Montefusco

As a society, we have long been wrapped up in striving for the ‘perfect’ body, flawless skin or shiny hair. I am definitely guilty of comparing myself to a beauty standard that probably can’t be achieved on a student budget, or maybe can’t even be achieved in real life. But Francesca Montefusco thinks we all forget to question where these beauty standards come from.

Magazines have already had their fair share of criticism about photoshopping- even super models on their front covers. But what about the other media forms? One to consider is TV. The people we watch on our screens can drive beauty standards, and this can be harmful. But what sort of TV can we blame? Is it just the dating shows showing sexy people walking around in bikinis, or is it also children’s TV and the much-loved shows of the early 2000s?

Reality TV shows are maybe one of the most influential types of media in deciding what we think is beautiful and swaying how we think about ourselves. Shows such as Keeping up with the Kardashians, Selling Sunsets, Love Island and Too Hot to Handle continue to perpetuate the stereotypical beauty standard of perfectly groomed, slim and toned people. Reality TV royalty, The Kardashians, have a huge influence in what society values.

But following these people is just not realistic. We can’t copy their surgery, diets and work out plans on a student budget. And even if we could afford to look like them, it could be dangerous.

In The Kardashians Season 2, we see Kim Kardashian looking stunning at the 2022 Met Gala wearing a Marilyn Monroe dress. Yet, she has announced that it took extreme dieting, losing 16 pounds in just three weeks to fit into the dress. This is not something that any health professional would ever advise and yet succeeding the TV star’s look has been a flood of articles and posts asking if ‘skinny is back’. This shows the dangerous power TV stars have over beauty standards and it is important to remember that we can’t or shouldn’t share a ‘reality’ with these A-listers.

But maybe it is the shows that are meant to pick out ‘ordinary people’ like Love Island that are most likely to impact what we see as beautiful and are even more problematic as such. Love Island is yet to cast a woman over size 12 (even though the average women in the UK is a size 16). We are meant to relate to these people so many young women may view slim bodies as the norm and only body considered beautiful.

And if society deem slimness as attractive than it seems pretty unlikely that producers are going to change up the casting. And the cycle continues. With body positivity growing on social media, hopefully we will see some more diverse reality TV casts soon.

Seemingly innocent reality shows also shape and sustain beauty ideals

But even seemingly innocent reality shows also shape and sustain beauty ideals. Take I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here for example; one of the most memorable jungle moments for many fans is Myleen Klass’ shower scene. This has led to contestants avoiding showering due to the cameras positioned hoping to capture a similar moment.

Reality TV, however, is not the only type of TV that shapes beauty standards. Many 2000s shows that us students have grown up with have probably had a big influence on what we know as the beauty ideal. Popular sitcom, Friends, is known for setting trends, especially fashion trends like plaid workwear, the oversized Dad shirt and the famous ‘Rachel haircut’.

But another trend it may have contributed to is striving to be slim. The character Fat Monica is definitely a big statement from the producers about what is desirable. Her character is meant to make us laugh, but it is also meant to make us see thin, adult Monica as more attractive and able to get the male attention that she couldn’t get before.

Considering how influential Friends can be, it does worry me that a lot of young women might have gotten the idea that fatness is something to be overcome in order to impress a man. Even our favourite comfort shows might not be great for how we view our bodies.

Overweight characters were more likely to be resented as unattractive

It may seem that children are safe from the toxic beauty standards of social media. However, studies on children’s cartoons have found that physically attractive characters are more likely to be considered ‘good characters’ and physically unattractive characters were more likely to be considered ‘bad characters’. Overweight characters were more likely to be resented as unattractive, whilst thin or underweight characters were more likely to be presented as attractive.

Disney Channel star, Demi Lovato, has spoken out about having to keep her weight down, being given melon ‘cake’ on her birthday instead of birthday cake by her management, having to have long hair and look ‘feminine’. Times are changing and producers are now more aware of embracing inclusivity, but for those of us that grew up in the 2000s, we probably got our idea of unrealistic beauty standards at a far too young age.

The media is powerful

Realistically, we aren’t going to stop watching TV to try and get away from the unrealistic beauty standards it creates. We can, however, become a bit more aware that it doesn’t represent the average person. The media is powerful and hopefully soon, with the push from the public, we will see all sorts of people on our screens to widen the narrow beauty standards that only handfuls of people could possibly adhere to.

Francesca Montefusco

Featured image courtesy of JESHOOTS.COM via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In article images 1 courtesy of @kimkardashian via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

In article image 2 courtesy of @quote_friends via Twitter. No changes were made to this image.

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