I believe that advances in technology is the primary causal factor that contributes to modern day women's obsession with body image that correlates with eating disorders, anorexia, and bulimia. Sociologist William Ogburn (1922, 1964) coined the term cultural lag to describe the imbalance between technological progress and the norms, values, and traditional beliefs that a particular group of people hold that unites a society. Non-material culture is the intangible things such as morals, ethics and how people feel about something. Material culture is objects that are tangible that we can touch such as cell phone, computers, mirrors, art, and television for example. Simply stated we first create the material object before we create the rules on how we will manipulate or use the object that is ethically fair to society in general.
For example, we created the car before traffic laws, driver's license and age limits. Scientist created birth control methods that conflict with some religious beliefs and traditional family values. When scientist created birth control, they probably were not contemplating the pro life and pro choice debate. When humans first create the material objects such as the Internet, weapons of mass destruction and cosmetic surgery most likely they did not or could not take into consideration how these material and technological advances would impact the values, norms, morals and beliefs that would lag behind their material inventions.
So what inventions have we created that have changed how women perceive themselves? How can we live in a society where food is readily available and women starve themselves? What could be a rational, logical reason for tolerating hunger pangs in the presence of food? How is it possible for a person to eat their food and purposely vomit to rid themselves of calories? Why would women go through the trouble of letting a doctor cut open her breasts to implant foreign objects that do not improve their ability to breathe? Why would a woman inject a chemical in her lips to cause them to swell or allow doctors to suction fat from her thighs with a vacuum? You guessed it! Advances in technology, and in particular the rise of the mass media have caused normal concerns about how we look to become obsessions.
Pornographic material is different from seeing other nude bodies in the shower or on the beach. The nude bodies in the magazines are airbrushed. The birth and stretch marks have been erased and the cellulite has been deleted. Even the women themselves cannot compete with their own images in the magazines. Studies show that men who frequently review pornographic material are less sexually attracted to their female partners. Given that men sexually respond best to visual stimuli, lf the women in the pornographic magazines have flawless, perfect bodies that do not exist in real life; is it not possible for him to look at his human, un-brushed, un-enhanced, flesh and blood female partner and not be as aroused by her physical appearance?
When men view the nude bodies of women do they fantasize about having sex with them? Of course they do. Do you think that men compare and contrast the female body parts of women in the magazines to the women they see in reality? Of course they do. Men are biologically designed to be aroused by visual stimuli. Women want to be the vision of loveliness that men are visually attracted to.
The other advances in technology include television, billboards, the Internet, cell phones that take pictures, digital cameras and all types of print media. Imagine standing in line at the grocery store, while waiting you notice the bikini clad models and celebrities on the cover of the magazines on the racks next to the checkout line. How does this make you feel inside? Does it make you want to suck in your stomach and take the snacks out of your grocery basket? No one directly told you that you were fat or needed to do sit ups or go on a diet; just viewing those images slowly chips away at yourself esteem.
We see more scantily clad, perfect, digital images of models and celebrities than we see of the natural bodies of our own family and friends. Each time we drive to work we see illusions of beauty on the billboards; we see perfection on the television and on the pop-up ads on the Internet. People who look like us are not referred to as gorgeous or beautiful. Because we see celebrities and models all the time they become "real" to us. We then believe that we can attain their extraordinary physique and good looks with self-discipline. We begin to think that if we looked more desirable, our lives would be filled with more love, status, and wealth.
Technology has made it easy for humans to create a false mass produced image of who we are as human beings. Many people are spending huge amounts of time on Facebook interacting with people across the globe that they will most likely never meet while failing to make eye contact or engage in a meaningful conversation with the flesh and blood people whom they see each day. Is technology making real human bodies irrelevant? Will cyber relations take the place of real human contact in the future?
Dr. Cassandra George Sturges MA, MA, is a mother of two teenagers, a full-time psychology professor, author of "A Woman's Soul on Paper" ISBN: 0595171435; The Illusion of Beauty: Why Women Hate Themselves & Envy Other Women; Men Interviewed Tell: 101 Things Women do to Turn Men Off; Success & Beauty is an Attitude: A Woman's Guide to finding herself and making her dreams come true.