What Is the Effect of Fashion on Body Image?

Esther Ejim

The impact of fashion on body image is a slightly complicated issue, made so by several factors. Fashion plays an important role in society because it has come to define people in a lot of ways, but unfortunately has some negative consequences on the perception of body image. It is this influence of fashion that gives it the leeway to affect the body image of members of society. The main impact of fashion on body image is that it projects a sense of what is ideal in terms of looks, making some people who do not look that way have feelings of inadequacy.

Many women feel inadequate about their body image due to the fashion industry's emphasis on the "perfect" figure.
Many women feel inadequate about their body image due to the fashion industry's emphasis on the "perfect" figure.

Fashion in any society is simply what is generally promoted and accepted as the best way to dress and look. It encompasses factors like the right accessories, best places to go, and even acceptable mannerisms. From a global perspective, fashion cannot be said to be universal because what is fashionable in one society is not necessarily true of another one. Still, the impact of fashion on body image is a global issue that transcends international borders.

The media is often considered detrimental to the body image of women.
The media is often considered detrimental to the body image of women.

For instance, in western societies, the fashion industry constantly projects the image of thin, beautiful people that have been airbrushed to perfection as the ideal way to look. People see these images everywhere: magazines, TV commercials, billboards and runways. The message often perceived by people constantly barraged by such messages is that this is the right way to look.

In western fashion and culture, an emphasis is placed on thin figures.
In western fashion and culture, an emphasis is placed on thin figures.

The reverse might be the same in some cultures. For instance, in some African cultures, plump women are considered more desirable and fashionable than thin women. This may lead to feelings of inadequacy on the part of women who are naturally inclined to be thin. In some Asian cultures where small, dainty feet are considered fashionable and attractive, those who do not have such features may also experience feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of inadequacy often results in low self-esteem and bouts of depression.

The fact of the matter is that many members of society do not look "ideal," so many people take measures to try to attain something close to the way the models look. One impact of fashion on body image is that people may resort to drastic surgery to “fix” features they consider to fall short of the accepted standard. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are often the result of the dissatisfaction of those who suffer from the conditions with their looks and an attempt to conform to the accepted fashionable standard of looks.

People with distorted body images may go to harmful lengths to achieve unrealistic ideals.
People with distorted body images may go to harmful lengths to achieve unrealistic ideals.

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Discussion Comments


Sometimes I wonder if the reason emaciated women are used in advertising is because visually, they attract more attention than healthy women.

For example, in a crowd of people, one tends to edit out all the healthy looking women, but focus on a woman who is unhealthily thin. This must be anthropological: we can't help but pay attention to a person who looks sick. Women are also more biologically inclined to care about the welfare of a group. Negative images have more staying power than positive ones in the human brain. The best way for advertisers to attract the most attention to their product is to use negative, unattainable and sometimes disturbing imagery.

They don't care about anyone's well being, including their own models. They want to sell a product! The question is when will we stop buying it?


Looking at most supermodels today, I would say that fashion has a dangerous effect on body image. I recently saw a picture of a lingerie model whose hip bones were protruding, because she had zero body fat to cushion them.

I think this is an ugly way to look. Models this skinny appear to have some sort of sickness.

When cultures around the world are starving because they have no food, I think we should take advantage and be thankful that we have plenty to eat. We shouldn't starve ourselves to look like people who can't help being hungry and would gladly trade places with us and relish the extra pounds.


@jonrss – You are absolutely right. I had been obsessing over the way my belly hung over my pants, which were getting tighter each month. Once I went shopping for a different cut of pants in a bigger size, my confidence returned.

I got some high rise jeans that came up over my belly button. I had to go up a couple of sizes, but the fit was perfect, and it smoothed out my belly bump.

The problem was that I had been wearing low rise jeans designed for skinny teenagers. I have a straight waist, and the waist of these pants acted like a cinch to squeeze out my fat.


@kylee07drg - That is such a nice story! I had a friend who was in a similar situation and now she is in a loving relationship. If only it was just about fat and skinny.

I have been in a wheelchair for the last 10 years and it has really dealt a blow to my image of myself. Frankly, I almost never feel sexy. No matter what I wear, how I do my hair or makeup, I feel like everything gets hidden behind my chair.

And when do you ever see a handicapped character in anything that is supposed to be sexy? Never. I have been trying to deal with these issues for a long time, but I am still single.


@kylee07drg – That is great about your friend. I wish I would have the same fortune fall on me. I have been about thirty pounds overweight for years, and since it is due to a thyroid problem, no amount of dieting or exercise will help me get rid of the pounds.

I hate going out to clubs with my friends, because they are all skinny. Any men who approach us as a group hit on them and look right past me.

It's tough being plump in a society obsessed with leanness. I am always self-conscious in public, and it makes me sad that I have to live this way.


Fashion really is a complicated issue when it comes to body image. I think most people's first reaction would be to think of rail think runway models and the impossibly beautiful men and women that show up in magazine ads and think that fashion has a negative effect on body image. It creates an unnatural ideal that leads to shame in anyone that can't live up to it.

But clothes can sometimes help to improve a person's opinion of their body and their look. If they buy clothes that flatter their figure or make them feel sexy or noticed or just pretty that can go a long way. If you feel like you look good, you feel good. Its not always easy to get that feeling when you're naked but you can get it you are dressed just the way you want to be. So it goes both ways.


I have an overweight friend who struggled with her appearance for years. She had trouble getting dates because of her looks, and she stressed over her weight every day.

All her problems were solved when she met a man who had moved here from Africa. He was in search of a plump woman, and he detested skinniness. I think this is because in his nation, there was widespread starvation, and anyone with extra weight on them was considered beautiful because they were healthy.

He thought she was beautiful, and he showered her with compliments. This did away with her desire to be thin, and she learned to accept herself as she was. They ended up getting married, and she no longer struggles to meet some fashionable idea of body image.

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