Posted by: LucidMystery | March 3, 2013

Your Visual Diet…Watch What You Eat! Erm…See

In a class last semester, I read a psychology paper in PlosOne that introduced me to the concept of a “visual diet.” I’m pretty sure I technically learned the basic idea years ago in colloquial, cartoonish terms from an old episode of McGee and Me; but the meaning simply is that when you see similar images over and over (your “diet”), you associate those images with what should be considered normal. You then go on to apply those ideas of normal to your everyday life. In my paper’s case, it was shown that women would prefer the body types that they were exposed to the most. If the study women were shown image after image of affluent plus-sized women, they would rank larger body sizes as ideal. Alternately, when the women were shown image after image of thin affluent women, the study subjects would conclude that thinness was the ideal size standard. (Non-PDF of the article here.)

This concept doesn’t just apply to women, though; and it can lead to whole different set of concerns for men. A couple days ago, a non-academic article came out suggesting that hyper-masculine ads (read, aggressive, overtly sexual, alpha-male kind of ads) tend to appear in highest frequency in periodicals targeted at young men in tougher socioeconomic situations–which does nothing but exacerbate an already difficult life. The ads suggest to men that in order for them to be perceived above their current social position, they need to emulate what they see from these “real men.” I don’t know about y’all, but even though I can appreciate a bit of muscle and a smidge of cocky from guys every now and then…I don’t particularly fancy the skeezy, beer-chugging, sorority-girl-groping, overly-ripped fellas who grace the pages of many a men’s magazine. (Here is the article from, but just as a heads’ up there’s a bit of swearing right at the beginning. I think it’s a solid read, though.)

So…what’s my point? Well, my point is that a problem arises when what you see might not be what you’re going to get–no matter how much you’re exposed to what you think you’re going to get. That conclusion may sound obnoxiously wordy yet mildly innocuous, but it’s actually a major problem: just because you see something over and over again, that doesn’t make the image true/logical/ideal. If we point back to that idea of the women’s paper, we already know exactly what the problem is there. Women and girls today are bombarded with images of thin, attractive Hollywood women (many of them Photoshopped beyond reality); and we assume that an impossible level of perfection is “normal.” When we realize this “normalcy” is not attainable, some of us torture ourselves with dangerous eating habits or spend more money than we have on beauty products to help us become unreal, airbrushed beauties. On the other hand, we can point back to the men’s example and see that there is bound to be a problem when aloof, “hit-it-and-quit-it” sexual prowess is deemed normal, when in fact it has created devastating situations of unprepared single mothers abandoned to fend for themselves and their babies. Or worse (well, actually I’m not sure which is worse), when young men are provided with the notion that enviable hyper-masculinity is achieved through brute strength, it opens another gateway for violence–whether against other men or even women and children.

This issue of visual diet expands way beyond just the two situations that I’ve focused on here, of course. Everything about the world around us is constantly telling us what cars we should be driving, what jobs are the most glamorous, what we should believe, what food we should be eating, how we should treat other people, what phones we should be using, what we should think about different demographics, what movies we should be watching (oo, the cycle continues!), etc etc. I definitely think that glorified violence in movies and video games has an impact on young men already in a troubled state (though I doubt that’s a real root); and a pet peeve of mine is that whenever the word “environmental” comes into conversation, a tree-hugging hippie comes to mind to tune folks out! And, I’ll be honest if not popular, I do think that increased sexuality on TV and in movies is feeding our hypersexual culture that includes absurd divorce and infidelity rates. So maybe what we get is a distorted version of what we see…

Well, I just presented a problem, but I have no real solution. I guess we’ll say I’m just raising awareness. Be mindful, young Padawan. There really is no way to block out the constant stream of information and influence around you other than to take note of what you surround yourself with and to remember that you’ll reflect that whether you mean to or not. So good luck out there!

**On a highly personal note, ladies, remember God called His daughters all beautiful. All of us. Nose shapes and hair styles pass through in trends; but we women of Earth are timeless classics, far above whatever body type that Cosmopolitan and Glamor magazines thinks is best right now. You’re a work of art that has never existed before and never will again. Embrace it.

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