GFGL TRAVEL FIT BLOG: Body Image Across the World

My life has centered around a healthy lifestyle since I was young, but I also grew up lounging on the beaches of southern California and the pressure to maintain the ideal body shape was definitely present. But I could never live up to those standards because a stick-thin beach body wasn’t ideal as a soccer player-no matter how much we wanted to get rid of our “thunder thighs” and shin guard tans.

My life in America was about fitness and a healthy diet, which made the transition into Spain inconvenient. I immediately noticed a few conspicuous habits that contrasted with southern California. According to my first impressions, spanish culture was unhealthy. For the first time, I felt every breath I took, but I felt it burn as it went down my throat as I walked through clouds of smoke. I didn’t see many gyms, or people in workout gear at all. The young seemed skinny and lacked muscle, and the elderly seemed plump and round.

But I was quick to judge the Basque Country. As I spent more time in Spain, I understood more about their consumption habits and exercise habits. Upon my arrival, I discovered both countries are known for healthy habits and unhealthy habits.

Media Influence

I started my research with the effects the media plays on our bodies. Some countries may think larger women are more attractive, wealthy and fertile; where as others think thin bodies are desirable. But what about the countries who don’t think about it at all? Countries who aren’t influenced by the media? Do those countries exist?

Industries such as food, fashion and cosmetics surround women through advertisements. Food ads occur 80 times more often in women’s magazines than in men’s magazines. Diet food ads appear 63 times more in women’s magazines. And articles surrounding dieting and the ideal body size occur 12 times more in women’s magazines than men’s magazines.

Although the previous statistics was for American women, I noticed the same magazines and advertisements are present in Spain. The media has a different influence on every country, and every country has a different way of understanding the influence.

When researching the history of women’s perspective on body image, I noticed one thing: it was all trends for Caucasian people- I’m guessing Western Europe and America. Researchers have determined that ethnic background plays a role in the way people view their own body; however, how ethnicity affects one’s body image has yet to be understood. Although a person’s ethnicity doesn’t change, the culture of that ethnicity does.

For example, size 10 American women were once seen as beautiful to all. Art from the Renaissance Age depicts women as voluptuous. In the Victorian Era, small waistlines and corsets were “sexy.” In the 1920s, flat chests were popular with flappers. The 1930s-1950s, (toned) feminine curves started to become popular. The hourglass figure was popular in the 1950s thanks to Marilyn Monroe. But then in the 1960s, women became obsessed with being thin again thanks to models such as Twiggy. The trend continued in the 70s, but in the 80s, the aerobics exercise craze gave light to being fit. Women were expected to maintain a certain weight, but still appear toned, but not too muscular. In 1990s, models such as Kate Moss turned to extreme thinness. And then in the early 2000s, plastic surgery became more popular as well as larger breasts and liposuction to remain as skinny as possible. And with globalization, the media that portrayed skin and bones as “beautiful” spread across the world.

Now, governments are cracking down on the extreme trends portrayed in the media. The Israeli government passed a law banning underweight models from the catwalks and commercials. A few years ago, the French Parliament was attempting a bill that would levy fines for those who encourage “extreme thinness.” The Australian government has a few body image initiatives to promote positive body image, which includes awards that recognize the positive steps taken by the media, fashion and advertising industries. And the Italian government has altered the guidelines on weight and age of models. But then there are the countries that are force-fed.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a change in the ideal body image. Instead of stick thin, the new trend is muscular and toned. Everyone wants to have a firm toned body. New studies showed the health benefits of working out so now you weren’t starving to get skinny, you were working out to get healthy. Being physically fit now meant being mentally fit. Magazines and news articles were popping up everywhere about how fitness kept you healthy. Like the 80s, fitness trends were popping up everywhere again from yoga to Zumba. Gyms and yoga centers were opening on every corner.

Similar to fitness trends were dieting trends such as The South Beach Diet or the Atkins diet. The diet market is worth $40 billion.  New dieting books came out every other month and each promised to help you get the body you desired. All about losing weight, not about gaining weight. Now, diets are all about going back to the basics and eating superfoods such as salmon and tea that help lower your cholesterol and prevent cancer.

According to, food trends for 2012 include milk and flavored milk, gluten-free diets, whole grains, Greek yogurt, eggs, and anything sustainable foods. And according to the American Council on Exercise, 2012 is going to be about lifestyle coaching, not dieting. They say that gyms trainers won’t just tell you how to lift, but how to live. Now the gym isn’t the only way people are going to look to lose weight. Another trend is “flexitarians,” or those who lower their intake on meat for health reasons thank to Meatless Mondays, a collaboration with John Hopkins’ Bloomberg school of Public health, and also with the help of The Oprah Show.

Employers are also adding in healthy benefits. Google’s office includes a gym, yoga, fitness classes, running trails, bike repairs and a rock climbing wall. LinkedIn offices include morning boot camp, on-site gym, running trails, yoga, and Pilates.

To reiterate, fitness classes and trendy food became my habit, and it was a shock to come to Spain to find what almost seemed to be non-existent.

Though I don’t watch TV often in Spain, I hear American music and I see the same magazines as in America. I also understand that some American television shows and most American movies are popular in Spain. Therefore, the same media influence from advertisements and Hollywood are present here.

When walking around in Spain with my boyfriend, he mentioned the size of the mannequin. It didn’t have a large shape, but it was slightly larger than those we see in southern California. In 2008, the Spanish government measured the more than 10,000 women to create new guidelines for the clothing industry. The government recalibrated current sizes, which were based on pre-1975 models. The study said Spanish women come in three basic shapes—hourglass, pear, and barrel. In 2006, Madrid’s Fashion Week banned models dangerously thin models from runway shows. Doctors now examine models auditioning for Madrid Fashion Week, and those with a BMI under 18 are not permitted on the runway.

It seems as if Southern Californians are always trying to perfect impossible standards. It seems as if Spaniards just try to perfect their culture.


12 Hot Food Trends for 2012

A timeline of sexy defined through the ages

Australian Government Action on Body Image

The Skinny on Global Body Image

Health Trends to watch out for in 2012

The Development of Ideal Body Image Perceptions in the United States 

Israel Bans Super-Skinny Models to Combat Anorexia

Predicting The Top Five Health Trends For 2012

The Diet Industry: A Big Fat Lie

Body Image across Cultures

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