Was Ashley Judd right? Column questions media portrayal of beautiful women

Ashley Judd attends Ashley Judd in Conversation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime at the United Nations on March 14, 2012, in New York. Dario Cantatore

Ashley Judd attends Ashley Judd in Conversation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime at the United Nations on March 14, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Dario Cantatore/Getty Images)
Dario Cantatore
(CBS News) - To many, Ashley Judd is the picture of beauty. But, as CBS News reported, recent "puffy faced" appearances of the actress while she was promoting her new television series "Missing" has lead many to speculate that she either had work done or gained too much weight.

Judd fired back at the media and public critics in a column on the Daily Beast that blatantly called out people for following society's views on beauty. The actress wrote that media outlets did not give her a chance to explain her face -- the result of being on steroids after battling a sinus infection -- and even worse, they ridiculed her apparent change in looks as a botched plastic surgery attempt. She was accused of having wrinkles removed and even was told she was facing the possibility of losing her husband because her weight gain was making him "(look) for his second wife."

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But, it wasn't only the media outlets that took cheap shots at Judd. Her fans joined in, making comments about the work she had done and how she had ruined her looks.

"This abnormal obsession with women's faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times--I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women," Judd wrote.

This obsession with what is considered beautiful -- and why Judd's puffy face was such a big media discussion -- is what creates many issues for women of all ages.

"In terms of establishing body images, there tends to be three primary influences: peers, family and the media," Dr. Andrea Vazzana, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center said to HealthPop. "We know that people use the media as a source of information to show them what's in fashion and what they're supposed to look like."

Vazzana points out that perception of what is beautiful has changed. Twenty-five years ago, the average model weighed eight percent less than the average person. Now, they weigh 23 percent less. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, being more curvacious was lauded; today, we have the "thin ideal" to look up to. The trend can also be noticed in the Miss America pageants, where research has shown that the contestants are growing skinnier by the year.

"The standards of beauty are becoming more unrealistic. The discrepancy between the every day person and the celebrity has grown in size," Vazzana said.

Twenty-four million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Inc. Currently, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. One in 200 women in the U.S. suffers from anorexia, and two to three out of 100 women will have bulimia, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health reported.

That doesn't include other psychological disorders like body dysmorphic disorder, where people obsesses over perceived flaws in their appearance. This disorder can lead to depression, disability and suicide. Exposure to the "thin ideal" can also increase risk factors for developing depression and self-esteem shifts.

Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a pediatrician, family obesity specialist and author of "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right" told HealthPop that these critical portrayals of women in the media often leads to problems with young girls and how they perceive themselves.

"When a young girl looks at herself and sees Ashley Judd, who is beautiful, and sees that they are calling her fat, she starts to think I must be ugly," she explained.

"They feel bad about themselves, and they start eating more. They think, 'I'll never be good enough,' and they start starving themselves," she added.

It's not only the kids that are getting the messed-up messages from the media: They're getting it from their mothers. Dolgoff said that when normal weight mothers try to diet down to an unrealistic size their daughters get the message that unhealthy body images are okay. Girls often stop by and ask why they can't be as skinny as their friends, even though they are at a normal weight for their frame and height.

Dolgoff has even had normal weight girls brought into her office by their mothers, who demand that their "fat" daughters need to lose weight. One case that shocked her involved a size 0 mother and her skinny, hourglass shaped daughter.

"She smacked her daughters butt and said, 'Look how it jiggles! Look how it jiggles!' The girl was completely a normal weight," Dolgoff recalled, adding that the family spent a lot of time in counseling speaking about what is healthy and what an appropriate goal is.

The problem is not all women can attain that stick thin figure that is shoved in everyone's face as the epitome of beauty. Even with diet and exercise, body shape can't change that dramatically. Vazzana said some people are naturally born with apple shapes, and others have a pear body. Very few have that natural asparagus shape, she pointed out.

"Parents need to point out there is as problem with society. It's not okay what these people are writing. A lot of kids need to hear their parents ay this is not okay, this woman is health and she looks wonderful. We need healthy bodies and healthy hearts," Dolgoff said.

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