Saturday, August 25, 2012

Are you Hot: Gender Roles in Society

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The emphasis on physical appearance that pervades American culture is marked by an unrealistic standard of beauty, and the superficiality that this standard promotes has a profound and negative impact on both men and women of all ages. The focus on physical appearance can be attributed to different factors, the media playing the most prevalent role. The media undoubtedly influences cultural perceptions of the definition of beauty by airing programs that specifically focus on attributing happiness and success to having the ideal outward appearance. For women, this consists of being abnormally skinny, tall, tan, and having long hair and a flawless complexion. The “perfect man” is characterized as having chiseled muscles, a tan body, and a dazzling smile. Television has taken these standards to create a new wave of programs that feature people with the previously mentioned qualities. In fact, a new show entitled Are You Hot? is specifically centered on judging the physical appearances of people who claim to be “hot” in order to find the sexiest man and woman in America. The purpose of the show Are you Hot? is merely worsening the problem of America’s obsession with appearance, thus becoming the root of factors contributing to low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders.

The premise behind Are You Hot? is indeed a simple one. Each week, a set number of half-naked “beautiful people” strut their stuff in front of a panel of three celebrity judges, who (sometimes unkindly) offer their evaluation based on face, body and all around “sex appeal.” The judges point out less than perfect flaws by shining a laser pointer on the areas that make the candidate “less hot.” Earning the judges’ approval is the ticket to the next round, until the pool is narrowed down to the “Sexiest Man and Woman in America.” The two winners also split a cash prize of one-hundred thousand dollars. The rejected candidates are indicated by a blinking sign that reads, “NOT” causing them to live with the disgrace of not being “hot” enough. Are You Hot? sends the false message to viewers that physical appearance is the most important aspect of life, even over intelligence or career. In Naomi Wolf’s essay, “The Beauty Myth,” she points out that Americans, especially women, have become frighteningly preoccupied with achieving the stereotypical standards of beauty. Wolf notes, “During the past five years, consumer spending doubled, pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal” (48). She goes on to state, “Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret ‘underlife’ poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsession, terror of aging, and dread of lost control” (48). The epidemic of becoming physically “perfect” can particularly be blamed on shows like Are You Hot? due to the negative messages sent to viewers.

Are You Hot? blatantly supports gender stereotyping and encourages participants who appear to be the most “masculine” or “feminine”. This television program is giving a negative connotation to these terms by attributing toughness, insensitivity, and a macho demeanor to being masculine, and being ditzy and submissive as feminine qualities. Male contestants often receive lower rankings if they have longer hair or small muscles, while female contestants score lower for having small breasts or broad shoulders. In her essay, “Gender Role Behaviors and Attitudes,” Holly Devor explores signals of masculinity and femininity and attempts to decipher what exactly these terms imply. She writes, “People use femininity or masculinity to claim and communicate their membership in their assigned, or chosen, sex or gender” (447). Taking the “masculine/feminine” stereotypes a step further, the contestants on Are You Hot? who describe their occupation or hobbies only do things to be considered “gender appropriate.” For example, most women participants enjoy dancing, putting on makeup, and going on dates, while the men prefer lifting weights, wrestling, and playing sports. In her essay, Devor also states, “Members of both genders are believed to share many of the same human characteristics, although in different relative proportions; both males and females are popularly thought to be able to do many of the same things, but most activities are divided into suitable and unsuitable categories for each gender class. Persons who perform the activities considered appropriate for another gender will be expected to perform them poorly; if they succeed adequately, or even well, at their endeavors, they may be rewarded with ridicule or scorn for blurring the gender dividing line” (Devor, 448). For example, in one episode a male contestant was noted for plucking his uni-brow, thus receiving lower scores by the judges for excessive primping. In a nutshell, Are You Hot? has contestants who constitute the epitome of gender stereotypes in order to personify the ideal definition of beauty. Unfortunately intelligence, ability, or personality has nothing to do with their value as human beings.

Are You Hot? and other television programs similar to it cause a cultural focus on physical appearance, thus resulting in many injustices. Discrimination based upon appearance is still a concern in contemporary American culture and will be for a long time. Racism is a social and cultural problem rooted in prejudices about a group that is labeled by its physical characteristics, and the racism that is prevalent in today’s society often results in violence or death. Although Are You Hot? does not promote racism, the majority of contestants are Caucasian, which sends a negative message to people of other races. Obese children and adults who do not conform to the American standard of beauty are often tormented and excluded from social activity. As technology progresses and further means of enhancing physical appearance become possible, there is a great potential for discrimination and other cultural implications. The media is making it impossible to shift the American standard of beauty to a more realistic image with programs like Are You Hot? that ultimately support taking drastic measures to arrive at “perfection.” It is essential to realize the negative results the standards created by the media have on the American population, and the permanent damage that will take place if this epidemic is not put to a stop.

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Devor, Holly. “Gender Role Behaviors and Attitudes.” Signs of Life. Eds. Jack

Soloman & Sonia Maasik. Boston Bedford/St. Martin’s, 00. 447-45.

Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Signs of Life. Eds. Jack Soloman & Sonia

Maasik. Boston Bedford/St. Martin’s, 00. 481-48.

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