It is generally agreed upon that the media portrays and unrealistic and a most difficulty attainable standard of beauty. This has become so universal that it provides nearly endless inspiration for essay and thesis writing. These standards are often dangerously unhealthy and send a dangerous message that sacrificing your health is worth being considered attractive by societal standards. Countless studies prove that the most media exposure one experiences, the more negative effects were reported on self-image and overall feeling of well-being. This sample research thesis explores the topic from a psychological angle.
Media’s influence in society
Media is becoming an increasingly dominant part of our lives and has been proven to be incredibly influential. More than eighty percent of Americans watch television every single day, and of those people, the average watching time is three hours per day (“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders”). The increase in media consumption can largely be attributed to the growing availability of it through phones, tablets, and computers. Researchers believe people consume so media via technology that they’ve forgotten how to communicate.
Children between the ages of eight and eighteen are engaged in some form of media for an average of seven and a half hours per day; though most of that time is spent watching television, children play an average of one hour of video games and spend an average of one hour on the computer per day (“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders”). Gone are the days of entire says spent outdoors as children delve deeper into this complication relationship with technology and media.
The media’s damaging messages
Children are bombarded with potentially damaging images on a daily basis. Advertisements and even cartoons aimed at children can emphasize the importance of being physically attractive and objectify girls and women. Photographs that are sexually objectifying to the female gender appear first most commonly in men’s magazines and second most commonly in teen magazines targeted towards adolescent girls (“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorder”).
Many of these images present an unrealistic and sometimes dangerous standard of beauty. Media images in advertisement and cultural media typically portray the feminine as stereotypically tall, white, blonde, and thin, possessing a ‘tubular’ body (Serdar). These images are basically inescapable for anyone who is exposed to any media at all. One study showed:
“Ultra-thin models are so prominent that exposure to them becomes unavoidable and ‘chronic’, constantly reinforcing a discrepancy for most women and girls between their actual size and the ideal body.” (Dittmar and Howard 478).
There is a very small percentage of the population that fits these criteria, yet women and girls are repeatedly exposed to images that perpetuate this definition of beauty. This sends the message to those who do not fit this description that they are not beautiful. This is dangerously unhealthy because a large number of models in advertisements, television, and other media outlets are approximately 20% below ideal body weight, meeting the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (Dittmar and Howard 478).
Magazine’s and the feminine self-image
Magazines are one of the biggest culprits of featuring this kind of images and advertisements. Many are marketed to provide information and products to help women to ‘better themselves’, which is almost exclusively in reference to their physical appearance. Readers buy the magazines and eat up in the information in hopes that following the magazine’s advice will make them more physically attractive, and thus, more acceptable.
This only contributes to a vicious cycle of self-hate, as studies prove a correlation between body dissatisfaction and frequent magazine reading (Serdar). The same study proved that those who read fashion magazines experienced much higher levels of thin-deal internalization. This is a huge risk factor for developing eating disorders. When women are exposed to these images, they can also display increased levels of depression, stress, guilt, shame, and insecurity (Serdar). It is undeniable that increased media exposure can have negative effects on one’s self-image.
Movies and television shows also contain a large amount of potentially damaging images that perpetuate an unhealthy and unattainable beauty standard. A study showed that fifty-eight percent of female characters in movies has comments made by another character about their looks, as did almost thirty percent in television shows and over a quarter of the female models in the accompanying commercials (Gentile 2002). Even the commercials contribute to the negative self-image brought on by media exposure.
Teens and preteens self-image dictated through the media
Teens and preteens are especially sensitive to the effects of the media on body image. This age group experiences the highest media exposure of all others. Magazines aimed towards this age group have an alarming number of ads featuring these unattainable ideals of beauty. This is worrisome because findings suggest that eighty three percent of teenage girls report reading fashion magazines for more than four hours every week (Serdar).
These problems are beginning to emerge in girls younger and younger. In a 2002 survey, forty percent of nine and ten-year-old girls have attempted to lose weight (Gentile). These girls have no idea what their bodies will look like when they are done growing and are already trying to lose weight. Another study done on ten-year-olds showed that the girls tested reported feeling dissatisfied with their bodies after watching TV ads describing the ideal woman (Gentile 2002).
The longer these children are exposed to damaging media images, the lower their self-image. Findings of a longitudinal study concluded that by the age of thirteen, over half of American girls experience unhappiness with their bodies; these numbers leap to almost eighty percent once the girls reach the age of seventeen (Gentile 2002).
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TV commercials aimed at teenage girls
Girls are not even safe during television commercial breaks; commercials run during shows marketing towards teenage girls use beauty as a product appeal in almost sixty percent of commercials (Gentile 2002). If the television is on, chances are that girls are being bombarded by images that will contribute to body dissatisfaction.
The negative body image that can come from such media exposure can have harrowing effects. More than fifteen percent of young women suffer substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors (Gentile 2002). The numbers are as staggering as they are alarming. Five to ten million adolescent girls seriously struggle with eating disorders.
Of the millions in the United States affected every year by life-threatening eating disorders, more than ninety percent of them are adolescent and young women (Roxby 2014). Though this demographic is not the only group whose body image is negatively affected by media images, they certainly take the biggest hit, as much of the damaging content is aimed at them.
Adult women and the media
Studies have found that women who reported greater media exposure to television programs during adolescence were more likely to experience high levels of body image disturbance than those who did not report as much exposure (Serdar). Interestingly, it seems that different mediums of media have different effects on body image. Women who watch music videos that contained thin models expressed an increased level of negative mood and body image disturbance (Serdar). The more exposure women have to these kinds of images, the higher their body dissatisfaction.
These media images and their negative effects can have terrifying consequences to women’s mental and physical health. An estimated one in ten college-age women suffer from an eating disorder. By the first year of college, almost twenty percent of women have already had experience with an eating disorder (“Eating Disorders”).
In addition, women also tend to experience adverse mental effects from dangerous societal beauty standards. Women with higher media exposure displayed higher instances of depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, and self-loathing (Serdar). Millions of women suffer from these unhealthy food disorders and debilitating mental illness due to the pressure imposed on them by society to possess unattainably beauty.
Men and boys developing self-image through TV media
Though the majority of these images are targeted at and affect mostly women, men and boys are not immune to negative self-images brought on by media. Fifth grade boys reported higher amounts of body dissatisfaction after watching a clip from the TV show ‘Friends’ (Gentile 2002). This can be attributed to the fact that male characters in television and movies also have their appearance brought to attention.
Almost one-quarter of male characters in movies, one tenth of television shows, and seven percent in commercials experience this kind of shallow scrutiny (Gentile 2002). Just like with females, males can experience chronic depression and negative physical health developments due to the effects of media on their self-image. Men and boys account for ten percent of bulimia and anorexia nervosa cases (“Eating Disorders”).
This disordered eating is a direct side effect of the bombardment of images of perfect bodies and flawless faces that look increasingly dissimilar to the average person. Men are constantly being told that ‘bigger is better’, in terms of muscle mass and genitalia. Magazine articles mocking the ‘beach bodies’ of celebrities now include men as well. This kind of body pressure and fat-shaming can cause men stress and inhibit their mental health (Fell 2014). Statistics regarding men and body-image issues are quickly on the rise and the effects are just as dangerous as those experienced by women.
It cannot be denied that the media certainly has a negative effect on self-image. This kind of negativity affects both men and women from childhood and beyond. Media images can damage one’s self-worth by altering society’s perception of beauty, which is often completely unattainable for most people. This is even sadder when one considers what is truly happening here: people are basing their self-worth on their physical appearance and how well it matches up to society’s standards of beauty.
One’s physical appearance has nothing to do with how kind, intelligent, compassionate, or selfless someone is, yet society continues to base our own worth and the worth of others on physical appearance. As our exposure to these dangerous media images increases, our self-image is predicted to decrease. If the content of advertisements, movies, television, and magazines remain the same, they will continue to have the same negative effects. For these reasons and for the general well-being of our society, it is critical that research papers and studies continue to be focused on this issue.
Dittmar, H., & Howard, S. “Professional hazards? The impact of models’ body size on advertising effectiveness and women’s body-focused anxiety in professions that do and do not emphasize the cultural ideal of thinness.” British Journal of Social Psychology 43.3 (2004): 477-497. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health. Feb. 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Fell, James S. “How The Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too.” Time. 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Gentile, Douglas A., and Walsh, David A. “A normative study of family media habits.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 23.2 (2002): 157-178. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders”. National Eating Disorder Association. NEDA. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Roxby, Philippa. “Does social media impact on body image?” BBC News. 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Serdar, Kasey L. “Female Body Image and the Mass Media: Perspectives on How Women Internalize the Ideal Beauty Standard.” Westminster’s Academic Research Journal. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.