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Media: Mirror of Society

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Media: Mirror of Society

Everywhere in the world, society keeps evolving and changing. The thoughts, mindsets, and ideas of cultures all over the world are constantly changing due to the influences of what they see. The media has always had a role in the construction of an individual’s body image and ideal self. In the article “How does the media influence our thoughts on body image?” Kayhan, Baig, Mehmi and Basra argue that during the early 20th century the ideal, beautiful woman was 5’4 tall and about 140 pounds with a small mid-section; yet, for some if not most women, in order to achieve a small waist they would be put into a Victorian hourglass corset, which shrunk the woman’s waist to a much smaller size, we still see these tactics used by today’s women. This issue isn’t only occurring in the United States, it is a worldwide problem that continues to grow. The media uses the social elite, such as athletes and actresses, to advertise products and goods; the use of these models can have significant outcomes, both negative and positive, on individuals in our society. The positive being that viewers of these magazines that advertise skinny models and fit athletes may be influenced to change their lifestyle from unhealthy to healthy. The negative being that viewer’s want to take the quickest and easiest ways in order to achieve results, which can lead to dangerous side effects and habits. So the question is, is it even worth it to try to look perfect if dangerous methods have to be used? We see all over the world, individuals trying to look their best by working out consistently, dieting, or both. All of which are done with one goal in mind, too look good to yourself and everyone else. Most of time individuals don’t try to look perfect for themselves but also for society. We try to adjust the standards of beauty and fitness that are perceived in magazines and ads. We construct the perfect self by picking up traits society wants to see. Csikszentmihalyi states in his essay, “What Is the Self?” that human perfection has been promoted throughout history and perfection is part of our nature (274). The idea of the perfect body hasn’t just evolved recently; it has been a part of the construction of selfhood for many centuries. People worry more about conforming to society’s image than being themselves nowadays, which takes a toll on individuals mentally because they might not be able to live up to society’s standards. Some individuals will try anything in order to look good. Individuals base their idea of the perfect body off of magazines and fitness ads such as Muscle and Fitness or Vogue; what they don’t know is that most of these models weren’t blessed with great bodies but that they worked hard to look the way they do and fitness and beauty doesn’t come easily. Viewers and consumers of magazines and fitness ads try to achieve their dream body if they don’t already have it. It’s in our human nature to try to be fit because being out of shape isn’t what attracts the opposite sex. That’s the overall goal, to look appealing to the opposite sex and to make the same sex envy your body. Unfortunately, this idea is now believed to be one of the only ways that individuals will find their soul mate or life partner, and that is through being physically attractive at first sight. This is a big reason as to why being fit has become the main desire of society and it is becoming a rapidly growing problem in our world. Kayhan, Baig, Mehmi and Basra state that body image is the main crisis in most young males and females today:
The media's influence on our perception of body images has become one of the most significant crisis's in the lives of young males and females. The sources of mass media… manipulate society through unrealistic or unhealthy thin body images that paint the picture of perfection of what true beauty should be.
Even though body image issues have an effect on the ideas of women, this theory doesn’t specify the effect the media has on males in terms of being muscular and lean. When it comes to body images, males want to be buff and stronger because that is what establishes their dominance. Muscular men receive more respect than skinny men because muscles and strength exemplify supremacy and strike fear into those that are around them. Fitness enthusiast who are willing to make major changes to their body also have to make major changes to their lifestyle, which can be both positive and negative. Michelle Healy states in her article, “Teens eager to get buff try multiple means for Muscle,” that it’s common for teenagers to turn to diet, exercising, supplements, and even steroids in order to achieve or surpass their body development goals (Healy).
The media uses representations in order to get their models to look the best they can. Eagles guitar player Glenn Fry was featured in an advertisement for the Chicago Health and Racquetball Club featured in the Chicago Sun Times during the late 1990’s; the advertisement contained two photos, the first with Fry having flowing hair, a mustache, droopy eyes, and baggy clothing, the second with Fry being cleanly shaved, cropped hair, and tighter clothing curling a dumbbell (Jackson and Andrews 232). These types of ads are what paved the way for the ideology of the body perfection and fitness that we see today. The pursuit of physical beauty is brainwashing the young causing them to resort to extraordinary measures that are not needed in order to achieve the goals they want. Healy also states that in a study published in Pediatrics, 12% of boys and 6% girls confessed to using certain muscle enhancing behaviors. This study clearly shows that men are willing to use other means in order to achieve their body goals. Brendan Gough also supports these accusations by stating in his article, “The Psychology of Men's Health: Maximizing Masculine Capital,” that men have more interest in physicality, which leads to abusing steroids (Gough 1). Most of the time teens only think about using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) for a short while but they don’t realize the long-term effects that even one cycle can do to their body. When finishing a cycle of steroids, certain post cycle therapies need to be taken in order to restore hormonal and metabolic levels back to normal; then the individual won’t experience severe side effects such as liver malfunction or an enlarged prostate. The effect these advertisements have on our teenagers in today’s society are frightening because they don’t know if they are truly harming their body until they end up in the hospital or needing surgery. Through proper nutrition and exercise programs, teenagers have the ability to build muscle naturally. Their energy levels and metabolism are still high enough to do so, whereas adults may need PEDs in order to lose fat or build muscle. The need to be muscular is mostly due to trying to enhance performance in sports also. “Some critics argue that the sporting discourse provides a prime site for the construction of “maleness” (Mason 27). This quote, taken from the article "Looking Into Masculinity: Sport, Media And The Construction Of The Male Body Beautiful," states that sports have become a main role in the construction of a males self.
Muscularity and strength are the worldwide symbols that exemplify dominance among those who participate in fitness and sport. The pressure to perform up to standards set by society can be too much for any athlete, and when the pressure becomes to stressful they seek help. Yet, the types of help they seek are the ones that will get them the results the quickest and easiest way. What most individuals don’t understand is that when using PED’s it still takes intense workouts and extreme nutrition to achieve superior results; steroids just give a boost to the body’s internal functions that aid in muscle growth and recovery. Even though steroids are very beneficial to increasing muscle mass and performance, is it really worth the consequences and side effects it has on the body? The expectations set by an individual’s coach, teammates, opponents, and themselves can have a major toll on them mentally; not only do they have to live up to their own expectations but they have to meet the other’s expectations. Society has expectations and standards that sometimes cannot be reached, which causes individuals to idolize and visualize models or athletes they consider their role models. The media has instilled the thought of looking abnormally skinny into the minds of many young females throughout the world today. Kayhan, Baig, Mehmi and Basra state that the media knows the impact they have on the body image of their viewers and consumers:
Media influence upon our thoughts of body image has come to affect yet not only, young but also the older generations as well, to visualize and idealize these unrealistic abnormal body images, from television screens and magazine advertisements toward themselves, causing them to suffer through the unnecessary pain of self-objectification and self-punishment (Kayhan, Baig, Mehmi and Basra).
The media influences the minds of individuals more and more as time goes on and that’s the way it’ll always be. Even though the media is mostly to blame for this trending issue, they shouldn’t be accused of everything that happens. As humans we need to be mentally stronger and capable of rejecting theories and ideas of what’s “in” and how everyone should look. Being able to standup to peer pressure and push it aside is a big part of who an individual is and defines their mental capabilities to look past what society thinks. The media doesn’t cause self-mutilation and drug usage, only the idea of having the perfect body but neither of these actions are needed in order to achieve any type of body image goals. The media’s use of extremely skinny models and unrealistically muscular and tone athletes is one of the main causes for body image issues in individuals today. The argument shows that it isn’t only the media’s fault for advertising whatever models or fitness models they choose, but the consumer/viewer who chooses to mutilate their body is too blame also because they want to achieve their goals in the quickest way possible without doing much of the work that is needed. Being fit and healthy shows that that individual cares about their health and fitness and continue this lifestyle for their satisfaction or society’s approval. Steven Jackson and David Andrews state that being fit will allow us to live our lives under some sort of control, “Having a fit body signified that we have our lives under control and living in the best way we can” (234). Having the perfect body doesn’t make an individual a perfect person. Society has made it a necessity too look good, because if someone doesn’t look good they can be judged in a way that doesn’t really show who they truly are. Hopefully my readers can use this information to help themselves or anyone else they know that has fallen to the peer pressure of trying to look “perfect.”
Works Cited

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. "What Is The Self?" Mind Readings. Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 2002. 264-281. Print.
Gough, B. (2013). “The Psychology of Men's Health: Maximizing Masculine Capital”. Health Psychology, 32(1), 1-4. doi:
Healy, Michelle, "Teens eager to get buff try multiple means for muscles." USA Today: Academic Search Premier. 25 Mar. 2013. Web.
Jackson, Steven J., and David L. Andrews. Sport, Culture and Advertising: Identities, Commodities and the Politics of Representation. London: Routledge, 2005. Print.
Kayhan, Sumeyra, Sanaz Mirza Baig, Harpal Mehmi, and Alycia Basra. "How Does the Media Influence Our Thoughts on Body Image?" AS/PSYC1010 Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
Mason, Gay. "Looking Into Masculinity: Sport, Media And The Construction Of The Male Body Beautiful." Social Alternatives 11.1 (1992): 27-32. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Mar. 2013. .

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