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The Effects of Media on Body Image

In: English and Literature

Submitted By 111cunning1
Words 2449
Pages 10
Jennifer Archuleta
Professor Musgrave
English 205
December 13, 2011
The Effects of Media on Body Image
Imagine growing up in a modern day society. Everywhere you look there are images of beauty, representations of how beautiful people are supposed to look; flawless and thin. You grow up believing that this unattainable image is the only image of beauty. As you look in the mirror and see only flaws in your reflection, you rack your brain of ways to make yourself more beautiful. This becomes your obsession. Your dream is to become a model, but in the very start of your career, a fashion agent tells you that you will have to lose ten pounds in order to find work. This was the beginning of the end for former model and actress Isabelle Caro, just one of the many women affected by the media industry and the negative effects it has on body image. With Isabelle’s obsession to be thin, she battled with anorexia until it ended her life at the young age of twenty seven.
In modern culture, a great deal of importance is placed on our looks and body image. This is portrayed by the media through magazine pictures, television advertisements, billboards, and the influence of models and actresses. Although the media affects both men and women, I will be showing how it specifically affects the behaviors, viewpoints, and attitudes of women. The media portrays a beautiful woman as being someone who is thin and flawless. Photographs of models that are posted in magazines are brushed-up, touched-up, and altered to make the models appear flawless. Models and actresses often get surgeries and have unhealthy eating habits in order to fit the perfect body image that is being portrayed. Studies have shown that the media has a negative impact on women, causing them to be dissatisfied with their body image. This often leads to depression and causes women to develop bad eating habits and disorders. In modern society, there is a direct relationship between the media and the development of negative body images.
Anorexia nervosa is not only an eating disorder but a psychological disorder in which the person has an extreme fear of being overweight and purposely avoids eating, even to the point of starvation and, in some cases, death. According to an article from Medicine Net, “95% of people who suffer from anorexia are women” (Dryden-Edwards).
Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder that women suffer from. Similarly to anorexia, it often presents itself in women who are dissatisfied with their body. How it differs from anorexia is that women suffering from the disorder will binge on food and then try to purge the food by laxatives or vomiting because of an extreme fear of gaining weight. Although no definite cause of anorexia or bulimia has been determined, researchers believe the destructive cycle begins with the pressure to be thin and attractive. Women experience this pressure from the media:
A new study shows a relationship between fashion magazine reading and certain eating disorders, and television viewing and body dissatisfaction. Researchers say the drive for thinness is a learned behavior (DeGroat).
According to Jerry Lopper, an author who focuses on personal development and growth, behavior is defined as a person's action or reaction to some situation or stimulus (Lopper).
The average woman sees 400 to 600 advertisements per day, and by the time she is 17 years old, she has received over 250,000 commercial messages through the media. 75% of normal weight women think they are overweight and 90% of women overestimate their body size (Dittrich).
Women are reacting to the stimulus, given by the media, that there is only one image of beauty: the one being portrayed by the media. Therefore, it’s no surprise that American women are learning such behavior so often as to develop eating disorders. When the majority of those messages are either directly or indirectly making statements that a beautiful body is one that is thin and flawless, it is extremely difficult for women to get that false image out of their mind. Eating disorders are just one way that women react to a negative body image. The behavior that affects an even greater population of women is dieting:
It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth anywhere between 40 to 100 billion (U.S.) a year selling temporary weight loss, which 90 to 95% of dieters regain the lost weight (Gerber).
Women’s magazines contain 10.5 times as many diet promotions as men’s magazines. Overall, research has shown that as commercials for diet foods and diet products have increased, the body sizes of Playboy centerfolds, Miss America contestants, fashion models and female actresses have decreased, while the weight of the average North American woman has increased (Spettigue).
Dieting is such a huge part of the American culture because people feel that they need to lose weight in order to meet that ideal body image that the media keeps portraying as the only way to look beautiful. Dieting may seem like a healthy way to lose weight and appeals to many, but studies show it is very unsuccessful and the majority of people who diet end up gaining the weight back that they initially lost.
While dieting is unsuccessful for the customers, it is extremely successful for diet industries. Some researchers believe that “advertisers purposely normalize unrealistically thin bodies to drive product consumption,” (Dittrich). It is the lack of success of dieters that makes the diet industries more money because after people fail to succeed on a diet, they proceed to begin yet another diet. If people were happy with the way they looked, they would not find the need to go on a diet. For this reason, it is important for marketers and advertisers to continue to send out a false image of beauty in order to sell their products.
It’s not just a matter of finding rare, exotic, beautiful women to fit that false image in the media, but advertisers purposely alter the images of models to make them appear better. Former supermodel Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked as good as Cindy Crawford.” In other words, how she looks in reality is different from how she looks in magazines. One would be amazed at the altercations that are made to a photo. It’s not just brushing up the skin to make it appear flawless and smooth, but advertisers actually pay to have professionals change the photo of models by elongating the neck, raising the eyebrows, changing bone structure in the face, slimming down areas around the thighs and waist, and getting rid of any kind of “flaw”. Attaining this look is impossible because nobody naturally looks that way. It keeps women unsatisfied with their body and always aiming for a look that they will never achieve.

For some, changing their appearance to look like the “ideal” image of beauty is so important that they are willing to have surgery to perfect their bodies. This is an extreme but not uncommon behavior of many people who are able to afford it. Hollywood stars and celebrities feel the pressure to look as perfect as possible at all times because they always have cameras on them. These celebrities set the trends of how we should look and dress. They help feed that ideal image of beauty.
Although many celebrities feed into the ideal image of beauty, some celebrities, such as Jean Kilbourne, (a feminist author, speaker, and filmmaker who is internationally known for her work on the image of women in advertising) have tried to use their fame to help enlighten women on what the mass media is doing. Jean Kilbourne is making a difference by bringing awareness to the issue in the hopes that women will regain their self-esteem and realize that true beauty lies within oneself. Kate Winslet is another celebrity who, “Insists that movie audiences accept her full figure” (Yaqoob). She honestly admitted that GQ magazine air brushed her curves away in their photo shoot and that she does not look like that in reality, nor does she wish to look like that. She even launched an attack on Hollywood celebrities stating, “They are breeding a whole new generation of anorexics” (Revoir). Our society is in need of these kinds of role models that send the message that it is beautiful to be normal and that there are other images of beauty in the world other than the one being portrayed in the media.
People have been obsessed with looks and fashion far before the media of advanced technology existed. So why must we blame others for our own beauty-seeking behavior, one might ask? Aren’t we all responsible for our own actions? If a famous person decides to go under the knife for the sake of beauty, does that mean we should follow in pursuit? If the media sends the message that you are not beautiful unless you look a certain way, why can’t humans, being rational thinkers, just simply disagree with the media and be unaffected by those messages? How can anyone prove that the media truly does have an effect on body image? One might argue that there is no proof that the media has any influence on our perception of body image. However, an interesting study was conducted in Fiji that shows otherwise:
Until recently, Fiji was a relatively media-naïve society with little Western mass-media influence. In this unique study, the eating attitudes and behaviors of Fijian adolescent girls were measured prior to introduction of regional television and following prolonged exposure. The results indicate that following the television exposure, these adolescents exhibited a significant increase in disordered eating attitudes and behaviors (Spettigue).
The evidence revealed in this study shows that the direct relationship between the media and the development of a negative body image is undeniable. It wasn’t until the Fijian adolescents were exposed to media that they started to develop negative body images.
In response to the argument that people have been obsessed with looks far before the media came along, one can say that the media causes a different level of concern. The media causes a kind of thinking and behavior that is different from mere vanity. There are three specific reasons why advances in technology, particularly the rise in the mass media, have caused an unhealthy and different kind of obsession with our own looks unlike previous forms of vanity. These three reasons are:
Because of the media, we have become accustomed to extremely and rigid and uniform standards of beauty.
TV, billboards, and magazines mean that we see beautiful people all the time, more often than members of our own family, making exceptional good looks seem real, normal and attainable.
Standards of beauty have in fact become harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than five percent of the female population. (Fox)
Many people argue that the media has absolutely no effect on them at all. But if this were true, then why would companies spend over $200 billion a year on advertising? The answer is because advertising works. It absolutely influences people’s decisions. Most people are unaware of how important advertising is in the mass media. Jean Kilbourne takes it a step further when she states that, “The media know that television and radio programs are simply fillers for the space between commercials.” In other words, the advertisements are more important and make more of an impact than the actual television or radio programs!
So now that it has been established that there is a direct relationship between the media and the development of a negative body image, the next question to ask is why would the media continue to advertise this false image of beauty when it is so damaging to the self-esteem of so many women? Sadly enough, so much money is marketed off of beauty and dieting products that advertisers purposely try to keep this “perfect body image” in order to drive women to buy their products in an endless effort to have the perfect body. Marketers know that this crazed obsession with body image only increases profit by driving up the market of beauty products.
This is an unfortunate reality. The media is a powerful tool in the American culture. It could be used to empower people and increase their self-esteem. It could be used to unite people by sending the message that everyone is beautiful in their own unique way, rather than convincing everyone that there is only one type of beautiful. It could be used to bring positive messages and help people to focus on bigger issues other than their own looks. The media has the power to change our society as a whole. One can only imagine what our society would be like if that power was used for the good of mankind.

Works Cited
DeGroat, Bernie. “Media Influence Eating Disorders.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (1997):
Dittrich, L. “Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising.” Healthy Place (2000-2011):
Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne. “Anorexia Nervosa.” Medicine Net, Inc. (1996-2011):
Fox, Kate. “Mirror, Mirror.” Sirc (1997-2000):
Gerber, Robin. “Beauty and Body Image in the Media.” Media Awareness Network (2010):
Kilbourne, Jean. “Can’t Buy My Love: How advertising changes the way we think and feel.” Touchstone (November 2000):
Lopper, Jerry. “What is Behavior?” Personal Development at Suite101 (2006):
Nadeau, Barbie Latza. “Isabelle Caro: Anorexic Model Dies, Her Mother Commits Suicide: How Should the Fashion Industry Respond?” The Daily Beast (2011):
Revoir, Paul. “Winslet Blasts Hollywood for Generation of Anorexics.” Mail Online (February 2007):
Spettigue, Wendy and Henderson, Katherine A. “Eating Disorders and the Role of the Media.” Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2004):
Yaqoob, Tahira. “Kate admits she, too, has gone to drastic measures to lose weight.” Mail Online (February 2007):

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