Media’s Influence on Body Image Among Females: Media & Body Dissatisfaction

March 22, 2018 Media

The Media’s influence on body image among females Advertisement in teen magazines and on television typically glamorizes the “ideal body” as thin models that do not resemble the average woman. The ideal body is reinforced by many social influences, including family, peers, school athletics, business and health care professionals (Levine & Smolak, 1996; Thompson & Stice, 2001, as cited in Groesz et al. 2001, p. 2). However the greatest influence on the ideal slender beauty is the media. “Mass Media” involves advertisement on billboards, magazines and television (Groesz et al. 001, p. 2). The mass media are believed to encourage girls to form unrealistically thin body ideals, which are unattainable for many females (Field et al. 2001, p. 54). Standards of thinness are seen in approximately 95% of images in the media; these images represent the sociocultural model of attractiveness. When females are constantly exposed to images that conform to the same sociocultural standards of attractiveness via the media, they are sent a message about how they must appear in order to be judged as attractive (Watson, 2006, p. 86). Adolescence is a time of significant physical and psychological change, the development of a satisfactory body image at this time is important. As social beings, adolescents seek the approval of appearance as a means of developing a personal identity and sense of social belonging (Prince, 2009, p. 38). Thus, the media is not the only sources of pressure to be thin. Weight control behaviours among adolescents are modeled partially on their mothers’ behaviours.

In addition to being affected by the comments and behaviours of parents, adolescents are also influenced by their peers (Field et al. 2001, p. 55). Thus what are consequences of society’s emphasis of the “ideal body” on females? Research suggests that the media’s portrayal of the ultra-slender body as the ideal image of beauty promotes body dissatisfaction and subsequent eating disturbances among adolescents (Levine & Smolak, 1996; Striegel-Moore et al. 986 as cited in Krones et al, 2005, p. 134). Continual exposure to ultrathin models creates an internalization of the thin ideal body image, which then contributes to body dissatisfaction in adolescents. Internalizing the thin ideal body encourages body dissatisfaction because of the social comparison process in which young adolescents compare themselves to models and subsequently fall short of these social and cultural standards. It is believed that body issatisfaction then promotes dieting and negative perception of oneself, which then increase the risk for eating disturbances (Stice, 2001 as cited in Krones et al, 2005, p. 134). Correlational, cultural, and experimental evidence indicates that there is a link between exposure to media depicting images representative of the sociocultural ideals of attractiveness and body dissatisfaction (Watson, 2006, p. 387). With this constant attention towards attaining an unrealistic body type (desire to be smaller or thinner) many individuals become dissatisfied with their own bodies.

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This dissatisfaction can lead to depression, unhealthy dieting, and over exercising, Media’s messages have been linked to levels of body dissatisfaction (Stince & Shaw, 2002, as cited in Sinton & Birch, 2005, p. 167). Studies have shown that body dissatisfaction has also been linked to increases in depression (Stice and Bearman, 2001; Stice and Shaw, 2003 as cited in Stince & Birch, 2005, p. 165). It is also reported that individuals who experience chronic body dissatisfaction throughout early adolescents experience higher levels of negative affects and eating disorders into early adulthood.

Research also suggests that the relationship between body image and depression occur early in adolescents, particularly in girl because, as a young girl’s body begins puberty, her body changes away from the cultural ideal of thinness (Faust, 1983 as cited in Rierdan & Koff , 1997). This is because pubertal development for girls involves a significant increase in fat, and thus weight (Frisch, 1980; Young, Sipin, & Roe, 1980 as cited in Rierdan & Koff , 1997).

Associated with this physical change, researchers have observed a decreased in body satisfaction for young adolescent girls with a prominent focus of this dissatisfaction being weight and parts of the body associated with greater fat deposits (Kirkely & Burge, 1989; Tobin-Richards, Boxer, & Petersen, 1983 as cited in Rierdan & Koff , 1997). This dissatisfaction can drive adolescents and young women to behaviours of unhealthy dieting and over exercising in order to attain what the media portrays as the ‘accepted’ body.

The unattainable body that is advertised everywhere in society leads many individuals to be unhappy with their bodies. This can lead to the efforts to lose weight by restricting eating. This behaviour may be seen more likely in those who are overweight and have a desire to be thin, but it is also seen in normal and underweight individuals. Thus regardless of the weight, women and adolescents especially, are dissatisfied with their bodies. This is the case because these individuals have adopted an unrealistic standard of beauty (Lam et al. 008, p. 153). Utter et al. (2003 as cited in Lawrie, 2006, p. 365) found that weight control behaviours and binge eating increased in middle and high school students as their frequency of reading magazines containing diet related information increased. Similarly, Thomsen et al. (2002 as cited in Lawrie, 2006, p. 365) observed that restricting calories and taking diet pills were associated with reading beauty and fashion magazines in female high school students 15 to 18 years of age.

Likewise, celebrities frequently endorse these products, enhancing the power of the message in this culture where ‘stars’ are closely followed and emulated by adolescents and young adults. Thus, media pressures to be thin influence unhealthy dieting behaviours. Society and the media place unrealistic expectations of what their body ‘should’ look like. People are bombarded with messages and advertisements about how they ‘should’ look and what kind of person they ‘should’ be. Thus to meet these expectations females over-exercise.

To meet these expectations however, can be exhausting, unhealthy, and damaging to ones self-esteem. Women and adolescent girls are motivated by models to diet and over exercise in hopes to attain their “ideal body size”. When that goal is not full met females tend to compare themselves with other women who have an appealing body in society. Studies have shown that those who compared themselves with a fit, slender peer had an increase in body dissatisfaction. Recent experimental work showed comparisons with fit peers lowered women’s feelings of body satisfaction (Krons, 2005; & Lins, 2002, as cited in Wasilenko et al. 2007, p. 743). The study also found that women who exercised in a campus recreation center within view of a fit peer experienced significantly lower body satisfaction relative to women who exercised on the same apparatus without any peers in view. Thus, even those with relatively low body fat levels experienced lower body satisfaction in response to a fairly short exposure to a fit peer (Wasilenko et al. , 2007, p. 743). The study also showed that women who were less fit exercised for a longer amount of time when a fit peer was in their view (Wasilenko et al. 2007, p. 744). This suggests that the pressure from the media and peer pressure causes females to do the extremes in order to attain what the public portrays at the “ideal body” Lastly, experimental studies have found that women exposed to magazine images of the ultrathin super models, and women who compared themselves to fit peers experienced a host of negative emotions including depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity, and body dissatisfaction (Heinberg & Thompson, 1995; Irving, 1990; Stice & Shaw, 1994 as cited in Krones, p. 35). Thus, consequences of society’s emphasis of the “ideal body” on females are feelings of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction with her body can lead to feelings of depression and negative diet and exercise behaviours. The constant emphasis on the idea body image causes women and young girls to constantly compare themselves to others. This constant comparison leads these girls to a negative perception of themselves.


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