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Media and its effect on body image Zianya De la mora University of Texas at El Paso

MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE Abstract Media images of beauty damage the idea on how women see their bodies. Body


appreciation, thin idealization, and icons are some of the factors that affect women and how they see their bodies. This was not always a problem, but at some point media changed what is perceived as beautiful. This caused a social problem which is affecting many young girls and women. The effects is having on women affect not only their health, but also can affect them mentally. A solution offered by professionals and studies can be media literacy. This type of solution offers women the opportunity to be less vulnerable and affected by media images.

MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE Media and its effects on body image.


Day by day women and young girls are more exposed to media images of beauty, this continued exposure to media has caused girls and women to appreciate less their bodies. They want to look like models do instead of knowing and valuing their own bodies. This is becoming an issue in the community because this kind of exposure can lead to other kind of problems, such as health and mental problems. Studies realized in different places have shown that media literacy can protect women from these consequences like eating disorders, and help them to be less vulnerable to media images (Watson & Vaughn, 2006). History Going back to the 1930s- 1950s, being skinny was not beautiful at all. And being curvy was what all women wanted. During these years skinny was not seen as a compliment for women. An icon describing these ideals of beauty could be Marilyn Monroe, who was really beautiful and curvy (Ramirez, 2007). However some years later, the ideals of beauty changed again. And beautiful became skinny. The standards for beauty changed, the society made them go for skinny not curvy. As for now, media portrays images of thin women, really thin without showing these natural curves. (Figures 1.1 and 1.2) As shown on these images, the idea and image of beauty has change over the years. How does this change on image is affecting women?



Figure 1.1 Vintage ads

Figure 1.2 Models now photograph Problem

“A 1996 study found that the amount of time an adolescent watches soaps, movies and music videos is associated with their degree of body dissatisfaction and desire to be thin.” (Teen Health and the media, 1994). Young girls and women are becoming more and more affected by what media say is beautiful. Videos, advertisements, movies, commercials, all of these resources are shaping women ideals of their bodies. Women are the main target of media images of beauty. Media has a tremendous impact on how women asses their bodies. Sometimes women are able to see parts of their bodies that they like, and some others that the dislike. They are still trying to change their bodies and their level of body appreciation is not really high. “You’re not OK the way you are. We’ll make you better” (Anderson, 2007). This is the message

MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE media is giving to women by their images and representations of beauty. When women


see these thin models on media they tend to compare their bodies to them. If models are way slimmer women feel bad, they feel their bodies should look better. If the models are thin but not for much, their level of body appreciation is way higher. These comparisons affect different women in different ways (Bergstrom, Neighbors, and Malheim, 2009). After a study was realized, the results were put together in graphs, which showed the following information. Women who appreciate their bodies, and do not seek for a thin idealized figure are less vulnerable to media images. In the other hand women who have low body appreciation and seek for a thin ideal are more vulnerable to media images (Halliwell, 2013). All this continue exposure to media images can cause different effects on women. Some of these effects are eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. These two eating disorders are very common among young women who want to look slimmer because that is what media says is beautiful. “The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that eating disorders affect more than 5 million Americans each year. “, “According to The Center For Mental Health Services 90 percent of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25.” (Teen Health and the media, 1994). As these statistics show many girls and young women are affected by these eating disorders per year. Sometimes these eating disorders can end in death for the girls who suffer from them. The pressure media puts on young girls is such that they would do anything they can to look like thin models do. The average size of the idealized woman (as portrayed by models), has become progressively thinner and has stabilized

MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE at 13-19% below healthy weight. (About-face, 1995). Many thin models are not healthy


and still girls see them as role models. They want to look like them because that is how a “beautiful, successful, and important” women should look like according to media, but they do not notice how wanting to look like them can affect their lives. Solution As presented before, the high pressure media is putting on women is causing them to fall into eating disorders, or low body appreciation. According to some studies realized, the rate of media literacy on women can protect them from negative effects media may have on them (Watson and Vaughn, 2006). Media literacy could become a tool which will be helpful for women to be more aware of media messages. Increasing the level of media literacy could decrease the number of women who suffer from an eating disorder. Studies where women are exposed to media literacy on short and long periods of time have been done, and the results are good, but not strictly perfect (LopezGuimera, Levine, Sanchez-carracedo, & Fauquet, 2010). This could be interpreted as if media literacy is still a tool in development and its efficiency has not been proven yet. Other solution that has been proposed by specialists, is a more psychological approach to the problem. A study was directed, and some girls received group therapy. This therapy consisted of talking about the factors that caused girls to suffer from body dissatisfaction or eating behaviors. Then, an approach on how all these factors could be prevented. The therapy was given via internet, and the results were favorable if they were followed-up (Heinicke, Paxton, McLean, & Wertheim, 2007).



As said before, media effect on women is increasing, causing girls to be more and more affected by media messages. Some years back, the way beautiful was portrayed was very different as it is now. Women awareness and criticism on what they see on media is low, causing them to feel affected by thin models. Consequences of these negative media messages are eating disorders which sometimes can be fatal. Media literacy as well as psychological therapy are options offered by professionals as a way to solve this problem, but they have not proven to be a hundred percent efficient.

MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE References About-face. (1995). About-face don’t fall for the media circus about us. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from Anderson, T. (2007 Fall). Why do we struggle with beauty and body image? Biola. Retrieved from Bergstrom, R. L., Neighbors, C., & Malheim, J. E. (2009). Media comparisons and threats to body image: Seeking evidence of self-affirmation. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 28(2), 264-280.


Grogan, S. (2008). Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women, and Children. London: Routledge. Retrieved from Halliwell, E. (2013). The impact of thin idealized media images on body satisfaction: Does body appreciation protect women from negative effects? Body Image, 10(4), 509-514. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from the Science Direct database. Heinicke, B. E., Paxton, S. J., McLean, S. A., & Wertheim, E. H. (2007). Internetdelivered targeted group intervention for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in adolescent girls: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 379-391. Krupnick, E. (2011). Vintage weight gain ads discourage skinny bodies. [Vintage ads]. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from Lopez-Guimera, G., Levine, M. P., Sanchez-carracedo, D., & Fauquet, J. (2010). Influence of mass media on body image and eating disordered attitudes and behaviors in females: A review of effects and processes. Media Psychology, 13(4),

MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE 387-416. doi:10.1080/15213269.2010.525737 Priss, K. (2010). Photoshop for skinny girls: Hide away their Bones [Photograph].


Retrieved November 2, 2013, from Ramirez, X. (2007). Thin Is In: An Analysis of Media Endorsed Ideals of Physical Attractiveness and Their Affects On College-Aged Women (Master's thesis). Retrieved from esis07.ramirez.pdf Teen Health and the media. (1994). Body image & nutrition fast facts. Retrieved October 19, 2013, from cts Watson, R., & Vaughn, L. M. (2006). Limiting the effects of the media on body image: Does the length of a media literacy intervention make a difference? Eating Disorders, 14(5), 385-400. doi:10.1080/10640260600952530