In the United States young adults ages 8- 18 use some sort of media an average of 7. 5 hours a day. (NEDA) From the moment you are brought into this world you are constantly taking in images, information, and ideas. It would be impossible to not be influenced by media, because it is imbedded in our everyday life and culture. Even as a child, watching cartoons or Disney movies, you’re taught the ideals of beauty and the significance of being attractive. Somewhere along the way this idea of an ideal body image has found its way into every form of popular media.
It’s impossible to hide from and the effect it is having on our society, young woman in particular is detrimental, and damaging. So this leads me to the question: What is media’s effect on body image satisfaction among young women? Some young women see their worth or value based on the way that they look. (Van Vonderen, Kinnally) In media, women are often presented in very unattainable way, that gives the impression that the way that they look is attainable. Whether real people actually look like supermodels or not, viewers are made to feel like that is the standard in which they should be held to.
Women are often left with the impression that if they don’t look a certain way they are less than because of it. Not only does popular media create these ideas it reinforces them as well. The more images women see of this ideal “beauty” the more positive undertones are associated with said, beauty. Whereas on the other side, the more negative connotations to overweight people there are, the importance to stay thin is heightened. Studies show that viewers often continue to watch shows that display ideals of beauty in which they have already have been influenced to believe, therefore enforcing these eliefs even more. Van Vonderen, Kinnally)
These body image ideals are destructive in many ways, including health. Studies show that the average model is 5’10 and 110 pounds, whereas the average woman is 5’4 and 145 pounds. The (NEDA) suggests that a woman who typically sees 3,000 ads/ commercials a day is bound to be impacted by media’s standards of beauty. The idea of showing one specific body type and kind of beauty is unrealistic and offensive to women everywhere. Various sources show the relationship between mass media and body discontentment. Starting at hildhood, and working its way through adolescence creating a strong foundation of self loathing.
These standards of beauty and concerns are usually gender- linked, and are mainly the concern of women. (Rogers, Paxton. 2009) For women specifically, pressures come in many forms. Including, but not limited to, pressure from parents and peers, as well as higher levels of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. These pressures aren’t necessarily tied to media, but the ideas of what the ideal body image is come from media, and therefore lead to comparisons based on unrealistic body tandards. Television and film, being a largely influential form of media, is at the heart of this dilemma.
In Hollywood today, beauty standards are classified as immovable and fixed. When there is someone who defies the norm just by looking different they are often seen as some sort of hero to the industry, when in reality they are just a normal person. In Hollywood when someone is overweight or not conventionally attractive they are usually put there to add some sort of humor or amusement. Whereas the main character or romantic interest is typically beautiful, thin, and “normal” looking. On the other hand, men aren’t plagued with this same inequity.
Time and time again we see an average looking man paired with a beautiful, model as his leading lady. This double standard is not only misogynistic, but also leads men to believe in these same body image ideals, which usually never apply to them. (Vitelli, Romeo. 2013) A theory created by Leon Festinger in 1950, called “Social Comparison Theory,” is to some, an explanation for this phenomenon. Social Comparison theory in summary, is basically the theory that as human beings we strive to know and evaluate who we are, accurately. Festinger believed that you evaluated others and then through comparison to them you evaluate yourself.
Through all your social interactions, and observations you are constantly making comparisons and evaluating yourself based on the way you look, economic class, intellect, and other various categories. By using social comparison, people think that they will be able to better evaluate their abilities and worth. Social comparison theory often translates to observations made through media, except for instead of women comparing themselves to their peers, they are comparing themselves to odels and actresses, with perfect teeth, perfect hair, a makeup artist, and a personal trainer.
This social comparison can effect the way women, perceive themselves and other women, while at the same time lower their self esteem, and confidence. (Corcoran, K. , J. Crusius, and T. Mussweiler. 2011) Another theory associated with body dissatisfaction is “Cultivation Process” created by George Gerbner in 1973. Gerbner studied the long term effects of media, and more specifically television. He believed that television influenced many aspects of life including, the way you see the world, and he way you see yourself.
The theory primarily states that television and media cultivates an idea in people’s minds that the world of television is the same as the world we live in. The main point being that television imitates the norm, or the status quo, leading people to believe what they see on the screen is reality. (Shrum, L. J. , &Bischak, V. D. 2001) Through this process of cultivation, people are apt to believe different things. As well as believing that the television world is a reflection of reality, you can also be made to feel like the people in the shows are a reflection of real people.
If then you feel like you don’t fit under the category of “real television people” you could end up feeling less than sufficient. Whether this thought is subconscious or you are actively thinking it, the motion is still there. This discontent with body image is consistent across the board. For instance, studies show 70% of women who weigh a normal weight believe that they are overweight and want to lose weight. (Ross, Carolyn C. , MD. 2015) According to one study, girls who watch television three or more nights a week are more likely go on a diet then girls who don’t watch as much television.
Ross, Carolyn C. , MD. 2015) Another shocking statistic comes from The National Eating Disorders Associaton, that 81% of 10 year olds, are worried about getting fat, as well as 42% of 1st-3rd graders want to lose weight. A study in Pediatrics says “two-thirds of girls in the 5th to 12th grades said that magazine images influence their vision of an ideal body, and about half of the girls said the images made them want to lose weight. ” (Ross, Carolyn C. , MD. 2015) These numbers don’t lie and the effect that the media is having on young women and women in eneral is momentous and undeniable.
It’s is not coincidence that these statistics are far more drastic when it comes to women, in a world where women have been historically disenfranchised, it only makes sense this culture of sexism spreads to body image as well. The positive effects that Media has on young women’s body image are slim but nevertheless there. Messages of body positivity and being confident are nearly everywhere you look. With companies like Dove who have a campaign focusing on un- retouched, “real beauty”, standing against Photoshop, and social edia websites banning pro-anorexia/ pro-bulimia messages. Ross, Carolyn C. , MD. 2015)
Other media sources have increasingly started health blogs and advertisements, promoting healthy living while showcasing many different body types. While this is definitely paving the way for more diverse media outlets and casting, it’s nowhere near perfect. Since there isn’t a uniformity and steadiness within all media, consequently no real change can inevitably happen. Media’s effect on body image satisfaction among women is powerful and persuasive and has changed the way women view themselves and their worth.