Unattainable Standards of Beauty: Media's Implicit Message
All around the country, teens are bombarded daily with the media’s images of ultra-thin female models that appear to be ideal by modern American standards. With the average teenage girl receiving 180 minutes of this type of media exposure daily, it is no wonder that the media’s perception of “ideal body image” has invaded the minds of America’s youth. According to Cash & Pruzinsky, “Body image is a complicated aspect of self-concept that concerns an individual’s perceptions and feelings about their body and physical appearance”. The concept of body image has been drastically changed in modern America due to the powerful influence media had upon the population.
Modern advertisement and entertainment media has been bombarded with countless images of unrealistically thin models wearing body-hugging, midriff baring clothing that sends an implicit message to today’s youth. A study conducted by Dittmar and Howard in 2004 insists that “ultra-thin models are so prominent that exposure to them becomes unavoidable and chronic”. Exposure to this unrealistically slim image has literally become inevitable to America’s population due to constant media use. According to a WebMD article on body image, the average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily. Schooler found that women who reported greater exposure to television programming were more likely to experience high levels of body image disturbance. Thompson and Heinberg found that eighty-three percent of teenage girls reported reading fashion magazines about 4.
3 hours each week. This frequent exposure to body image media correlates with higher levels of body dissatisfaction and disturbed eating. Recent studies have found that television programs focused on appearance are swaying the self-esteem of girls as young as the age of five. Elissa Gaits, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh states that “We’re seeing girls at younger ages starting to be dissatisfied with their bodies, proactively trying to change them, and feeling like they need to emulate something different than what their bodies can do.” Field found that twenty percent of nine-year-olds and over forty percent of fourteen-year-olds reported wanting to lose weight. Nearly half of females ages six to eight have stated that they want to be thinner.
It’s no wonder why these adolescent girls are obsessing over weight when one takes a look at the child’s role models. The underweight models and actresses constantly featured in media are viewed as role models to these young children. It doesn’t help that many mothers, real-life role models, often openly obsess about their own weight, instilling habits far too early in a child’s life. In recent years, women’s body sizes have grown larger, while social standards of acceptable body image have become much thinner. According to Dittmar and Howard, “Images in advertisements, television, and music usually portray the ‘ideal woman’ as tall, white, and thin, with a ‘tubular’ body, and blonde hair.
” These modern American standards are unattainable for most women; the majority of models displayed in media are far under healthy body weight. Media’s mass use of these images send a subliminal message to women that to be considered beautiful, they must be unhealthy. Research conducted at Woodland Park High School shows that fourty-five percent of students let media highly affect their opinion of appropriate body image. Eighty-five percent stated that they believe models in advertisements do not maintain healthy and realistic body weights. Only fifteen percent of students believe that the “ideal woman” wears pants sizes 00-2 while sixty percent of the students stated that the ideal woman wears sizes 4-8. Media affects a much higher percentage of female students than male students.
Females seem to be particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of media images. Researchers Striegel-Moore and Franko have called female’s concerns with their physical appearance “normative discontent”; implying that body dissatisfaction affects nearly all women at some level. Body dissatisfaction has been well documented in mental health literature through out history. A Tiggemann study found that women who are exposed to frequent fashion magazine reading and images of women pictured in many mainstream magazines show higher levels of body dissatisfaction and disturbed eating. The issues of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating patterns have become highly prevalent in adolescent and college females. These young women who are constantly bombarded with media’s increasingly thinner images, often take drastic measures to emulate the models they see.
Many end up with very low self-esteem, even dangerous eating disorders. Striegel-Moore and Franko’s studies have shown that most girls who express a desire to be thinner are within the normal weight range for their age. Schooler’s studies have found that women who reported greater exposure to television programing during adolescence are more likely to develop weight anxiety and disordered eating patterns. These dangerous patterns that develop are directly correlated to high amounts of media exposure, as women tend to mimic the standards they view in media. Weight anxiety and disturbed eating patterns parallel with increased levels of depression and insecurity. Studies conducted by Stice and Schupak-Neuberg show that women who view slides of women pictured in magazines and advertisements show increased levels of depression, stress, guilt, shame, and insecurity in addition to weight dissatisfaction and eating pathology.
The images that these women see in media cause higher levels of thin-ideal internalization. They show increased levels of negative mood and body image disturbance. The media that people experience for entertainment purposes happen to ultimately depress their mood and have the opportunity to develop into dangerous eating pathologies. So what can be done to save the self-esteem of America’s adolescent population? In a WebMD interview, Renee Hobb, associate professor of communications at Temple University, states that banning media exposure altogether may backfire. “It only creates the forbidden fruit phenomenon.” Hobb suggests families practice “co-viewing”.
Hwe parents watch TV or view the internet with their children, it allows them to talk with their children about patterns of physical representation. Parents must act as responsible role models to their children and stress importance on healthy body weight, rather than meeting the standards that media has created. Research has clearly shown the detrimental effect the media has upon American body image standards. Measures must be taken preserve the mental health and self-esteem of our country’s population. The country must begin to focus on maintaining healthy bodies rather than the ultra-thin quota media has set.
Works Cited Gerleman, Andi. Body Image Survey. 10 May 2013. A survey conducted on WPHS students about media’s effect on body image. Woodland Park High School, Woodland Park. Heubeck, Elizabeth.
“Girls and Body Image: Media’s Effect, How Parents Can Help.” WebMD. WebMD, 18 Oct. 2006. Web.
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