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By Gwendolyn S.

“Slimmer, Fitter, Sexier!” It says in big, bold letters on a cover of Women’s Health Magazine with a glowing and slim picture of a famous pop singer. Across the cover, there are titles saying things like “Eat, drink and still shrink!” or “Flat belly special!” How many women’s magazines do we see with covers almost identical to this one? How many unrealistic and photo-shopped pictures do women take in by just standing in line at the grocery store? How many “thin and beautiful” messages do women consciously or even unconsciously internalize throughout their day to day lives? The message is clear and it is everywhere. The messages of a thin ideal are negatively impacting the physical and mental health of women. The mass media is having a negative impact on the way women perceive and treat their bodies by 1) leading women to believe that thin is beautiful 2) making women feel worse about their bodies 3) in turn, leading women to unhealthy physical and mental habits.

The mass media (e.g. television, movies, commercials, magazines, social media, news) is using its power to negatively impact women’s health by making women believe that being thin is beautiful. Women and young girls, especially, are being targeted with this thin ideal and relative to males, females in our society are clearly more body dissatisfied partly due to the strong media emphasis on women’s thinness and attractiveness. (Yamamyi 2005) This answers the question as to why women are more uncomfortable with their body image, regardless of size, as women in the media continue to get thinner as time goes on. Across movies, magazines, and television programs, thin-ness is consistently emphasized and rewarded for women and thin television characters are over-represented while overweight characters are underrepresented (Hyde, Grabe & Ward 2008) The media is designed to reach and influence huge masses of people (Levine &Murnen 2009) thus supporting the idea that sending out a thin ideal, specifically to women, would reach and influence a large group of women making them believe that thin is beautiful. Researchers have found that in the United States, 94% of female characters in television programs are thinner than the average American woman with whom the media frequently associates with happiness, desirability, and success in life (Yamamyi 2005) Such evidence supports the claim that the mass media is leading women to believe that thin is beautiful. As seen in the example of the Women’s Health magazine used above, the media also encourages instructions on how to attain such a thin look; dieting, exercising, and body contouring surgery, encouraging female consumers to believe that they can and should be thin (Yamamyi 2005)

The media is leading women to believe in a thin ideal all while showcasing unrealistic and unattainable images of women. The “Artificial Beauty” condition argued that the media images of females are inappropriate “standards” because their flawless looks are created by various techniques including make-up and airbrushing (Yamamyi 2005) Thus begins the problem of women having a negative perception of their own bodies as, according to communications theories, repeated exposure to media content leads viewers to begin to accept media portrayals as representations of reality (Hyde, Grabe & Ward 2008) When women perceive these altered images as reality, they begin to view themselves as inadequate for not looking like them. High-internalization women are especially likely to use high profile persons as upward comparison targets and feel inferior for not meeting social “norms” of attractiveness (Yamamyi 2005) By the mass media spreading these thin ideals they are affecting the way women are perceiving their own bodies and making them feel worse about their image. According to Groesz, Levine and Murnen’s meta-analysis, women are significantly more body dissatisfied after viewing thin-and-beautiful media images versus average-size, oversize, or non-body images (Yamamyi 2005)

So far, it has been proven that the media is spreading a thin ideal making women believe thin is beautiful which in turn is proven to make women perceive themselves negatively, the next step for women on this venture would be a solution to their undesirable problem. When people have inconsistent cognitions, they experience psychological discomfort and are motivated to change their cognitions to restore consistency (Yamamyi 2005) This says that if women feel negative about their body, based on the psychological discomfort they would feel, they would be motivated to change their body image. Due to the media’s influence, women are being led to unhealthy physical and mental habits. An idealization of thinness is positively correlated with body image dissatisfaction which is often accompanied by social anxiety, depression, eating disturbances, and poor self-esteem (Yamamyi 2005) supporting the claim that the media leads women to unhealthy physical and mental habits and practices. Measures of the tendency to self-objectify are positively correlated with eating disorder symptoms which can positively say that media exposure does appear to predict an increase in negative body image and eating disorders (Levine & Murnen 2009) This proves that there is a significant correlation between media exposure of thin ideals and unhealthy mental and physical habits. According to the Grabe (2008) meta-analysis definitely supports a positive relationship between TV exposure and body dissatisfaction, thin-ideal internalization, and self-reported disordered eating. (Levine & Murnen 2009)

The above information proves that there is a positive correlation between the media’s influence on women and their unhealthy habits as a result. This should be enough evidence to support the idea that mass media displaying unrealistic thin ideals out into the public negatively affects women. Approximately 50% of girls and undergraduate women report being dissatisfied with their bodies (Hyde, Grabe & Ward 2008) This is not a low statistic. This is half of one group of women. It can be said through meta-analysis studies that there enough evidence to support that thin ideals leads to body dissatisfaction. There is also enough evidence to support body dissatisfaction, stemming from media influences, can result in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and other issues. In conclusion, there is enough to be said that the mass media is having a negative impact on the way women perceive and treat their bodies by 1) leading women to believe that thin is beautiful 2) making women feel worse about their bodies 3) in turn, leading women to unhealthy physical and mental habits. Clearly, there is something that needs to change in the trends of our societies media.

 

Holmstrom, Amanda J. “The Effects of the Media on Body Image: A Meta-Analysis.” 

Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 48, no. 2, 2004, pp. 196–217

 

Grabe, Shelly, et al. “The role of the media in body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies.” 

Psychological Bulletin, vol. 134, no. 3, 2008, pp. 460–476