Media’s Influence on Body Image

The media’s influence on body image is profound. Body image is our perception of what our own bodies look like, rather than the shape they actually are.  It reflects in what we wear, what we eat, and how we carry ourselves.  Years of glossy magazines, billboards and television commercials have taught us that our body image isn’t good enough, and that we should strive for an unrealistic, and often unhealthy ideal of physical beauty. Unfortunately, this often shapes our self image and has a lasting effect throughout our lives.

Media Affecting Body Image.
Media is the biggest player when it comes to self image. There are many forms that media can take. It is more than just the actress on TV who works with a personal trainer for hours every day or the model on the catwalk who looks like she only eats celery and lettuce. It is even found in the magazine covers and ads with over photoshopped models who have impossible figures. Every aspect of media calls for unrealistic perfection, that not only affects adults, but is highly evident among children as well.

A Little to the Left – What we Find Attractive.
An easily-repeatable psychological study that illustrates the divergence of our own body image from what others actually see can easily be done in high schools.  A set of body silhouettes of both men and women is shown to a random sample of both girls and boys.

Each subject is shown both sets, and asked which of the silhouettes of their own gender they think their body shape is closest to, which they want to be more like, and which of the opposite gender they find most attractive.
The results are telling: Most girls answer that they believe they are one or two body shapes larger than they actually are, and identify silhouettes that are close to or very underweight as their ideal.  They also pick the more or less average-build body shapes as their ideal for a male.

The boys, on the other hand, usually identify themselves as smaller than they are if they are skinny, and much larger than they really are if they are overweight.  Those who are average to skinny usually want to be a body size that is larger than most women find attractive.

Why Body Image is Misleading.
Being fit is more important than being skinny, and people who exercise regularly generally find it easier to attain their goal weight. However, this is not what mainstream media tells us. The body shapes identified by most women as ‘ideal’ represent women who are quite badly underweight.

People with this body shape are unlikely to be very healthy, unless they are professional marathon runners. It requires constant exercise and a high metabolism to maintain this shape in a healthy way.

The Consequence of This Epidemic.
Unfortunately, as the media creates continues to push the envelope on self image, it is leading too unwise and unhealthy choices for many people, and causing lots of psycological and physical harm. There are many people out there today who suffer from eating disorders because they want to fit into a socially accepted image. This could be through anorexia, bulimia or even excessive exercise, all of which are very damaging to the body. It is also important to note that while young women are the most likely to suffer from eating disorders, it can happen to men and people of all ages.

What Can Be Done.
Changing the way the media portrays body image is a very difficult thing to do. There are very few companies who show images of average looking men and women in their advertisements. Companys like Dove is an exception when it comes to beauty ads. The best thing people can do is to remember that they are only able to be the best version of themselves and not try to meet the unattainable looks of others. Health should be considered over vanity. It is also important to recognize the signs of eating disorders in yourself and in the people you love. Acknowledging that a problem exists is essential in helping people get the assistance they need to learn how to accept their bodies, become healthier and stay that way.

Helping Chldren Gain a Positive Body Image.
It’s important for parents to reinforce a positive body image in their child’s mind from an early age, so that even if the child is overweight, he or she wil see their body the way it really is, and not much larger.  If your children are overweight, address this concern by encouraging them to do more active sports or by eating healthier as a family.

Don’t tell your child that she needs to lose weight, because that instruction coming from a parent will stay with a child until well into adulthood, as evidenced by the problems seen with young adults today.

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