Media’s influence on body image

Our body image is very important to us.  How we perceive ourselves determines how we treat ourselves, act and react which extends to how we treat others.  Thus, one’s self-concept which is defined by the Oxford online dictionary as ‘an idea of the self-constructed from the beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others’. The media plays a major role in shaping how viewers portray themselves and whether it is benefitting the public or causing more harm than good is the matter at hand, yet persons (especially youth aged 13 – 25) nonetheless fall prey to these inferences.

Body image

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Living by the stated norms and code of conduct, adolescents will inevitably become a victim to believing that what is portrayed and praised on the television and via the internet, is gospel. This belief has an ominous effect on one’s body image – which is the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body – thus impacting largely their self esteem.

quotes red 2Does the media’s perception of body image play a role in determining one’s self esteem level?

Many persons have unlimited access to the media and in this day and age boundless access to all networks, websites and social media channels which promote in one way or the other the ‘perfect’ body image. The ideal image of feminine attractiveness presented in the media is unyielding, with a particular emphasize on thinness (Cash & Henry, 1995). Not only are these images of female beauty  over emphasized and narrowly defined, but they are exaggerated, and protracted exposure to these images via the media makes prominent incongruities between the perceiver’s conception of her own weight and the society’s accepted standard (Posavac, Posavac, & Posavac,1998).

Adolescent females and women in particular (13-25 years of age) are at risk as they are most saturated by the portrayal of these images of female attraction which often times they may find threatening (Posavac, Posavac, & Posavac,1998). The concept of self runs concurrent with how these individuals perceive their bodies and the ideal body shape is seen as criterion for health and happiness (Vitelli, 2013) which is consistently coveted by most women and adolescent females alike.

Self-esteem is also linked to one’s perception of their body image and for some individuals a decrease or plunge in self-esteem is seen when their body image is not in accordance with idealistic body images. Posavac, Posavac, & Posavac (1998) state that females will become more concerned that their weight is not acceptable if it is not the accepted standard of female attractiveness- thus decreasing their overall personal value and sense of self-worth. Low self-esteem as a result of this in turn can therefore cause detrimental consequences like depression, an onset of eating disorders and general body dissatisfaction.

Too many times there are cases of eating disorders and depression and occurrences of females with low self-esteem due to the unrealistic belief that they must attain a societal accepted body to be therefore perceived as attractive. The social outcome of females depends primarily on their attractiveness (Buss, 1994). Tantleff-Dunn (2002) stated that women with moderately large breasts are perceived as more attractive than those with either small or extremely large breasts, women with low waist-hip-ratios (WHR) of around 0.70 are perceived as more attractive than those with higher WHRs (Henss, 2000) as well as slender women with a body mass index (BMI) around twenty are perceived as more attractive than women with smaller and larger bodies (Cornelissen, Maisey & Tovee, 2007). With all this said, one can better understand how this could threaten the perception of female body image if they do fall in the latter of the categories.

Vitelli (2013) observed that when participants were rated for physical attractiveness, significant negative correlations were noticed between the perception of attraction and body shape with ‘larger ’ characters were considered less attractive. For older females (in the young adulthood stage of life), the biological aspect of possessing certain attributes – for example wider hips, which is an indicator of fertility and childbearing – would validate the need to modify one’s body image to, in turn, show these favorable characteristics. Similarly, to female adolescents, body image is fundamental to their self-definition due to their culture to believe that appearance is the foundation to evaluate themselves and others (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999).

However, the association between self-esteem and body image poses an issue, especially for females who grow up in mass consumer societies (Becker, Burwell, Herzog, Hamburg, & Gilman, 2002). The body size of women in the media is often more than 20% underweight (Spitzer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999) and this is what most women and adolescent females strive to look like. Prior studies report that body dissatisfaction and eating concerns arise increasingly with age among females and as a result is attributed to the conflict between their realistic and ideal selves (Harter, 1999).

By Alexandra Daley


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