Does the media negatively influence body image?
Of course it does! Whether it is the radio, television, magazines, newspapers or the internet, this social phenomena has encroached every aspect of our modern life. One aspect that each strand of the media shares, is the way in which it presents the female body. Celebrities, models and other influential women are shown to have the perfect body and flawless skin encouraging other females to look the same. These idealised, airbrushed images have sparked outrage among many who believe this has led to a rise in emotional and physical disorders which is damaging to both mental health and self-esteem. If the media is deemed responsible, what more can be done to improve body image?
Social media has been gaining more and more popularity in the last few years. Applications like Instagram and Facebook are mainstream media with a combined amount of over two billion users. Academics found that young women are more likely to compare their appearance with that of their peers’ images on social media than they were with celebrities on TV, adverts or other forms of traditional media. When they then make an unfavourable comparison with the other woman they are looking at, the impact is more pronounced when the image is on social media. This is interesting because social media is arguably much more invasive than traditional types of media because we have our phones all the time and we receive notifications. So this makes these pressures particularly hard to escape from.
Escaping from adverts is almost impossible, where they manipulate and control everyday decisions. Thin women and airbrushed adverts have been a source of concern for decades but there has been an increased involvement of that of social media. Around 70% of women aged eighteen to thirty five regularly edit their images before posting them, according to research by the Renfrew Center Foundation. These shocking results show how self-conscious young women are, that they have to go to the extreme of editing photos of themselves to make them look as close to what is perceived as ‘perfect’.
While some women chose to edit their photos, others turn to weight loss. Research found that a vast majority of women who diet are even not overweight. Magazine headlines could be partially to blame with them constantly encouraging women to ‘drop two sizes in two weeks’ and apparently get them the ‘ultimate celebrity body’. They also call out celebrities for gaining weight like ‘Kim Kardashian’s nightmare – 65-lb weight gain!’. This falsely encourages women, who want to look like their favourite celebrity or idol, to use their ‘professional’ diet and exercise plans. Young women often feel compelled to diet and exercise as they expect that their body shape should match up to those of which they see online.
A further downside to the media’s influence is it’s use of extremely thin female models have severe consequences to young women. A report by the British Medical Association found that female models are becoming thinner at a time when women are becoming heavier, and the gap between the ideal body shape and reality is wider than ever. The average female fashion model wears a uk size six or eight, while the average British woman wears a size sixteen. It also states that young women are now dieting at an increasingly earlier age and a leading paediatrician believes that increased exposure to images of celebrities’ and models bodies is behind the large rise in the number of young girls being admitted to hospital with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are potentially extremely fatal and can result in death. This is how serious the situation is.
Eating disorders are becoming more and more apparent in modern day society where soaring numbers of children and young people are being taken to hospital for sometimes months at a time. NHS figures show, while six hundred and fifty eight under-nineteen’s in England needed a spell in hospital in 2003-04 to treat an eating disorder, by 2013-14 that number had increased to one thousand, seven hundred and ninety one, up 172%. What is most surprising is that more than 90% of them were girls and young women which suggests that there has to be a main contributing factor – the media. Young women are facing major amounts of pressure to have the perfect body, perfect hair and a flawless face causing stress and insecurities which can lead to a disorder or low self esteem. Nine out of ten girls with low body esteem told researchers that they stopped themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk. Nine out of ten said they avoided seeing friends and family or joining for a team or club. This shows that pressures from the media can distort our daily lives and affect our social activities.
The media does and will continue to influence the female perception of body image. However with the growing acknowledgements of false and unrealistic images that the media possesses, there has been a rise in positive outcomes. Where online female fashion companies like fashion nova have introduced a site for ‘curvier’ women, helping them feel more accepted in the fashion industry. In the fast moving world of media, there is a lot of room for change where by encouraging self acceptance and body confidence, it can hopefully dramatically reduce eating disorders.