The Media

Where do we get our ideas about bodies and beauty? The list is seemingly endless. We inherit such ideas from our parents, our peers, our teachers and mentors, from our places of worship, our schools, and increasingly from the mass media. In high-tech societies such as ours, there are few settings into which the mass media do not intrude. And even if we are beyond the reach of tvs, billboards and MP3 players, we still carry in our minds media messages about appearance and desirability.

It would be overly simplistic to argue that media consumers always accept such messages completely and uncritically. Nor is it reasonable to suggest that the media alone are responsible for eating disorders and body image disturbances. However, systematic research on the topic, especially during the last two decades, suggests that the mass media powerfully influence our perceptions of beauty, our attitudes toward others, and our own self-image.

Ask yourself

The next time you read a fashion magazine or watch a trendy television show, try monitoring how you feel. What kinds of “self talk” do you engage in? (eg. “I wish I could have thighs like that,” “I’ll never lose that last 5 pounds.”)

If reading or watching makes you feel bad about your appearance, why do you think you continue to do so?

Next time you are tempted to read or watch such media, what could you do instead?

Reading picks

  • Irving, L.M. (1990) Mirror images: Effects of the standard of beauty on the self and body-esteem of women exhibiting varying levels of bulimic symptoms.
  • Irving, L.M. (1998) Media and disturbed eating: an analysis of media influence and implications for prevention.
  • Kilbourne, J. (1999) Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes The Way We Think and Feel.
  • Myers, P. & F. Biocca (1992) The elastic body image: an experiment on the effect of advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women.
  • Pope, H.C., K.A. Phillips & R. Olivardia (2002) The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession.
  • Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising.

Film picks

  • Killing Us Softly 3