In this segment we take a look at the power of the media on our body
image, and some things we might do to reduce the negative effects.
Everyday we are bombarded with numerous messages from the media.
The media is a huge part of our lives and exists in many different
forms. Whether we look through magazines, watch music videos or
even our favourite ‘reality’ television shows, we are constantly being
shown an ideal with the message that if we don’t look a certain way,
then we should strive to do so.
The Media’s Message and its Impact
When we think about the media and body image, what is the message that
we receive? One common message is that we should follow the
media and what we see is the way we should look. In other words,
the media is seen as being right. Some of us even see the media
as an authority figure.
The media doesn’t represent all women. We don’t see women of all
different shapes and sizes. We may not see women who are
ethnically different or who have different characteristics. Kat
mentions in the video that she was happy and excited to see a woman
with freckles because she herself has freckles. It doesn’t seem
to be the norm and when we do see women who are larger or who look
different, we might even be surprised.
The media also tends to focus on outer beauty rather than inner
beauty. We see many pictures of women who are flawless when it
comes to their hair, face and body. This process may start at an
early age with fairytales, comics and even Barbie as a role
model. We learn that beauty is what others value.
We don’t see realistic images in the media. We wouldn’t see the women
in magazines walking down the street on a regular basis. We also
don’t see women looking natural in magazines or music
videos. They always tend to look glamorous. The media
also shows women competing against each other. There is a dynamic
between women where we try to outdo each other. It seems that
each woman is trying to be better than the next one. The media
has a powerful impact in that we also try to do the things that we see
and hear. Many of us may use the media as a source of
information. Karen mentions in the video “that there is competition to
be something that’s not real. We are following the media as a
guide, trying to fit in and falling into a trap.”
Internalizing the Thin Ideal
One thing that almost all women in the media have in common is the fact
that they are thin or have what we have come to know as the ‘perfect’
body. It is interesting that women in the media represent what we
think of as the perfect body. Is there such a thing as a perfect
body? There definitely won’t be one perfect body that will be
right for all women. We each need to look at our own individual
selves and decide what is perfect for us individually. We
are all different shapes and sizes and these factors impact our
bodies. Thus, each person has their own perfect body that is
based on many factors of which the media is not one.
The thin ideal in the media emphasize the thin female form. Being
thin is linked to finding love, being happy and achieving
success. Internalizing the thin ideal is striving to be thin. The
thin ideal has been known to place pressure on women to be
thin. Perhaps at one time or another, we have looked at
models in magazines or even our favourite celebrities and wanted to
look as they do.
Internalizing the thin ideal has many effects on women. Women may
feel many negative emotions in response to the thin ideal. As Kat
thinks about her experience, she felt sad, upset and angry. She
felt that women presented in the media and the thin ideal had a hold on
her, she aspired to be like them. Internalizing the thin ideal
can also affect our behaviour; we may act in certain ways in response
to what we see in the media. Nikki mentions that ”people take
things in whether they want to or not, making comparisons with
magazines, messing with our minds and how we view our bodies.”
Sometimes even though we don’t want to fall into the trap of the thin
ideal, it seems as if it is out of our control. We may start to change
our behaviour for the wrong reasons. Katherine talks about her
reaction to a music video with a celebrity she wanted to look
like. She said that she started to cut back on eating and
working out more to be like the woman in the music video.
It isn’t fair to say that making changes in how we feel, eat, exercise
or view our body image is wrong, but we should be more aware of the
reasons why we decide to make these changes. We should ultimately
make changes for ourselves and not because we compare ourselves to the
media and internalize the thin ideal.
Being ‘Media Aware’
Being media aware doesn’t mean that you abandon the media, disown your
favourite celebrity, or stop looking through your favourite
magazines. It simply means being aware of the facts, knowing what
is real and what is not. Katherine talks about this and says,
“I’ll watch music videos and think to myself, that’s not how they
really look. A perfect size isn’t a size 0. As long as you feel
good, you’re active and healthy, that’s all that counts.” At
times, we notice that women who don’t fit the ideal, whether they are
larger or older, tend to be made fun of or are the punch line of
jokes. By being media aware, you can make informed decisions.
· 90% of all girls ages 3-11
Barbie doll, an early role model with a figure that
is unattainable in
· 69% of female television characters are
thin, only 5% are overweight.
· The tendency to compare
oneself to models that are portrayed by the media, increases with
· The average person sees between 400 and 600 ads
PER DAY-that is 40 million to 50 million by the time he or she is 60
years old. One of every 11 commercials has a direct message about
beauty (this isn't counting the indirect ones).
ten of the most popular magazines most commonly read by men and women were reviewed
for ads and articles related to weight loss, the women’s
magazines contained 10.5 times more articles
weight loss than did the men's magazines.
For more interesting media
facts, visit: http://www.about-face.org/r/facts/media.shtml
Dittrich, L. (1996) About-face facts on the media.
Retrieved October 11, 2005, from About- Face website:
Check it out: Try this on your own or with a
group of friends. Go to the following websites to see the extent of
airbrushing and the neat things that can be done digitally to alter
We have the ability to think and express ourselves freely; this is part
of the uniqueness of being human. Tina points out in the video that we
have our own filters, we can let these messages (from the media) in or
reject them, and we do have the power.
There are two key points here. The first is that the media has a
filter through which it sends messages and we each have our own filter
through which we receive messages. The second point is that we have the
power to accept or reject messages. We do not have to accept
everything that we see or hear. We can make changes in how we
view our body image, but this should be based on our own feelings and
thought processes rather than because we are comparing ourselves to
what we see in the media. By being media aware, we can use that
knowledge to decide whether we choose to internalize the thin ideal or
the beauty ideals put forth by the media. As Amanda says, maybe
we should make people in the media look like us rather than us trying
to look like them.
It is important to note that not everything we receive from the media
has to be taken in negatively. We also don’t have to criticize
the models or celebrities for how they look. Their bodies may be
perfect for them and that’s okay. The key point is that the media
shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself and in the same breath, you
shouldn’t need the media to make you feel good about yourself
either. How you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and body
image along with any changes that you may want to make should come from
within, only you should hold this power.
Tips for Taking Small Steps
The media is a large and powerful part of society, so it is easier said
than done to make changes to how you receive messages from the
media. Keeping that in mind, it may be best to take small
steps. Kat speaks of her personal experience and says, “It’s a
struggle to not be taken in by the media. It took a long time to
get out of that way of thinking, and I’m still not completely out of
it. I’m slowly realizing that it’s not all that it is cracked up
to be.” She continues to talk about how striving to be like those
in the media is not the way to achieve happiness.
Some tips regarding the media:
· Be media aware, know what’s real and what’s not and
use this information to make decisions that are good for you.
· Focus on the good and bad; consider both the negative and positive messages filtered through the media.
· Choose which messages you wish to accept, and reject all others.
· Allow your body image to develop and/or change
based on your own self rather than others (including the media).
· Talk with others, whether it be friends, family or
in groups such as Turning Points. Others may share your views or
you can always use it as a learning experience.
Finally, as Kat mentions, “have a sense of humour about some of the
things you see and hear.” When you receive contradictory
messages from the media about yourself, rather than feel bad about
yourself or question your appearance or body image, hold your head up
high, be satisfied with yourself and just smile.
Exercise 3.1: What do you see and how do you feel about media
images of women?
Get your favourite magazine or even a few of the
most popular magazines and look through them for images of women. As
you are looking at these images, ask yourself the following
· Are these images real or have they
been altered in any way?
· What message do you get
about body image in general from the images?
· Do you
compare yourself to these images? If so, how do they make you feel
about your own body image?
· Do the images represent
all women in society?
· Do you enjoy looking at these
Try this with a group of friends, how do they feel?
Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, ON
P7B 5E1 Canada, Phone (807) 343-8110 Fax (807) 343-8023