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The Media's Effect On Women's Body Image

Regardless of the era, women have always been pressured to look and behave a certain way. However, technology and the media have increased the exposure to body images like never before. On a daily basis, women of all shapes and sizes are dealing with many physical, mental and social consequences because of the media's body portrayals. Therefore, I decided to examine how our society is being affected on all aspects, while analyzing different solutions for the future of our women.

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1. Every Body Is The Right Body

Body image can be defined by one’s negative or positive perception. The body shape, facial features and overall appearance influences one’s body image. In our society, the media holds a lot of power and control over women’s idea of a good body. The internalization of a fictitious body lowers women’s self-esteem, decreases their productivity and increases the chances of physiological problems, eating disorders and suicide. While white Americans continue to feel pressured by society’s beauty standards, minority groups are also affected by the media’s influence to have a thin figure. However, minority women have more difficulty trying to meet these expectations because all body shapes are different. “Minority Women, Media, and Body Image”, analyzes the effects of media on African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American women’s self-perception and body image. Even though African Americans have historically been judged for their physical appearance, they accepted their larger body type. However, recent studies outline how the influence of the media has led African Americans to think otherwise and have led African American’s to alter their body in hopes of attaining the ideal body image. Meanwhile, Hispanic women are exposed to more negative body images because they watch about four more hours of television, on a daily basis, than women in other ethnic groups. Therefore, Hispanic American women probably support the beauty industry because of their body dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the Asian community encourages women to attain realistic body images. Due to the fact that Asian American parents confront and communicate about the discrepancies, many Asian American women are not inclined to follow the media.  However, different Asian studies contradict these findings and explain how Asian females are not satisfied with their facial features. All different kinds of women are trying to fit one specific body ideal and fail to highlight each other’s differences. By staying positive and focusing on yourself, women can hope to overcome these insecurities.

Martin, C.L. & Baugh, E.J. (2009). Minority Women, Media, and Body Image. University of Florida, IFAS Extension FCS2301.

2. Don’t Edit, You Might Regret It

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According to an article by the University of the West of England, over 10 million photographs are uploaded to Facebook every hour, approximately a quarter billion every day. Many of these photos being shared online involve some form of editing to enhance body appearance. The use of photo editing software in mass media advertisements has been prevalent for more than two decades but with the increased use of social media to share photos, more and more people are using photo-editing apps to alter their online appearance. For example, men might edit their photos to enhance their muscular physique in an effort to meet a socially idealized appearance. Today, a major concern is not the idealized appearances of models in mass media but rather the idealized appearances that have developed on social media between peer groups. It is thought to be because mass media pictures are perceived to be unrealistically achievable, whereas the appearance of a friend seems more realistic. Subsequently, this adds more pressure for someone to achieve a similar look in order to fit in with his or her peer group and society as a whole.  While it may seem as minimal as an attempt to fit in socially, research has proven the significant effects that social media has, especially among women and young girls. These studies reveal that social media use is associated with body image concerns, negative mood and the development of eating disorders. With so many young people on social media, it can be very detrimental for them to be exposed to such idealized physical appearances. During the self-identification stages, the use of social media to understand beauty can be dangerously misleading for young adults and usually results in more pressure to edit their images. Recognizing the dangerous effects that idealized images on social media can have on the youth is becoming a priority among health professionals and, as a result, more realistic and healthier lifestyles are being promoted. ​

Guest, E. “Photo Editing: Enhancing Social Media Images to Reflect Appearance Ideals.” Journal of Aesthetic Nursing 5.9 (2016): 444-46. Web. 29 July 2017.

3. Why Don’t I Look Like Her?

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Females tend to compare their bodies to the media’s portrayal of what a woman’s body should look like and often feel forced to meet this unrealistic body image. The pressure and struggle to reach this standard often leads to negative physical and mental outcomes. According to the study “Facebook Photo Activity Associated with Body Image Disturbance in Adolescent Girls,” thin ideal internalization and appearance comparison play a huge role in body dissatisfaction. In the current study, middle and high school female students completed a survey based off the different body image measures to analyze the link between body image and the adolescents’ engagement on Facebook. Those adolescents with high thin ideal internalization and body dissatisfaction engage a lot more with photo-related Facebook features, which only reinforces existing body image ideals and affects their self-esteem. The popularity of Facebook and the constant appearance-related posts among females has encouraged many adolescent girls to display an inaccurate version of themselves on social networking sites. Eventually, many of these adolescent girls are putting pressure on themselves over images that may seem real but are not. If the strong link between body image disturbance and eating disorders is ignored, it will only intensify the pressure to be thin and can lead to body image disturbance. Our society should become more aware about the association between Facebook use and body dissatisfaction and focus on empowering adolescent females and improving their idea of a “perfect” body. By considering Facebook use and its impact on our culture, school and community-based prevention programs should encourage adolescents to self-regulate their time spent analyzing others’ Facebook pictures.

Meier, Evelyn P., and James Gray. "Facebook Photo Activity Associated with Body Image Disturbance in Adolescent Girls." Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 17.4 (2014): 199-206. Web. 25 July 2017.

4. Why INSTA-ntly Compare?

According to the article, “Instagram and College Women's Body Image: Investigating the Roles of Appearance-Related Comparisons and Intrasexual Competition,” findings show that the rise of social networking sites, like Instagram, has allowed women to compare their appearances more with others. Social comparison theory is a theoretical framework that explains the negative effects of media exposure on body image. Basically, the theory suggests that it is natural for humans to compare themselves to others. This explains a biological process, in which the social comparison theory can be associated to female intrasexual competition. With that being said, in many civilizations women with feminine attributes had a higher chance of attracting a male and eventually mating. In this case, cosmetic surgeries or diets can be acknowledged as strategies that women use to find their mate. Women may compare themselves with other competitors throughout social networking sites, which can reinforce body image discrepancies. While upward social comparison focuses on individuals who compare themselves to someone superior, downward comparison can be defined when individuals compare themselves to someone inferior. That is, appearance-related comparisons are based on physical appearance. Once woman compare themselves to someone thinner, women may choose to engage in unhealthy behaviors. However, even though studies show that present-day women’s body sizes have increased over the last two decades, women still compare themselves to the unrealistic thin body ideal portrayed in the media. The relationship between body image concerns and appearance-related comparisons demonstrates the link to the desire for thinness and body dissatisfaction. Therefore, constantly comparing yourself to others, can lead to the development of serious eating disorders. Our society should focus on self-image, rather than spending our time analyzing others lives. It can get a lot easier, when we set time to reflect as an individual and member of the society. Comparing ourselves to others can only lead to negative effects. Why bring you or someone else, when you can just focus on staying healthy and positive?

 Hendrickse, Joshua, Laura M. Arpan, Russell B. Clayton, and Jessica L. Ridgway. "Instagram and College Women's Body Image: Investigating the Roles of Appearance-related Comparisons and Intrasexual Competition." Computers in Human Behavior 74 (2017): 92. Web. 31 July 2017.

5. A Toxic Relationship With Food

As of today, our society is currently dealing with a national health disaster as the rates of obesity, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa continue to rise. The journal “Body Image, Media and Eating Disorders” explains that the reasons for this involve the interaction between the pressure to be thin, family eating habits, exercise patterns and excess of non-nutritious food. By examining the changing historical perspectives, the journal suggests different solutions for change. Throughout history, political climate and cultural influence have always shaped the public’s perception of the ideal female body type. During colonial times, women were expected to be physically strong to help with the land and household chores. In the 19th century, much focus was placed on tiny waists and female fragility with the invention of the corset. Conversely, at the beginning of the 20th century, the corset motivated the start of the feminist movement and a comfortable boyish-look became the trend. During World War II, women were encouraged to work because most men went overseas. Once the men came back, gender roles were enforced as women were highlighted for their fertility. Then, in the 1960s women were fighting for equality and recognizing sexual freedom. However, today’s culture revolves around what is on the media. Baywatch and Barbie’s physically impossible measurements inspires society to lose weight, which has led to disordered eating at a younger age. Eventually, diets and food restraints result in a repetitive pattern of self-deprivation, which can lead to bingeing and weight gain. While clinicians believe that the cause of eating disorders is dysfunctional family dynamics, beauty expectations, biological predisposition to mental disorders and social skills must be taken into consideration. Recent studies are proving that children with excessive media consumption are at risk of being obese, dealing with depression and a deteriorating self-image. With that being said, parents should feel responsible to encourage healthy lifestyles by having family dinners and providing the necessary nutrients. This can reinforce mental health and solidify the overall relationship and communication between parents and their children. Meanwhile, healthcare providers and the government should take preventive measures, rather than reactive ones. By forgetting about financial advantage and focusing on the future of our generations, media and advertising companies can achieve a positive outlook for females in our society.

Derenne, Jennifer L., and Eugene V. Beresin. "Body Image, Media, and Eating Disorders." Academic Psychiatry 30.3 (2006): 257-61. Web. 27 July 2017.

6. Women Are Not a Piece of Candy

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In “The Objectification of Women in Mass Media: Female Self-Image in Misogynist Culture,” Berberick analyzes quantitative and qualitative data to understand how the media’s representation of a woman objectifies images of femininity, while affecting a female’s self-image. According to Berberick, the media only represents women as objects to meet a man’s needs. In patriarchal societies, women are not held to the same standards as men and are expected to change their appearance to stimulate desire. The media spotlights women’s weight loss after taking a pill, while a promiscuous music video continues to encourage women to focus on looking sexy. Whether it is plastic surgery or retouching your photographs, women fail to realize what reality is and is not. Meanwhile, many female-focused magazines provide women a set of guidelines to address how to look and explain what are considered acceptable behaviors for a woman. The constant objectification makes women feel ashamed and fearful, even though they are usually promoted as toys on advertising. In fact, women’s attractive bodies are used to grab attention in hopes that the consumer will feel the desire for the product as well. Most of the time, women are not even represented as a whole on advertisements. Instead, the ads focus on provocative areas, which takes away from the idea of women being valued as a whole. Furthermore, studies show that when an artist who objectifies females emphasizes their sexuality, girls who strongly identify with this artist will internalize their behaviors and values of beauty ideals. Eventually, the media’s objectification of women makes it very difficult to be happy and find peace. Due to the misrepresentation of women’s body images and value, there has been a drastic increase in cosmetic surgeries, sexual assaults, low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. The overall feeling of dissatisfaction often feels impossible to overcome. However, society should focus on making women feel safe and respected. By loving your body and internalizing your worth, women can reshape its patriarchal framework!

Berberick, Stephanie Nicholl. "The Objection of Women in Mass Media: Female Self-Image in Misogynist Culture." The New York Sociologist 5 (2010): 1-14. 2010. Web. 29 July 2017.

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