Unrealistic Influences: Social Media And Body Image

Too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall. Am I pretty enough? Why did my friend get more likes on her picture than mine? Nothing is ever good enough. In this generation, media has become a huge influence in our youth and the way we function in society; it is the way we access and view content immediately. The media strongly influences body image through television, film, advertisements, social media, and photographs. According to Julia T. Wood, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “all forms of media communicate images of the sexes, many of which perpetuate unrealistic, stereotypical, and limiting perceptions. ” With the digital editing of pictures and plastic surgery, body image goals are unrealistic and affect everyone. These questions we will research in the "Unrealistic Influences: Social Media And Body Image Essay" paper. Some individuals have made assumptions that women are the only group of people that suffer with body image issues, Lisa Druxman of IDEA Health explains this issue by stating that majority of articles written about body image are focused on women and teenagers, but body image concerns affect all genders, ethnicities, and cultures (Druxman).

Body image is defined as “the way a person perceives their own physical appearance and how that perception affects their sense of self-worth” by the “Body Image” article from the Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection database. The expectations of body image in the media have negative impacts on teenagers, including cyberbullying, eating disorders, and health concerns that will continue through adulthood. These issues should be countered by media outlets by promoting proper body positivity for our younger audiences. With the arrival and convenience of social media, people have more time and opportunities to make disrespectful statements regarding an individual’s weight and appearance. Chelsea Kronengold, Body Project Program Coordinator for the National Eating Disorders Association explains, “body – or fat – shaming is one of the most common forms of cyberbullying. Presently, our society views thinness as the gold-standard of beauty, so people who deviate from that body type are often ridiculed and made to feel inferior”. According to Ditch the Label, an international anti-bullying campaign, Instagram is the social media platform with the highest amount of cyberbullying offenses. The campaign conducted a survey, and it is explained that, “fifty-four percent said they had been bullied, while 17 percent said they had experienced cyberbullying. Of those who had been cyberbullied, 42 percent had faced it on Instagram. The results suggest that Instagram has replaced Facebook as cyberbullies' medium of choice”. Another survey of 1, 400 people between the ages of 14 to 24 was conducted, with the independent health charity Royal Society for Public Health, where it was presented that cyberbullying created increased depression, anxiety, loneliness, and body image unhappiness. YouTube was considered the social media platform for having the most positive influence on health due to the emotional support, sense of awareness, and community building that the videos on YouTube can provide. Cyberbullying in the media is one of the many negative impacts of body image expectations and can lead to other consequences.

Our health is affected by these unrealistic influences. The book, Body Image: Perceptions, Interpretations and Attitudes by Sophia Greene discusses that “women who spend a lot of time consuming media that contain high levels of thin, idealized female body images are also the ones who are likely to dislike their bodies and engage in disordered eating behaviors”. Experimental research and correlational studies were received to determine the effects of forced media exposure. In this experiment, the participant is presented images of thin idealized bodies from the media. After exposure to these images, the body image of the participants is measured (ideal body size, body dissatisfaction, and perceived body size). The studies showed that media exposure leads to negative body image, and it is explained, “active engagement in self-to-image social comparison is predictive of higher levels of body dissatisfaction after viewing thin ideal images”. In the academic article, “The Body Image Presented by the Media Promotes Disordered Eating” by writers Jennifer Derenne and Eugene Beresin, the unrealistic body types in media and the editing of images is analyzed. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis posed for More magazine, in glamorous outfits and then in a sports bra and shorts, it is expressed, “the reality is that most magazines airbrush photos and use expensive computer technology to correct blemishes and hide figure flaws” (Derenne, Beresin). Jamie Lee feels that women should know the truth, and the pictures and figures interpreted by the media are rarely left alone.

Women who believe that they can achieve their weight loss goal are more likely to feel better about themselves after looking at images of thin individuals in contrast to those who believe that thinness is unattainable for them. The effects of media exposure on our body image creates reminders of society’s idea of beauty, and the power to decide how a woman evaluates herself and her body image. Derenne and Beresin also discusses that shows on television have been criticized for promoting unhealthy body image. Television continues to show incredibly thin actors in leading roles. An example of this is on the reality show The Swan, which feature major makeovers and plastic surgery. In The Swan, women are separated from friends and family for weeks and are a part of a difficult diet and exercise plan. The hair stylists make recommendations such as highlights and hair extensions, whereas plastic surgeons perform Botox, facelifts, breast augmentations, and collagen injections. Their results are displayed in a beauty pageant, and the women that were formerly considered as "ugly ducklings” participated in competition to be given the title of The Swan. Men are also becoming concerned with shape and weight and are dealing with media pressure. Jennifer Derenne and Eugene explain, “pictures of thin, muscular, and perfectly coiffed ‘metrosexual’ models appear in men's magazines. Gay and straight men alike are shelling out significant sums of money for gym memberships, styling products, salon haircuts, manicures, and waxing treatments”. Derenne and Beresin also discuss that pro-anorexia (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia (pro-mia) websites and blogs on the Internet have developed and have been causing concerns. According to the Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection database, “the National Eating Disorders Association estimates that about ten million boys and men struggle with eating disorders during their lives”. Eating disorders are now being diagnosed as young as 8 or 9 years old. A survey in 1994 found that forty percent of 9-year old children have been on a diet. Clinicians are learning that eating disorders are providing leading factors in interpersonal effectiveness skills, anxiety, mood disorders, and the cultural expectations of beauty. Eating disorders are a significant influence of the negative impacts of body image produced by the media. The impact the media has on our body image is crucial in everyday life and has multiple health factors that create these concerns. Dr. Chou makes the argument that four factors, mass media, important others, social factors, and individual factors have influence on women's reasoning, and the trend towards slimness in her scientific article “Thinness = Beauty: Factors that Influence Women’s Cognitive Bias Toward Weight Loss. ” We learn in her findings that the four factors have different degrees of influence, but mass media has the biggest impact. She conducted a survey where women were asked to respond truthfully to statements on a scale of 1 (lowest of importance) to 5 (highest of importance). The results from this survey showed that the strength of advertising messages promoted slimness. Fashion magazines influenced the ideal body appearance, which exaggerated the ideal of slim body shape, experience, dissatisfaction, and anxiety with their appearance. Women seeking a slim shape will be influenced by film and television entertainers and parents excessive focus on their children’s diet can increase disordered eating. Perri Klass, American pediatrician and writer discusses the impact of body image on teenagers. Consuming laxatives and muscle building products to drastically alter weight and appearance displays unrealistic ideals that are unattainable, even with proper diet and exercise. These health concerns are a serious matter, and they will continue to get worse with the impact media has on our body image. She explains:By age 23 to 25, 10. 5 percent of the women in this large sample reported using laxatives in the past year to lose weight; the practice increased over adolescence in the girls, but was virtually absent among the boys. Conversely, by young adulthood, about 12 percent of the men reported use of a muscle-building product in the past year, and again, this increased during adolescence.

On the opposing side, the media wants to push the “perfect” body and create this obsession with thinness. Society wants to promote healthier lifestyles due to the obesity epidemic. According to Dr. David Blumenthal and researcher Shanoor Seervai of The Commonwealth Fund, “nearly 40 percent of American adults were obese in 2015 to 2016” which is a 34 percent increase since 2007. Severe obesity also increased from 5. 7 percent to 7. 7 percent during this time. To further understand this severity, a 15 percent obesity rate was considered the highest in 1985; five states in the United States had obesity rates over 35 percent in 2016. Obesity is also linked to diseases such as hyperlipidemia, type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Natalie Boero, writer of the book Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic” discusses the negative influences of the obesity epidemic. She explains, “the obesity epidemic has the power to weaken the military, health, and economy of the most powerful nation in the world”. The obesity rate continues to increase among all groups of people, including minorities and the poor. Different sources of media such as newspapers, magazines, and television shows regularly discuss these rate increases and the alarming health risk that are associated with obesity.

Obesity is a serious issue in our society. With this information, it is understandable that this is a huge concern that everyone should want to prevent, but this does not mean thinness should be obsessed upon as our main health goal. According to Jennifer Derenne and Eugene Beresin, in a recent study, children exposed to excessive viewing of television, magazines, and films are at higher risk of obesity. This media exposure has a relation with negative body image. The exposure to music videos, soap operas, and movies were associated with higher rates of thinness desire, body dissatisfaction, and depression. An individual who does not fit into a pair of size two pants, is not considered unhealthy. As stated from the “Body Image” article by the Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection database: The current standard of extreme thinness for women is unrealistic, unhealthy, and impossible for most women to achieve, however. Likewise, the sculpted body of most male models is difficult to achieve without a strict diet and exercise regimen or the aid of anabolic steroids. Rather than striving for the ideal, health care professionals encourage Americans to focus on their health by exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods.

Body image expectations in the media have affected teenagers in many ways, and there needs to be a call to action and positive ways to combat these concerns. As explained by the Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection database, critics have debated the lack of realistic body types in media advertising. Digitally altered images of unrealistically thin or muscular bodies have created unrealistic expectations. To promote body positivity, there have been multiple ways to combat these issues. The nonprofit organization Beauty Redefined encourages all individuals to participate in a media fast, where they would avoid all media: advertisements, film, social media, and television, for a specific amount of time. The body care company Dove, created the “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004 where their print and television advertisements featured women of multiple shapes and sizes. Since this campaign, more companies have begun to feature models of all sizes. The fashion retailer Aerie refuses to use altered images. Pop musician Rihanna’s “Savage x Fenty” lingerie and makeup line offers a wide range of clothing sizes and makeup shade ranges to ensure that all customers can find products that are catered to their unique appearance. Chelsea Kronengold, Body Project Program Coordinator, has explained multiple options to combat body shaming and to promote body activism. To prevent or discontinue body shaming, it is recommended to report any users online that are committing bullying offenses. Also, getting involved with an organization is beneficial. The website, nationaleatingdisorders. org, allows individual to post their own body positive posts online, donate to individuals recovering from eating disorders, and participate in events such as walks, projects, and internships. Their forum, Medium Watchdog is another resource to discuss ways to promote body positivity and change the way we see ourselves. These examples are an excellent start to promoting body positivity and combating body image negativity from the media. In conclusion, the expectations of body image in the media have negative impacts on teenagers, including cyberbullying, eating disorders, and health concerns that will continue through adulthood. These issues should be countered by media outlets by promoting proper body positivity for our younger audiences. There are multiple significant impacts of body image expectations produced by all types of media that create negative consequences in the process. Promoting healthy lifestyles are acceptable through proper diet and exercise to prevent both obesity and eating disorders. Close family members and friends who are caring and supportive can assist with coping for those who are suffering from eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and other health concerns.

There are positive influential resources in the media to combat this issue, but it does require looking in the right place, or taking a break from media all together. If teenagers continue to have these resources that are available, they can live in a better society when they become adults. Edited images create a façade, acting as if this appearance is obtainable and expected by everyone, and it needs to come to an end. Media is excellent for accessing information, retrieving resources, expanding knowledge in a convenient atmosphere, and seeing life experiences happen immediately with the touch of a button. Sadly, media can also be a place filled with hatred to put others down and bring deceit to their audience by using altered imagery to promote what society considers perfect. Everyone is already perfect in their own unique way, and it is time to be a part of a body positive world.


15 July 2020
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