Body Image and the Media

Media has a powerful influence on beliefs and values, and this includes how you think about yourself and the way you look.  Images in movies, T.V., magazines, and video games all affect what we, as a society, consider to be “beautiful”.  Unfortunately, those “beautiful” images are not attainable for most of us. The majority of women are not genetically thin and toned, while simultaneously being curvy with large breasts, and very few men are able to develop the super muscled bodies seen on male celebrities and fitness models.  Additionally, most men and women portrayed are white or light skinned, and people with disabilities are almost completely excluded.  

When you see unrealistic bodies being depicted in the media every day, you may think that this is normal, healthy, desirable, and attainable. You may feel unattractive by comparison, and frustrated that you are unable to achieve that look. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Studies at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts found that 70% of college women say they feel worse about their looks after reading women’s magazines. Similarly, viewing muscle and fitness magazines as well as gaming magazines have been associated with body dissatisfaction among men. As Ellen Goodman of US magazine said,

“The big success story of our entertainment industry is our ability of export insecurity. We can make anyone, anywhere, feel rotten about their bodies.”

So What Can You Do About It?

Media Literacy is the ability to think critically about what you see in the media.  It involves analyzing the messages that inform entertain and sell to you in order to understand what an advertiser wants you to believe and then choosing whether or not you want to believe that message. By questioning what you see in the media and reminding yourself that it is unattainable, you can start to feel better about your unique body instead of constantly comparing yourself to others.

Once you’ve begun to master media literacy as a concept there are many ways you can be active in changing the culture around appear in the media:

  •   Share what you’ve learned with others.
  • Consider stopping reading magazines or watching television ormovies that make you feel bad about your appearance.
  • Recognize that you have power as a consumer.  Write letters to companies that you feel perpetuate an unrealistic standard for personal appearance, or boycott their products.
  •  Use #notbuyingit on Twitter to let companies know when you see an advertisement or image that perpetuates unrealistic standards.
  • Educate yourself further.  Check out all the resources here to learn more about body image and media literacy.