Body Image: What Effect the Media Has On People

Media's Effect On Teenager's Body Image
By: Ashley Tulacz

The media can have a damaging effect on a teenagers self-esteem that can cause them to go to drastic measures to get that "perfect" body.

The "Ideal" Image...

    The media puts out an image of a tall, blonde, big chested woman as beautiful.  Teenagers are going to look up to celebrities and what the magazines are telling them to look like. Not everyone is going to be able to live up to that expectation, and teenagers will do anything to be able to attain it.  Magazines are always giving tips on "How To Be Beautiful," or "Look Amazing!" bringing down the average looking person and telling the teenagers that to be beautiful, they must change their appearance.  In the article,Who's That Girl: Television's Role In The Body Image Development Of Young White And Black Women, Deborah Schooler states, “Television stars and magazine cover girls set the standard.” (39).The teenagers will buy all of the products that are advertised in the magazine just to feel that they are beautiful and that they belong. The magazines give off "tips" on how to be skinnier or "How to fit into your skinny jeans," but these have more repercussions than they expect.  John Maltby from the British Journal of Health Psychology found in his article, Intense-personal celebrity worship and body image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents, “While magazines intend to raise awareness of the dangers of these behaviours, at the same time they may unintentionally provide useful ideas for desperate readers.”(18)

Magazines are not the only things that influence teenagers, television also plays a big role in what teens do.  In Fat is an Advertising Issue by Susie Orbach, she tells of an anthropologist and psychiatrist Anne Becker from Harvard  had found, “that three years after the introduction of TV into Fiji in 1995, 11.9% of adolescent girls were puking into the toilet bowl trying to change their Fijian build into one that resembled the Western images…”(269).  Western culture is spreading more than just a speedy life to other parts of the world.  The idea that lighter skin and blonde hair is a prevailing "look" that is going through the minds of teenagers all throughout the world.   In the article, “Distorted Images: Western Cultures are Exporting Their Dangerous Obsession with Thinness.” Susan McClelland argues that there is not enough diversity in the advertising world, and it is causing disarray in the minority groups and all over the world like, “In South Africa, … black women still use harmful skin-bleaching creams in the belief that whiter is prettier” (281).  Susan tells of women of different races wanting to change the color of their skin just to fit in with the Western culture the thin, white, and blonde woman. An example is of a girl named Dhanani, she moved to Canada from East Africa and Dhanani was, “…Straightening my hair- doing anything to look white.” (281).  The whole world wants to be one in appearance.  People need to figure out that diversity is beautiful, that different is good.  The media can be a catalyst for diversity just like Dove has been.  Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" used real women and it helped many women.  There are only a few companies willing to change the way advertising is done and with the few companies changing, there are many that are just sticking to the norm. 


    The media is a factor that plays into girls self-esteem, but as the media portrays a certain image, all teens do is pick on other girls that do not look "pretty" or are to normal..  “Mass media are believed to play an important role in perpetuating this ultrathin ideal for women” (Schooler 38) that supports that the media plays a large role in how teens think that thin is beautiful.  Teenagers will go to extremes to be just like the celebrities.  They will turn to anorexia and bulimia if they think they are too fat or if they are darker skinned, they will bleach it to become lighter. Since the media is promoting a super thin figure, “… a large percentage believes that they are overweight even though most of them are not” (172 Phillips & de Man).  In the adolescent years, the body is still growing and girls are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. This is a huge problem that starts with the media.  As long as Barbie is thin and the "Brat" dolls give attitude the teenagers will be influence to look and act like them.  The adolescent years are when people are the most vulnerable and just want to feel like they belong. 

    If more news gets out that the advertising is causing such horrible problems, more can be done, but if people are just going to give it a passing glance, then nothing will get done and more and more adolescents will get even more obsessed with being beautiful.  In the adolescent years, the body is still growing and girls are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.  As Maltby explains, “…at the age of 15, when crises of identity and anxieties about attractiveness are at their most acute, girls typically experience an increase in the distribution of fat around their hips and thighs…”(18).  All teenagers want to do is fit in and if fitting in means not eating for a few days or throwing up after every meal, then they will do whatever it takes to be in the "in" crowd.