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Mass Media Effects On A Girls Body Image Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2376 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The basis of this research paper examines the effect the mass media has on an adolescent girl’s body image. The media has a very powerful effect on virtually all society, particularly young girls. The mass media depicts unrealistic images of beauty, which have led many adolescent girls to serious and life threatening heights. Girls go to extreme measures to imitate society’s impractical beliefs of beauty. The result of this is that diet pills, eating disorders, and cosmetic surgeries have become too common for adolescent girls. This research paper presents current information on this issue and some possible solutions.

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Adolescents today are extremely influenced by external factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, family, religion, education technology, and the media. “Among these, the mass media have been identified as the most pervasive and the most powerful.” (Harper, 2008). Media is a type of communication that was developed so as to reach, and influence, a mass market. Media includes radio, newspapers, magazines, television, motion pictures, and the Internet. Media of all types have a powerful and profound influence on adolescents.

Everyday young girls are bombarded with distorted images of what constitutes a beautiful female. This is a false representation of reality. The media plays an enormous role in this deception. Young adolescent girls believe that they must look like the people in the magazine ads, on television, in the movies, on billboards, etc. Their image of what their body should look like becomes distorted. Their body image is their perception and emotions they have about their bodies. Thus, their body image significantly affects their self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall value of self. Appearance and overall attractiveness becomes paramount with self worth. “The modern Western cultural environment often cultivates and reinforces a desire for thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. Peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin, particularly among young girls.” (Mayo Clinic, 2010).

Over time, beauty standards for adolescent girls has evolved and changed. History would suggest that it was not until the late twentieth century that thinness was desirable. We can see that as recently as the 1950’s. A good example of this was Marilyn Monroe. In her heyday, many adolescent girls considered Ms. Monroe the epitome of beauty. Many aspired to look like

her (blond hair, red lips, curvy figure). Ms. Monroe was a size twelve. In today’s society, if a young girl is a size 12, she considers it a death sentence. She immediately feels pressure to lose weight. This is because the image of beauty that is portrayed in the mass media is a supermodel who weighs approximately 98 pounds, and is a size double zero. “Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women.” (Dobson, 2006). The unrealistic portrayal has lead to a dearth of health issues, especially in the adolescent girl.

“The average woman sees 400 to 500 advertisements per day, and by the time she is 17-years old, she has received over 250,000 commercial messages through the media.” (Eating Disorders: Body, 2008). “This constant exposure to female orients advertisements may influence girls to become self-conscious about their bodies and to obsess over their physical appearance as a measure of their worth.” (Image and Advertising, 2008).

These distorted images are introduced to girls at a very young age that is critical to mental development. A good example of this is the Barbie doll. Most girls are introduced to this image at the toddler stage. Barbie is tall, thin, with large breasts, and a very tiny waist. Her image is supposed to represent beauty, and the media tells young girls that if they want to be loved and successful, they must be beautiful like Barbie. For many years now, Barbie has been criticized for causing low self-esteem in many adolescent girls. “The researchers from two British universities claim Barbie dolls could promote girls’ insecurity about their image, which in turn may contribute indirectly to insecurity and eating disorders later in life.” This was one of the first studies to validate a link between Barbie and an adolescent girl’s body image. Another study that was led by Helga Dittmar, reader of psychology at Sussex University, claims that

“This demonstrates that it is not body-related information conveyed by dolls per se that has a direct impact on young girls’ body image, but by Barbie dolls specifically, which represent a distortedly thin body ideal.” (Dobson, 2006). These studies demonstrated how influential Barbie dolls, and the image the mass media gave them, are to adolescent girls.

Barbie dolls are just the beginning of unrealistic images that the media promotes to young girls. Research has suggested that adolescence is a time when girls become acutely aware of body image and dissatisfied with their appearance. New research has shown that girls as young as 6 or 7 want to be thinner, have perfect bodies, and are taking drastic measures (extreme dieting, exercise, starvation, etc) to try and achieve that goal. (Dohnt & Tiggermann, 2006, p.141). In studying the influence of the media on young girls, it was determined that the television shows and magazines that these girls viewed, focused heavily on appearance, especially on the nation that being thin equals beauty. (Dohnt & Tiggerman, 2006, p.144). “Statistics show that 42% of all first through third grade girls want to be thinner, and that 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.” (Rust, 2010). In a study of 257 preadolescent girls, through self-reporting, it was determined that there was a link between television and magazine viewing and current/future body ideals and the eating disorders that subsequently appeared. (Harrison & Hefner, 2006, p. 162). These statistics show that a girl’s perception of an ideal body image has already begun even before adolescence, and this perception has been greatly influenced by the media. “* to 12 year olds already spend $40+ million a month on beauty products according to NPD Group. Teenagers spend about $100 million.” (Unnaturally Beautiful Children, 2009). Adolescence should be a time of exploration, not a time when adolescent girls should be preoccupied/obsessed with their weight and/or appearance.

“In fact, a study of mass media magazines discovered that women’s magazines had 10.5 times more ads and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines did. By failing to present a diverse range of body types, fashion magazines promote thinness as both the desired, and more insidiously, the prevailing norm for women.” (Mayo Clinic, 2010). Advertisers have very specialized market- girls. The prefrontal cortex in those adolescent girls is still improving in development, thus their reasoning, decision-making, and self-control have not fully emerged. These adolescents do not understand that one’s physical appearance is determined by genetics. They also do not understand that most of the images they see are computer enhanced, air brushed, etc. An unfortunate consequence of this is that “81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.” (Mellin et al, 1991).

With disturbing statistics like these, it is easy to see how the mass media has influenced an adolescent girl. These young girls do not realize the dangers that these “idols” have placed themselves in, just to have the appearance of beauty. They do not understand the end result of having an eating disorder. It can not only lead to missed menstrual cycles and emotional distress, but death. “Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.” “about 9 out of 10 people with anorexia are female.” (Anorexia Nervosa, 2009). In extreme cases, girls begin to shows signs of wanting to lose weight around the age of five, but statistics show that “95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.” (Anorexia Nervosa, 2009). These are just a few of the statistics that shows how the media influences adolescent girls.

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The Internet is also a very powerful tool in influencing adolescent girls through the power of advertising. The Internet has numerous sites that promoted eating disorders. It is easy for an adolescent girl to visit sites like Pro-Anna, Pro-Mia, Starving for Perfection, and Thin Commandments. Adolescent’s girls can easily find these sites on the Internet and visit them often. Parents are quick to block what they consider a “dangerous” site (i.e. porn), but do not even think about blocking these sites. On these websites girls can find a range of topics thru the gamut of photos of extremely thin models (with which they promotes as “true beauty”) to information on how to become anorexia or bulimic. “Previous studies have shown the adolescents exposed to such pro-eating disorder websites have higher levels of body dissatisfaction compared to adolescents that have not been exposed. In addition, young people who have visited these sites are also known to engage in more intense eating disordered behaviors.” (Study Examines Pro-Anorexia, 2010). These finding clearly promote the climbing influence these websites can have on an adolescent girl. Just the fact that these websites are available show that body image is extremely important to an adolescent girl.

Girls are continuously pressured to look better. The mass measured bombards adolescent girls with the message that something is wrong with the way they look, so a quick easy fix is cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery is no longer for the rich and famous. It has moved its way into mainstream life. “Too fat? Get a tummy tuck. Don’t like your nose? Get a new one. Breasts too small? Get a breast enhancement.” They even try to sweeten the pot by offering financing options. They hope that by offering a financing option, more parents will cave in to their teen’s demands by rationalizing that “$15.00 a month is not so bad”. Mass media tells adolescent girls that they do not look good as they are. They must get some type of procedure in

order to obtain “true beauty”. They constantly and subversely pressure adolescent girls into believing without these procedures one would be unwanted for anything in life. “The ASAPS reports a substantial increase in cosmetic surgeries over the last 12 years.” (Cosmetic Surgery, 2009). Some of the top cosmetic surgeries performed on adolescent girls are: Breast Augumentation/Reduction, Lipoplasty (liposuction), Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), and Rhinoplasty (nose job). While not a proven fact, it may be safe to say that the mass media has had a great influence on young girls and cosmetic procedures.

The weight loss industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry. This is due immensely on the mass media’s capitalization of young girls’ desires to become thin. “It has been estimated that Americans spend over $35 billion dollars each year on weight loss products.” (Weight Loss Advertising, 2002). The advertising promotes the false theory that cosmetic surgeries are painless are painless, have hardly no recuperation time, rapid weight less with no change in diet, and extremely effective. Many companies use term like, “guaranteed or your money back”, “no diet or exercise is needed”, along with testimonials from customers, in addition to showing someone in a white lab coat to make one think it is endorsed by the medical profession. Adolescents have not completed formed the ability to reason, and do not understand that these promotes are really just gimmicks that are to entice the consumer to purchase the product. In reality, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may not have approved the products, and they rarely work. Yet the mass media will saturate newspapers, magazines, and television to try to deceive adolescent girls into purchasing the product. These products will continue to flood the market as long as mass media continues to promote beauty

the way it does. With this in mind, adolescent girls will continue to purchase these products in order to obtain the ideal of beauty that society forces upon them. They will continue to desperately try to live up to this unattainable, unrealistic image of beauty.

While it would be impossible to entirely shield an adolescent girl from the mass media, it is important that they learn to like their own bodies. Parents, friends, and families can help. If these girls are educated properly and are informed, they will be able to understand that the images they see are false images. One way to help adolescent girls may be to discuss the advertising campaign that Dove uses. Dove is the first “beauty” company to promote that an adolescent girl should be comfortable with their own body. Their marketing campaign helps to establish self-esteem and a good body image. It shows “real women” who are happy with themselves even though their body may not be what is typically thought of as beautiful. Dove’s campaign helps to educate these girls with knowledge they need to deal with their perception of beauty.

These research finds have demonstrated that there is a correlation between mass media and the effects it has on an adolescent girl’s body image. It is clear that there is a distinct difference between a girl’s perception of beauty and true beauty. If an adolescent girl’s knowledge and level of awareness is increased, it may be possible, in the future, to changes the standards of what real beauty is in Western society to a more realistic body image.


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