An Essay On Body Image

It has been documented in children as young as three [1], but it is adolescents who appear to be most at risk for developing unhealthy attitudes towards their bodies based on this perception. At a time where young people are focused on developing their individual identities [2], they are also highly susceptible to both social pressure and media images [3] which can have a profound effect on how they see their bodies. [4]

Having poor body image can have numerous negative effects: one of the most common is lowered self-esteem, which carries with it its own associated risks. In a national U.S. study in 2008, 25 per cent of girls with low self-esteem injured themselves on purpose (compared to four per cent of girls with high self-esteem); and 25 per cent reported disordered eating (compared to seven per cent of girls with high self-esteem).[5]

Poor body image is also connected to bullying, [6] with youth who have poor body image more likely to be perpetrators or targets of bullying behaviour. [7] (See our resources on gender stereotyping and cyberbullying for more on how to deal with this issue.)

Traditionally seen as more of a girls’ issue, in the past decade a growing body of research has emerged exploring body image and boys: a 2012 study found that 50 per cent of both boys and girls in Grade 10 felt that they were either too thin or too fat. [8] A 2011 Canadian study concluded that adolescent boys also experience anxieties about their bodies, although they are less willing to talk about them. [9] Health professionals also note that boys, like girls, are not immune to media images that promote narrow standards of attractiveness.

In the past, ethnicity was considered a protective factor, with African-American girls and women reporting less body dissatisfaction. However, the protective effects of culture and ethnicity may no longer hold. Recent research has shown that even cultures that have traditionally had positive views of larger bodies, such as Mexico and Samoa, have begun to adopt the thin ideal [10] and more and more, Black models and entertainers are expected to conform to White standards of thinness and attractiveness.

In a world where pervasive media images fuel unrealistic expectations about how we should look – and dissatisfaction if we fail to make the grade – it is vitally important that both girls and boys be taught the media literacy skills they need to critically engage with media representations of male and female bodies. The following sections explore the role various media play in influencing our perceptions about how we look and the role that media education can play in changing these representations and perceptions.


[1] Harriger, J.A., R.M. Calogero, D.C. Witherington et al. 2010. Body size stereotyping and the internalization of the thin ideal in preschool girls. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 63: 1-5
[2] Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). A test of objectification theory in adolescent girls. Sex Roles, 46(9/10), 343 – 349
[3] Tiggeman, M., & Pickering, A. S. (1996). Role of television in adolescent women’s body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 20(2), 199 – 203
[4] Clark, L., & Tiggemann, M. (2007). Sociocultural influences and body image in 9 to 12 year-old girls: The role of appearance schemas. Journal of Clinic Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36(1), 76-86.
[5] Dove Self-Esteem Fund. “Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem.” Commissioned: June 2008. http://content.dove.us/makeadiff/pdf/Self-Esteem_Report.pdf.
[6] Brixval, Carina et al. Overweight, body image and bullying – an epidemiological study of 11- to 15-year-olds. European Journal of Public Health, March 7 2011.
[7] Shelton, Sarah and Laura Liljequist. Characteristics and behaviors associated with body image in male domestic violence offenders. Eating Behaviors Volume 3, Issue 3, Autumn 2002, Pages 217-227.
[8] Freeman et al. (2012). The Health of Canada’s Young People: A Mental Health Focus. Public Health Agency of Canada.
[9] Norman, M. (2011) Embodying the Double-Bind of Masculinity: Young Men and Discourses of Normalcy, Health, Heterosexuality, and Individualism. Men and Masculinities, 14, 4: pp. 430-449.
[10] Alexandra Brewis, Amber Wutich, Ashlan Falletta-Cowden, and Isa Rodriguez-Soto, “Body Norms and Fat Stigma in Global Perspective.” Current Anthropology 52:2 (April 2011).


We live in an era where obsessing over our bodies and our looks have become a daily activity. In mainstrem media the most beautiful are rail thin, have long hair and perfect skin. If one is pleasing to the eye, one is acceptable to society. However, the projected image that media places on women is a big controversy today. Media is responsible for creating ideals about beauty and body image. Women are suffering from negative body image which leads to an increase in dissatisfaction with oneself and can cause many negative effects such as individual harm, depression, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder. Low self esteem and body related issues are of the negative psychological effects that media does not take into consideration. Media continues to depict models and celebirites throughout advertising in brands such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoria's Secret. They want society to think of what is going on as a "trend." Women watch celebrities and tend to follow their habits because they want to be like them. Women continue to compare themselves to figures in the media. Actresses, singers, and models always seem to be perfect, and when women can't achieve that, they begin to bash their bodies.

It has been found that nearly half of females ages 6-8 have stated that they want to be slimmer. This is really sad in which a child growing up should not be thinking of this. Body image has become a big issue as females go through puberty. Girls in midadolescence frequently report being dissatisfied with their weight. (Hayes) They fear weight gain, and begin to become preoccupied with weight loss. This is the beginning of the many effects media places on society. In the article: "Am I too fat to be a princess? Examining the effects of popular children's media on young girls' body image," the study was to examine the effects of exposure to popular animated children's media on young girls body image and appearance-related behaviors. (Hayes) Those in the experiment were shown a video containing appearance-related clips from 10 animated children's movies. The children also went through an interview where they were asked questions about their appearance satisfaction. They were asked if they like the way they look. The response options (never or almost never, sometimes, and nearly all the time) were used to help the participants answer some questions. The children were also asked questions such as: Could you be a princess? What would you have to change to become a princess? In the findings, it was concluded that all of the young girls indicated they disliked something about their physical appearance. In response to being asked 'If you could change anything about the way you look, what would it be?', "30.6% of girls noted that they would change something about their physical appearance. Of those responders, 59.5% would change their hair, 27% would change something about their body. The majority of the girls believed that they could be a princess regardless of their weight. Only about 8% of the girls endorsed needing to change their hair or skin color to become a princess." Example responses included 'my hair would have to grow long', 'I'd need yellow hair', 'I'd paint myself white', and 'I would change from brown skin to white skin'. It is concluded that animated children's media contains a number of appearance-related messages that may affect body dissatisfaction. At a very young age, girls appear to not be affected by media in ways comparable to females ages 6-8. This may be because, at younger ages, children frequently engage in pretend play and may not be capable of making social comparisons. Children do not worry about their weight or beauty. As children become older and have more an an insight about things, they engage less in pretend play. This results in girls beginning to stop identifying themselves as the characters they idolize. This means that girls are having an increased concern about how they look. Over time, girls are more likely to have had more exposure to media and this is unavoidable to them.

With the many effects of beauty and body image media places on society, it is said that magazines and advertisements are marketed to help women. Magazines and advertisements are suppose to provide information and products that are supposed to make women look and feel better. Most magazine reading is caused by dissatisfaction with one's self. Women who view other women pictured in these magazines show increased levels of depression, stress, guilt, shame, and insecurity. (Tiggemann) In the article, "The Role of Social Comparison in the Effect of Magazine Advertisements on Women's Mood and Body Dissatisfaction," the study supports the effects left on women looking through magazines and ads. In the study, "mood and body dissatisfaction were measured before and after advertisement viewing, while weight anxiety and the amount of appearance comparison engaged in were measured only after the advertisements. The first finding was that viewing thin-ideal female images did lead to increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction." (Tiggemann) This is a disturbing finding in that people have demonstrated negative effects after only very brief exposure (11 images of thin idealized female bodies after 10 minutes). This is far less than what would be contained in a single issue of a fashion magazine. 

There are many concerns involving women being exposed to media negatively. "Since the curvaceous ideal embodied by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, media models have become progressively thinner, so that the typical model now is often as much as 20% underweight. It becomes clear just how extremely thin this body size is when we consider that 15% underweight is one of the criteria used to diagnose anorexia." (CNN World News, 2006) Media has influenced women for decades. This concern of a unhealthy lifestyle is increasing. 

Seeing the "perfect" female body image be promoted throughout media encourages women to diet and manipulate their size and shape. According to Lisa M. Groesz, Michael P, Levine, and Sarah K. Murnen, "females are socialized to see themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated." (12) Women feel shame and develop dissatisfaction with themselves. Society values the "pefect" body.  Media states that a slim woman is successful, attractive, healthy, happy, and pleasing to the eye in society. Women want to be all of those things and begin to be more like the people they see that are like this in the media. Even if it means losing some weight to obtain the perfect body. This is when eating disorders begin to develop due to the media's influence. "Eating disorders are prevalent in women ages 15-19." (Groesz) Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are huge issues within today's society. This is a problem because women are striving for an unhealthy lifestyle while continuing to think that if they were thinner, then they would be happy. Women begin self-starvation in the fear of being fat or overeat and then crash diets. 

Through means such as advertising and the media, body dysmorphic disorder may be contributed due to image and beauty related social pressures. Also, some type of childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness in which you become obsessed with the flaws of your appearance. You begin to produce a certain image of yourself and feel as if you don't have an actual perception of your body. You feel ashamed and have a distorted idea about the way you look. "People with BDD commonly also suffer from the anxiety disorders obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social anxiety disorder, as well as depression and eating disorders" (Lifespan).  Those with the disorder may resort to cosmetic surgeries and treatment for relief. However, these procedures do not address the root of the problem. From this web source it is concluded that patients are still not completely satisfied with their results and may become obsessed, depressed, or suicidal after. Those exposed to the media in a negative way are at risk of suffering from obsessions about their appearance and feel the need to alter it.  

Though there are many negative effects media places on women, there are also many positive effects. The media's job is to inform, educate, and entertain the public. Positive effects such as celebrities talking about good health through ads and their support of the significance of a healthy lifestyle such as eat healthy, and exercise. Take Jennifer Hudson for instance. She is a strong role model for promoting healthy attitudes about body image. She has publicly addressed her struggle with weight and body image. She now focuses on weight loss as an ongoing lifestyle change. Demi Lovato also discusses the importance of a healthy body image by promoting eating disorders awareness. She promotes the awareness through her positive way of addressing media's exposure that has surrounded her previous struggles with disordered eating. Jennifer Lawrence is another celebrity who wants to be a positive body image role for girls. She claims she never diets for jobs and speaks out about the dangers of girls dieting. It is good for girls to have people like Jennifer Hudson, Demi Lovato, and Jennifer Lawrence to look up to and feel good about themselves. Promoting a healthy lifestyle can help adolescents and young adults embrace their bodies whatever the shape or size.  Overall, the public sees media as a negative influence. Though, if the media was to stop bombarding society with messages about being ideal and perfect, then more people would be able to see the good influences that media is trying to produce. 

Media's depiction of women portrays a standard of beauty that is unattainable. Models in magazines and in other advertisements are shown in all forms of popular media. These women are considered appealing to society. They are shown to be very slim, have long hair and perfect skin. Women are suffering from the many effects media promotes on beauty and body image. Negative effects include dissatisfaction, self-harm, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and body dysmorphic disorder. This is a huge problem in today's society but can be changed. The media can stop airbrushing, and can feature women of all shapes and sizes in advertisements. The media needs to produce healthy behaviors and lifestyles in order to allow women to feel good about themselves. Women will then be able to stop feeling pressured by the media. 






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