Educate Yourself

How does the media influence us?

The influence that media messaging and advertising have on self-esteem and body image is widely acknowledged as a contributing factor to the development of disordered eating. Media literacy means knowing that the images of thin young models in magazines, music videos, on TV or the Internet promote an unattainable physical ideal that’s false in the first place, due to airbrushed and photo-shopped body proportions. As consumers, let’s think critically about media images, and create healthy standards of beauty and identity that we can live with.

Do you sometimes look in the mirror and not like what you see? You aren’t alone in this. And sometimes your body hasn’t actually changed, just your perception of it has. We all have days when we feel awkward or uncomfortable in our bodies.  We feel the pressure to measure up to the way fashion models look in the pages of magazines, or the way actors and actresses look in the movies, on television, or on the Internet. Artists in music videos give us images of beauty and a lifestyle that most of us can only dream about. Or we admire the way a famous athlete looks and wish our own bodies could look that way. Celebrities always seem so happy and popular and rich in the images we see, but being media literate means we understand that these images don’t tell the whole story.

Media  images  and  the  fashion  and  diet  industries  create and  perpetuate  social  and cultural definitions of beauty and attractiveness. They provide the context in which we learn to place so much value on appearance and on the size and shape of our bodies. Mostly, larger people are portrayed negatively. Their weight is the focus of the role, and they are either being laughed at or rejected.  Thin people get to be portrayed in a wide range of roles and images, with no negative focus on weight.

Media  messaging  and  advertising  have  strongly  influenced  how  we  define  what  is attractive  and  beautiful  and  its  powerful  effect  on  self-esteem  and  body  image  is acknowledged as a contributing factor in the development of disordered eating. We are constantly  bombarded  with  air-brushed,  photo-shopped  images  of  models  and celebrities.  These images promote a ‘thin ideal’ that isn’t real in the first place, and is impossible to achieve and maintain with good health. The cosmetic and diet industries make billions of dollars from the body image insecurities they have helped to create!

It is no accident that the definition of beauty these companies promote centre on thin, half-dressed youthfulness. The message we get loud and clear is that that in order to be beautiful,  you  can  never  be  too  thin,  and  that  wrinkles  and  aging  are  a  fate  to  be avoided.  And  it’s  not  just  girls  and  women  who  are  influenced  by  these  images.  As men’s magazines become more popular, there is an increase in boys and men wanting to look like the images of well-built guys with impressive biceps and chiseled, washboard abs that they see in advertising and entertainment. Media literacy means understanding that  these  images  are  unattainable  –  that  they  are false  in  the first  place.    They  are airbrushed and the body proportions are often redrawn. The models who posed for the pictures don’t actually look like the finished product.   For a great example of this, check out the ‘Dove Evolution of Beauty’ video that shows a model from beginning makeup to finished ‘product’.

As consumers we can reject these made-up media images and messages that are sold to us. If we think critically and really evaluate the advertising and images we see, we can understand clearly how they help to create body dissatisfaction and self-doubt.  If we then refuse to accept the ‘suggested sell’ in a way that affects industry profits, we will be helping to create new, more realistic standards of beauty and identity that will contribute to us living healthier lives.

What Can I Do?

1) Become a critical consumer of advertising and media messages.
2) Voice your opinion and protest the negative images and messages you see by writing letters to advertisers, television stations and movie studios.
3) Encourage  media  and  advertising  to  present  more  diverse  images  of  people,
images that promote positive and realistic messages of beauty, health and self-esteem.
4) Remember  that  the  primary  goal  of  the  fashion,  cosmetic,  diet,  fitness,  and
plastic surgery industries is to make money,not to help you to ‘reach your fullest potential’ and ‘be the best person that you can possibly be’. If they actually did that, you would no longer need to buy their products!
5) Remind yourself that the print ads you see in magazines are all photographed with special lighting and then digitally retouched and enhanced.  When we spend money trying to make ourselves look like their unrealistic images, they keep on making money!
6)  Question the motives of these companies and their advertisers, and make sure the hard-earned money you spend reflects the person you are, not the person
that the media and advertisers want you to be.
7)  Be a role-model to yourself and others. Develop your own style and celebrate who you are. Break free from the restrictive ways media and advertising say we should look.

How Do I Know…If Advertising and the Media Influence How I See Myself?

– Ads can influence you feeling dissatisfied or depressed about your body and weight.
– Your beauty role-models are fashion models or celebrities.
– You read and believe magazine articles that tell you that ‘perfect’ body is just a diet away.