Impacts of media on body image of female adolescents.
“Body image” is defined as how an individual views their perception of their body when compared to other people around them. Human beings, particularly females, appear to seek peer approval regularly in regards to body image (Burnette, Kwitowski, & Mazzeo, 2017). Media prior to the late 1990s was limited to magazines, newspapers and television; all of which have influenced the public perception of body image since they first came into circulation. The public have attempted to copy what they consider to be an “ideal” image, particularly when the image is widely broadcast. Fashion companies use models for advertising as a way to emphasise a body image as being acceptable to society, mainly using models who are taller than average and have a lean frame. The beauty industry is a multi-million dollar business and are well known for campaigns using celebrities and, more recently, social platform “influencers” to deliver their products to the public. M. Bucchianeri and Neumark-Sztainer (2014), raised concerns about how body image is addressed in media and the associated physical and mental health issues that appear to be increasing in the female population. Since 2004, the negative influences have been begun to be balanced by an increasing movement towards positive media campaigns which address the differences in body image directly.
Over time the way the public interacts with media has changed, most notably with the advent of social media in early 2000. Facebook, a platform for friends to connect and share information was launched in 2004, allowing users to share photos, update their own status, and comment on their friends’ pictures and status. Following this was YouTube in 2005, where users would upload videos for viewing, covering all topics and genres. The next social platform company was Twitter, where you post comments of 160 characters for followers in 2006. The biggest was Instagram in 2010, a photo sharing application where you caption a story behind it. These well-known social media applications are used by people across the world to stay in contact with friends, connect to new people with similar interests, follow celebrities, peers and influencers lives, or for inspiration around a topic of interest such as travel, DIY, health, fashion, fitness and make up.
Groesz, Levine, and Murnen (2002), state that media is the largest and most well known source of the so-called perfect body image. As images are now so available to the public and tend towards a certain look or type of body, advertising has a negative impact on what is an accepted ideal body image, especially in females. Images are carefully created and maintained by companies, influencers and models, and many are constructed using digital editing software or filters to create an ideal body – very lean frames that are toned, defined, have no cellulite or stretch marks, and a perfect complexion without any wrinkles or discolouration. The resulting images and videos are shared widely across media platforms, with online media platforms making these available at your fingertips 24/7. The material is available in everyday life and continually indirectly reminds the public, often targeting females, of this so-called “ideal” body image, which influences our opinions and creates a social acceptability of this body image.
This promotion of edited images can influence negatively on vulnerable female adolescents at an age where they can be easily influenced. Due to the rise of the social media platforms, we now have promotional terms or hash tags associated with body image, such as “thinspiration”, “fitspiration” and “healthy”. A study completed in 2015 reported that 92% of the teenage study subjects admitted to using social media every day and more than 71% of the subjects used more than one social media application daily (Pew Internet, 2015). These statistics show us how social media platforms have become part of everyday life and how easy it has become for female adolescents to access depiction of body image that influences their personal views.
A study by Perloff (2014), notes that an adolescents’ experience with content and interactions in the social media environment can notably influence body image, particularly when a negative judgement is made. Female adolescents begin to internalise these body images as socially accepted, not just through exposure but also through the interactions with friends, contemporaries, and family. They begin to compare themselves with this ideal, which can then develop into an unhealthy internal relationship where they try to attain the ideal body. Having a negative body image can psychologically impact everyday life, how you interact with family, colleagues or friends, male/female acceptance, how you dress, where you socialise, and even what you eat. Bearman, Presnell, Martinez, and Stice (2006), estimate approximately 40-50% of females in western societies have varying degrees of negative body image relationship. How a female sees her own body image, when compared to the advertised ideal, can influence either negatively or positively across multiple aspects, including self-esteem, personal appearance, and mental health (Cash, 2004). Depending on a persons own self-esteem levels, this can determine how they respond to societies description of an ideal image, where often a negative impact occurs for people with low self-esteem. However, people who have high self-esteem are less likely interpret the negative influences in a way that will upset them (Tylka, 2012).
As social media influences the concept of the accepted body image more and more, the negative aspects of this contact can lead to the introduction of eating disorders (Grabe, 2008). There is 5 main categories of disorders: Anorexia – a person belief that they are fat; Bulimia – a person who appears to eat normally or over-eats but vomits to maintain or lose weight; Binge Eating – a person who goes through cycles of compulsive over-eating; Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) – where the person has a combination of low frequency anorexia, bulimia and binge eating factors; Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) – a person who controls diet using the restriction of types of foods (Jones, Lawson, Daneman, Olmsted, & Rodin, 2000). Eating disorders can drastically change a persons’ physical appearance, often through rapid weight loss or weight gain. If the disorders are not understood correctly they will lead to unhealthy relationships with eating and exercising long term, which can result in death if not treated quickly and correctly. A study carried out by Scott J. Crow et al. (2009) evaluated more than 1800 deaths which were caused by eating disorders in the United Kingdom between 1979 and 1997, and identified that 95% of these deaths were females.
Female adolescents with low self-esteem can turn to social media and be exposed immediately to the concept of the ideal body image. Social media allows for the subject to mentally escape their own emotions related to body image, often fantasising they look like the image. They may also increasingly check other pictures to compare with others that they think are less or more attractive to boost their own self-esteem, in order to validate their opinion. In most cases, this does not result in the expected positive outcome and they end up feeling worse (Perloff, 2014) . The negative impact of online media on the acceptable body image has a vicious cycle where the subject wants to validate their own perceptions and then compare body images. Groesz et al. (2002), study found that with media advertising of the ideal body image and unknown peers has a direct negative effect on females’ idealisation of the perfect body image. Psychological effects of a negative body image can result in the person wanting make changes to make them feel accepted by society – lose weight quickly, start an extreme diet, changing their food and exercise to an unhealthy pattern, or to the extreme of permanent cosmetic surgeries to alter specific aspects of their bodies (Bearman et al., 2006). Social media platforms have turned into advertising to the masses, which companies pay for or supply goods/services to influencers to help market their product to their audiences. Influencers detail their daily lives including their fitness journeys, what they eat in the day, diets that helped them lose weight, the new fashion trends to follow and even what cosmetic procedures they have had, to boost their own self confidence. This can encourage adolescents with low esteem and confidence issues to believe that if they follow the same trends, then their own perceived body image will improve.
In recent times there has been an increase of raising awareness of how images in media are digitally altered to what a company/person wants to portray. The study by Spillman and Everington (1989) found that females who compared pictures of 3 body types – Ectomorph (thin), Endomorph (rounded) and Mesomorph (athletic), considered the Ectomorph type to be good-looking and fit and the body type they would most like to achieve. This outcome is in line with the media portrayal of the ideal body image. Body type is heavily influenced by genetics, where up to genes determine up to 75% of difference of how the body carries fat or manages energy through metabolism between different people (Farooqi & O’Rahilly, 2007). Education can be used to help females to boost self-esteem and grow self-confidence. An important factor to achieving this is through understanding how your body works, such as accepting day-to-day achievements of their bodies rather than focusing on changes that they may not be able to achieve due to other factors.
A positive body image can be linked to the concept of “love and respect” for their bodies, including self-acceptance, self-affirmations and being confident and comfortable a body that achieves an amazing amount every day (Wood-Barcalow, Tylka, & Augustus-Horvath, 2010). Beginning in 2004, Dove has led the way to using women of all shapes, ethnicities and sizes to promote their products across multiple media platforms. This promotion has also encouraged women to love their bodies regardless of any perceived flaws using the tag-line “love the skin you are in” (Announcing the Dove Real Beauty Pledge, 2017). Additionally, celebrities and influencers are addressing this issue in public and regularly display side-by-side comparisons of edited and unedited photos, describing the editing/filters that have been applied that have been made to highlight how the images are not always as they appear and how unattainable they are to try and replicate. This helps encourage vulnerable female adolescents to avoid looking for acceptance from others but to focus on your own opinion and capabilities.
With the rise of the availability of online media platforms over the last 18 years, it can be seen to be associated with the relationship between the portrayed “Ideal Body Image” and the negative effects it is having on our female adolescents’ self-acceptance. As the influence of media on body image has increased, studies have been carried out to identify if the negative influences on body image due to social media exposure has any link to rates of increase of eating disorders relating to control of body image. The negative psychological effects have been well documented – changes in mood, eating habits, exercise regimes, friendships, and their self-confidence for their own bodies. While there is an abundance of information on the negative impacts of social media on body image, there is a need for further studies to be done to understand the impact of the increase of positive influences in the media on body image, how these changes offset the negative influences, and how these positive influences can be linked to education about healthy body image for young females. The existing evidence from studies can lead us to a conclusion that there is a level of responsibility for the increase in body image issues that lies with the companies that define, construct and curate images for media advertising. (Tylka, 2012) suggests that in order to support a psychological change from negative to positive body image, society and media must encourage acceptance, respect, and love for the body and all body types. Accepting a body image with is not currently seen as ideal can be supported through the continuing increase of positive influences supporting a range of body types in the media, along with the support and acceptance of peers and family and the wider population.
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