The Media's Influence On Body Image

4633 words - 19 pages

Eleven million women in the United States suffer from eating disorders- either self-induced semistarvation (anorexia nervosa) or a cycle of bingeing and purging with laxatives, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise (bulimia nervosa) (Dunn, 1992). Many eating disorder specialists agree that chronic dieting is a direct consequence of the social pressure on American females to achieve a nearly impossible thinness. The media has been denounced for upholding and perhaps even creating the emaciated standard of beauty by which females are taught from childhood to judge the worth of their own bodies (Stephens & Hill, 1994). To explore the broader context of this controversial issue, this paper draws upon several aspects influencing women?s body image. First, this paper examines the concept of body image and the problems associated with chronic dieting and the diet industry. Next, is an exploration of the prevalence and the source of body dissatisfaction in American females. It also considers existing research that presents several important aspects regarding the nature of the connection between advertising and body dissatisfaction. From these distinctions, it will be shown that the media has a large impact on women?s body image and that the cultural ideal of a thin body is detrimental to the American female?s body perception which often results in poor eating pathologies.

Body image can be defined as a individual?s subjective concept of his or her physical appearance. Body image involves both a perceptual and attitudinal element. The self-perceptual component consists of what an individual sees or thinks in body size, shape, appearance. A disturbance in the perceptual element of body image is generally reflected in a distorted perceptions of body size, shape, and appearance. The attitudinal component reflects how we feel about those attributes and how the feelings motivate certain behavior (Shaw & Waller, 1995). Disturbances in the attitudinal element usually result in dissatisfaction with body appearance (Monteath & McCabe, 1997).

Perceptions about body images are shaped from a variety of experiences and begin to develop in early childhood. It has been shown that children learn to favor thin body shapes by the time they enter school (Cohn & Adler, 1992). Gustafson, Larsen, and Terry (1992) reported that 60.3 percent of fourth grade girls wanted to be thinner, and the desire for less body fat was significantly associated with an increase occurrence of weight-loss related behaviors.

Overall body size and image concerns have been reported to be more prevalent among females than males. Gender related differences in acceptable body size are shaped from a variety of societal definitions of appealing shapes for males and females. Patterns of body dissatisfaction formed in childhood and adolescence persist into adulthood and are most prevalent in females. In their study, Fallon and Rozin (1985) reported that college...

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