The mass media portray many ideal pictures that might influence audiences’ perceptions about what is desirable and popular. In the field of exploring the relationship between media and people’s perceptions, media ideal body images have received much research attention. Previous studies showed that media ideal body images cause social comparison behaviors (Lennon, Lillethun & Buckland, 1999; Luthe, 2009; Knobloch-Westerwick & Romero, 2011), which were blamed to cause negative outcomes, such as lowering people’s self-esteem (Clay, Vignoles & Dittmar, 2005; Smeesters & Mandel, 2006).
However, the findings have not been entirely consistent. Lennon, Lillethun and Buckland (1999) found that self-esteem was not affected by exposed to ideal images (thin models) and normative (average-size models) images. Holmstrom (2004) found that the longer the media exposure, the better the individuals feel about themselves. Sheldon’s (2010) study focused on college students, viewed as the most vulnerable population, but the results showed that media use was not related to students’ body esteem.
These inconsistent findings indicate that the relationship between media ideal body images and people’s self-esteem should be further studied. This study will study how media ideal body images influence people’s self-esteem by using the social learning theory, social comparison theory, cultivation theory, and cognitive dissonance theory. Through apply these different theories, this study hope to provide some different perspectives, such as media perspective and psychology perspective. And because this study focus on the general media body images, some it could provide information to other different subject, for example the media regulation, the advertisement, consumer’s attitudes and so on.
Body Image in the Media
Currently, the media trend is to portray and emphasize the leaner body types (Park, 2005). Through content analysis, Wasylkiw, Emms, Meuse and Poirier (2009) found that in fashion magazines over 95% of the models were lean; in fitness magazines, 55% were lean and 36% were muscular. Researches also found that from 1959 to 1999, women’s magazines models have become thinner and thinner (Sypeck, Gray, & Ahrens, 2004), while male images in popular men’s magazines, found that from 1967 to 1997 male images have become thinner and more muscular. Exposure to ample thin media body images has led to the commonly held belief that the thin ideal is normative and attractive (Smeesters & Mandel, 2006).
This belief led researchers to focus on how unreachable ideal (thin models) media images influence both female and male, although some researches showed self-esteem decreased with exposure to thin media images (Clay, Vignoles & Dittmar, 2005; Smeesters & Mandel, 2006). However, those studies often used experiments to force people to be exposed to thin models (Clay, Vignoles & Dittmar, 2005; Smeesters & Mandel, 2006). Should we therefore blame ideal, thin...