Media and Body Image

According to the Media Dynamics publication, Media Matters, an average adult has a potential daily exposure to approximately 600-625 advertisements in any form. These exposures come from all media mediums; television, radio, newspaper, magazines, and internet. There are advertisements for everything from juice to condoms, fruit snacks to Viagra, Old Navy clothing sales to perfumes and Victoria’s Secret. The media exposes viewers to extremes between harmless and persuasive material and highly sensitive and questionable material. What are possible consequences?

Who do the advertisers target with their sensitive and questionable material? Why? Media has a wide range of targets, but the most vulnerable and easily persuaded target audience across the board is adolescent and teen females.

Females at this age are exploring and attempting to discover their identities, are learning and internalizing societal expectations and are under the influence of changing social norms and an increase in hormonal activity. This is true across culture and race, and has sparked international controversy due to the sensitive and vulnerable nature of this audience.

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A British government-commissioned study has proposed putting disclaimers on digitally altered images of models, warning consumers that the too-perfect woman staring at them from inside a fashion magazine is, in fact, too perfect. The report, authored by psychologist and media personality Linda Papadopoulos, said that “when girls evaluate themselves against unrealistic airbrushed images it cultivates a feeling of falling short, of not being ‘good enough. ‘” She recommended that ratings should be affixed to such images to make clear if and how models had been altered.

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The issue of airbrushing has arisen periodically in the U. K. , and further attention was drawn to the issue in October when a model in a Ralph Lauren advertisement was so drastically photoshopped that her waist was left looking smaller than her head. Ralph Lauren said the image was displayed by mistake, but the freakish photo sparked outrage across the Internet.

Read about the beauty advertisements in magazines

Opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Jo Swinton has championed moves to force advertisers to post disclaimers that photos have been doctored, but the proposal has yet to become law. London-area fashion photographer Paul Cable said he wouldn’t be opposed to putting a disclaimer on doctored photos. To be fair, I don’t think it will harm fashion photography or advertising,” he said. “It just makes it clear to young kids that it has been retouched, because a lot of people don’t understand it … and they might idolize the models. ” Britain isn’t the only country to consider putting disclaimers on such ads — a tougher version of the proposed law also has been mooted by French parliamentarians (Associated Press, 2010). Photoshopping and photo doctoring have changed the world of advertising, and have brought all new issues along with them.

The majority of doctored, altered and photoshopped advertisements are those depicting female models. Females are their target audience, and more often than not, adolescent girls receive the most exposure, and therefore, the most damage. The effects of photoshopped advertisements on a viewer’s social comparison are much more negatively significant than the effects of a natural picture or photo. Body Image is negatively affected when viewers are exposed to doctored ads, and has a long lasting effect. Altered advertisements also have an influence on the prevalence rates of the eating disorders anorexia, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa.

Social comparison theory explains how media images lead to dissatisfaction with one’s body. According to social comparison theory, people have an innate need to compare themselves with others. (Festinger, 1954). Recent applications of this theory have identified upward and downward social comparisons. Downward comparisons are when they compare themselves to someone who looks worse than they do; upward comparisons are when they compare themselves to someone who looks better than they do, and this appears to include media images.

The difference between upward and downward comparisons is that upward comparisons tend make people feel less satisfied with their bodies while downward comparisons tend to make people feel more satisfied and boost self-esteem (Irving 1990). People are likely to be more dissatisfied with their bodies if they spend a lot of time watching television and/or looking at magazines (Martin & Kennedy, 1993; Myers & Biocca, 1992; Thornton & Moore, 1993). This is especially true for adolescent girls.

In some of these studies, adolescent girls rate their bodies as less attractive after viewing pictures of thin models in magazines. Exposure to media images is an important risk at some stage of a females life, specifically adolescence. Adolescent media exposure may actually lead to the onset of awareness and internalization that later affect women’s body image dissatisfaction and body image disturbance, as well as eating disorders. A study of adolescent girls by Levine, Smolak, and Hayden (1994) found that the level of reading magazines containing fitness, beauty and weight information was strongly related to disturbed eating patterns and body dissatisfaction.

This correlation strongly suggests that adolescent females exposed to media images containing thin, and doctored models lead to disturbed body image and an increased risk for developing eating disorders (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997). Our research question is related to and supported by the above studies and works; Do television and/or magazine advertisements have a negative effect on the self-esteem of females?

Which form of media has a greater effect? Our group hypothesizes that a moderate to excessive amount of exposure to advertisements containing sexually objectifying material will have a negative effect on body image, which may lead to a lower self-esteem. We also hypothesize that females who view body images that are impossible to attain (photoshopped and doctored materials) feel worse after viewing these types of ads as opposed to viewing real and natural women. Our last hypothesis is that television ads will have a greater effect on self esteem and body image than magazine ads.

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Media and Body Image. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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