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Today, the ideal image of feminine attractiveness is currently presented in the media with an extreme emphasis on thinness. (Posavac) Media images of attractiveness may be responsible for the body image disturbance among young women in society today. Body image disturbance occurs when a person experiences a distortion in perception, behavior, or cognition and affect related to body weight and shape. Body image disturbance is prevalent among women in Western society and researchers have concluded that females’ concerns with weight and body image has reached epidemic proportions and such concern is now considered a normal part of the female experience. (Posavac & Weigel) Researchers have proposed that women engage in a social comparison process with media images when viewing models in magazines, or watching them on television. When women compare themselves with media images of ideal feminine attractiveness, a perceived discrepancy between their actual attractiveness and the media’s standard of attractiveness is likely to result. (Posavac & Weigel) These discrepancies are likely to lead women to become dissatisfied with their own bodies. For example, I was watching a television show on MTV called True Life. The episode was about how two young women, aged , and was comparing themselves to playmates in the Playboy magazine because their goal was to become one of those women. After viewing the magazine, they felt as if they were “chubby” and they went ahead with liposuction and plastic surgery to try to achieve the look of the models in the magazine. This is just one of many examples of how women become dissatisfied with their bodies.

Heinberg & Thompson (15) demonstrated that females exposed to a compilation of media images (commercials, television programs, magazines) reflecting the current societal sanctioned standards of thinness and attractiveness experienced greater mood and body image disturbance than females who viewed a neutral, non appearance-related control video. (Cattarin) Recent finding from studies provide even stronger support for a sociocultural model. For example, one investigation found that eating disordered individuals had a significant increase in body size overestimation after exposure to photographs of women taken from popular female fashion magazines, whereas normal controls did not show a change in perceptual accuracy. Similarly, Irving (10) exposed individuals with varying levels of self reported bulimic symptoms who were shown photographs of thinner models reported lower self esteem and weight dissatisfaction than did individuals who were shown photographs of larger models. (Cattarin) This brings up the question of how might exposure to the sociocultural thin and attractive ideal lead to increase body dissatisfaction. It may occur directly via the process of social comparison with others. Research indicates that comparisons with others who are superior to oneself on a dimension of interest are often associated with an increase in depression and anger and a decrease in self-esteem. (Anonymous)

Several experiments were conducted to investigate how exposure to media images of female attractiveness may affect women’s concern with their weight. The Body Dissatisfaction subscale, which assesses dissatisfaction with the shape and size of the body, was used to distinguish between women likely vs. unlikely to be affected by exposure to media images. The results to the experiment clearly demonstrate that exposure to media images of female attractiveness is capable of causing increased weight concern among most young women. (Posavac) This experiment is also akin to reading popular women’s magazines, which often pair explicit suggestions for weight loss within ages of slim models. Because the media’s perfected image of slim feminine attractiveness is so exaggerated, most women were doomed to perceive a discrepancy between their bodies and that of the media standard when they compared their bodies with those of the fashion models. This subjective inferiority may be particularly aversive because physical appearance is an important determinant of females’ social outcomes.

Many women are turning to risky behaviors to try to achieve that body image that the media portrays. A doctor stated “young women are tired of feeling second rate because they cannot match the thin ideal that they see so often in the media.” (Morant) For many, poor body image can lead to low levels of self-esteem; for some it is far more dangerous, leading to eating disorders and other forms of self-abuse. Some blame does lie over television, which chooses men of all sizes to be presenters, but only thin women. Two recent Harvard research studies indicate that magazines and television may play a role in girls’ decisions to diet or have a tendency to eating disorders. For example, research showed that symptoms of eating disorders have increased five-fold among teen girls in Fiji since television came to the island in 15. Girls in Fiji, some as young as fifth graders, who read fashion magazines tended to be dissatisfied with their body shape and are more likely to diet or exercise excessively to lose weight than girls who rarely read them. This was such a great shock to that society because an increase in eating disorders to achieve thinness is remarkable in a culture that traditionally promoted eating well. (Anonymous) Some of the girls in Fiji had stated that they wanted to look like Western female television characters, most of who are tall and slim, and they said that they would engage in risky behaviors to achieve that body type. Stice et al. (14) found that the more exposure women had to the media, the more likely they were to have eating disorder symptoms. The majority of variance in body image and eating disturbance can be accounted by two factors the tendency to make social comparisons when evaluating physical appearance and the level of internalization of sociocultural norms stressing the importance of thinness and attractiveness.

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Body image of thinness in the media is stressed all over the world. It seems as though when you turn on the television or flip through a magazine, even a shopping catalogue, you are bombarded with thin body images. For example, cosmetic commercials always seem to have thin models advertising their product. Also, you are bombarded with television programs that portray the image of the “perfect body.” For example, there are shows such as Baywatch, where you hardly ever see an overweight lifeguard. There are very few overweight people in the background also. Another example would be daytime soaps. The majority of the actresses in the soaps are usually petite. One last example of television shows that portray an ideal body image is MTV. I remember my aunt telling me that while she was on vacation, MTV was there also. She tried to appear on the show, but they would not allow her on it because they said they only wanted people who were 5 years old or younger. She also told me that it seemed as if they were taking all of the girls with “perfect” bodies. I believe that this is true because if you ever turn on the television and watch MTV’s spring break, notice who is in the lime light of the show; it is usually girls with very petite bodies. Along with television shows portraying thin body images, there are also magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Glamour, and even shopping catalogues, especially Victoria’s Secret. All of the models in these magazines are very thin and seem to have such a “perfect figure.” Also, magazines tend to always have articles that relate to dieting and exercising in order to lose weight. After being in contact with all of these everyday things, it is no wonder why women have such a body disturbance. Women are constantly seeing these models that portray to have the definitive body that the rest of us ordinary women lack. However, women who are not in the Hollywood spotlight are not the only ones who are impacted by these body images. There are many women in the entertainment business who are also suffering. For example, Tracey Gold, the former Carol Seaver, of the television program, Growing Pains, suffered from anorexia for a couple of years. She stated that she was relieved when the series of the program ended because “being out of the limelight helped her because while she was on the television show, everybody knew her so well that nothing was private.” A couple of other actresses who suffered from eating disorders were Jamie-Lynn Siegler of the Sopranos and Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal. One last woman who suffered, and died, from anorexia was Karen Carpenter, a popular musician. Karen Carpenter had an obsession to be slender and she developed anorexia because she was worried that her fans would find her to plump for stardom. These are only a few examples of how “ideal” body images seem to be portrayed in the media today.

Because there is such a negative impact on women’s body image due to the media, something should be done to reduce this impact. For example, treatment efforts should focus on reducing the impact that depictions of highly thin and attractive women might have on those who are most vulnerable to their effects. Psychoeducational interventions might teach women that media-presented images of women are often unrealistic and might further advise women to avoid using these images as a means of social comparison. (Cattarin) Perhaps providing females with information on the effects of cosmetics, lighting, and photographic retouching in producing media images would lead females to perceive models as inappropriate targets for social comparison. Also, television should review its policy on the use of thin women in advertisements and that schools should implement media literacy programs to encourage critical viewing skills. (Morant)

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