Body Image and Media

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Sociocultural standards of feminine beauty are presented in almost all forms of popular media, barraging women with images that portray what is considered to be the "ideal body." Such standards of beauty are almost completely unattainable for most women. A majority of the models displayed on television and in advertisements are well below what is considered healthy body weight. Mass media's use of such unrealistic models sends an implicit message that in order for a woman to be considered beautiful, she must be unhealthy. The mindset that a person can never be " too thin" is all too prevalent in society, and it makes it difficult for females to achieve any level of contentment with their physical appearance. There are many different perspectives that can be used to explain why and how women internalize the thin-ideal persuaded by the media. These theories include: social comparison, cultivation, and self-schema. Each perspective has helped researchers examine mechanisms by which the media images are translated into body image disturbance in women. They also provide explanations for why some females are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of the media, while others display remarkable levels of resiliency. Body image is a complicated aspect of the self-concept that concerns an individual's perceptions and feelings about their body and physical appearance (Tiggemann). Females of all ages seem to be particularly vulnerable to disturbance in this area; body dissatisfaction in women is a well-documented phenomenon in mental health literature. Researchers have called female's concerns with their physical appearance "normative discontent;" implying that body dissatisfaction affects almost all women at some level (Source 2). Females have been found to experience dissatisfaction with physical appearance at a much higher rate than males (2) and women of all ages and sizes display body image disturbance. It appears that body dissatisfaction is more closely linked to appearance-related cognitions than physical reality. People are at higher risk to display disturbed body image if they hold dysfunctional beliefs and cognitions about their physical appearance, regardless of body mass (2). Concern over weight and appearance related issues often surfaces early in females' development, and continues throughout the lifespan. The importance of physical appearance is emphasized and reinforced early in most girls' development; studies have found that nearly half of females ages 6-8 have stated that they want to be slimmer (Source3). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating patterns have been found to be an especially prevalent issue in adolescent and college females (Source 3). Body image becomes a major issue as females go through puberty; girls in midadolescence frequently report being dissatisfied with weight, fearing further weight gain, and being preoccupied with weight loss (Source2) Field et al. (1999) found that 20% of 9-year-olds and over 40 % of 14-year-olds reported wanting to lose weight. In addition, most girls who express a desire to be thinner are within the normal weight range for females their age (Striegel-Moore & Franko, 2002). Numerous studies have verified that one's subjective evaluation of their own appearance can have a powerful impact on a person's development and psychosocial experiences (as cited in Butters & Cash, 1987). Researchers have found that body dissatisfaction is correlated with other forms of psychological impairment. Not surprisingly, disturbed body image is one of the main precursors for disordered eating and dieting in adolescent and young adult girls (Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Stice & Whitenton, 2002; Striegel-Moore & Schreiber, 2000; Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001). The prominence of dieting and maladaptive eating patterns has become an increasingly prevalent concern in adolescent and young adult populations; research has shown that around two-thirds of adolescent females report dieting at...
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