Celebrity Image and the Effects on Youth

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To what extent are young people influenced by celebrity image?

‘The models that everyone claims are beautiful, the spitting image of perfection, are any of them fat? NO!’ (Quote from Anonymous, Pro-Ana Thinness Addiction online blog, 2011) This particular blog has had over 11 million hits since publication, and although not everyone that reads it would agree with the views, it only takes a couple to be influenced by the text. It’s an unnerving thought knowing that a minority of the youth think in such extreme ways, placing unhealthy body images on such a high pedestal as something to aspire to. This essay will study how far the influence of celebrity images affects the youth, looking further into eating disorders caused by the individual’s perception of what is beautiful and whether or not celebrities and the mass media are fully to blame for influencing young people in harmful ways. Is it always negative or can celebrity image ever be a good influence? Can these Role Models help the youth with confidence and self-esteem issues?

The influence of the celebrity image and the affect it has on the younger generations has been an issue for quite some time. But just how much truth is behind the accusations thrown at the celebrities for encouraging unhealthy lifestyles and body image? Heilman (1998) wrote about 14 years old ‘Kara’, who, during personal turmoil, started to idolise the model Kate Moss (‘so cool, I wanted to be like her, under control’). ‘Kara’ took her idolization too far, and wanting to look like Moss, she started dieting. With a girl as young as ‘Kara’ this was obviously not a healthy lifestyle and eventually her dieting progressed further and she was diagnosed as anorexic. The physical and mental affect on the youth as well as adults can be rather dangerous, where self consciousness can quite easily progress into depression and eating disorders as shown by ‘Kara’. Unfortunately the case of ‘Kara’ isn’t uncommon as 1 in 1000 women in the UK between 15 to 30 suffers from anorexia (Kirby, 2010).

The rise in sufferers of anorexia can be attributed to the increase in the mass medias portrayal of unhealthy body images. ‘A recent Psychology Today survey indicates the significant impact the mass media have in promoting the cultural ideal of thinness and beauty, at least for women. Of 3,452 women responding, 23% indicated that movie or television celebrities influenced their body image when they were young, and 22% endorsed the influence of fashion magazine models. In contrast only 13% and 6% of men reported an influence of movie/television celebrities or fashion magazine models’ (Thompson, 1999). With websites such as the ‘pro-ana’ sites being so easily accessible to the youth with a simple search of pro-ana on Google, links for internet pages such as www.pro-thinspo.com yields many easy accessible results. On these sites, there are over 60 different galleries, many of them showing extremely thin celebrities, some even being Photoshopped to make them look emancipated. Celebrities such as the Olson twins and Nicole Ritchie that are known for being incredibly thin are idolised on these sites, and are used as aspirational images. Nichter and Nichter (1991) did a study that showed adolescent girls using models in fashion magazines aimed at teenage girls as the ideal image with blonde hair, blue eyes, 5’7”, 100 pounds and a size 5. This ideal look is a very dangerous aim, as for most girls this is unrealistic, as for the size described the body mass index is less than 16, showing they are in the anorexic range. Keeping this in mind, according to Heinberg and Thompson (1992) body dissatisfaction in young girls increased when they were shown photos of thin celebrities and asked to compare the body size of the celebrities to their own, such thoughts starting as young as 12, which is the time that the youth are more susceptible to developing eating disorders.

It’s not all bad, contrary to negative...
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