The media are held responsible for the supposed growth of eating disorders in the country. To what extent is this true? The argument about whether the media shapes society or merely reflects current or beginning trends is constantly under debate. This essay is going to explain what the media is, how it influences young people's body image and in what way it affects young people's health.
The media is an important aspect of life in our culture. About 95% of people own a Television set and watch an average of 3-4 hours per day. By the end of the last century over 60% of men and 50% of women read a newspaper each day and nearly half of all girls, from the age of 7 read a girls magazine each week. In addition, people interact with a wide variety of other media such as music delivered by cds or videos, and communication via personal computers.
Each form of media has a different purpose and content. The media seek to inform us, persuade us, entertain us and change us. The media also seeks to engage large groups of people so that advertisers can sell them products or services by making them desirable. Other institutions such as governments also engage the public via the media to make ideas and values desirable. Institutions from politics to corporations can use the media to influence our behaviour.
Body image is a person's perception of his or her own physical appearance. A person with a poor body image will perceive his or her own body as being unattractive or even repulsive to others, while a person with a good body image will see him or herself as attractive as others, or will at least accept his or her current form. Perceived body image is not necessarily related to any objective measure or the average opinion of the other; a person who has a poor body image may be related as beautiful by others, and a person with a good body image may be rated as unattractive by others. Body image is most strongly affected during puberty.
It is believed that young people configure an internalised ideal body and compare their actual or perceived actual shape against the socially represented ideal (Peacock, M 2001). This presents a body image which is elastic in that it will feel different at different times and in different contexts, such as being on a beach in a swimsuit.
The ideal body image has become smaller, thinner and differently shaped over 20 years. The ideal body is now sculptured, pared of fat, with a BMI that would place most models firmly in the anorexic category. With narrow hips, a small waist and rounded breasts, a stature can only be achieved by most women with the help of surgery since the conditions of weight loss breast tissue tends to shrink.
The media often emphasizes sexuality and the importance of physical attractiveness in an attempt to sell products but this may place undue pressure on young people to focus on their appearance. In a recent survey by Teen People magazine', 27% of the girls felt that the media pressures them to have a perfect body, and a poll conducted in 1996 by the international ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi found that ads made women fear being unattractive or old. It has been suggested that advertising media may adversely impact a person's body image, which can lead to unhealthy behaviour as women and girls strive for the ultra thin body idealised by the media. Advertising images have also been accused of setting unrealistic ideals for males, and men and boys are beginning to risk their health to achieve the well built media standard.
The average woman sees 100 to 200 advertisements per day (Dittrich, L 2000) and by the time she is 17 years old, she has received over 50,000 commercial messages through the media. Only 9% of commercials have a direct statement about beauty, but many more implicitly emphasise the importance of beauty, particularly those that target women and girls. One study of Saturday morning toy commercials found that 50% of commercials aimed at girls spoke...
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