How Social Psychology Has Helped Us to Develop a Better Understanding of the Interaction Between Women’s Body Image and Media Beauty-Ideals

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How Social Psychology has helped us to develop a better understanding of the interaction between women’s Body Image and Media Beauty-Ideals

Much of the reports reviewed agree that there is a link between body image dissatisfaction and the influence of the media’s portrayal of beauty ideals (Engeln-Maddox, 2005) (Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002) (Tiggemann, 2003). The extent and direction of this link is unclear as much of the research provides conflicting results. Is simple exposure enough or does the consumer have to be actively engaged with the ideals? Other social influences are also identified as being influential factors such as peers, parents and social norms but the mass media is undoubtedly an important factor due to the scope of reach and prevalence of its depictions of the thin-ideal. (Engeln-Maddox, 2005) (Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002) (Krones, Stice, Batres & Orjada, 2005) (Tiggemann, 2004). This influence has been shown to exist across cultures influenced by westernised media. It seems that the images of the perfect female figures portrayed by the media as the ideal shape have become thinner and below healthy weight recommendations for normal women (Champion & Furnham 1999) (Engeln-Maddox, 2005) (Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002). Trends show that most women will engage in behaviours to control weight, body shape and appearance in order to live up to these ideals (Baker, Sivyer & Towell 98) (Champion & Furnham 99) (Watson & Vaughn 2006). There is also some uncertainty here, as to why some women are affected more than others. I will attempt to explore both of these and go on to address suggested preventative approaches. Males have also been shown to have a similar interaction but with pressures to conform to the ideal muscular-masculine body-ideal (Barlett, Vowels & Saucier 2008) (Ogden & Mundray 1998) however this area will not be discussed below due to space restrictions.

Social comparison theory has been described by many as an important factor in the relationship between media and influence on body image, some suggest it is a mediating force (Bessenoff, 2006) (Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002) (Tiggemann & McGill 2004). Social comparison theory has been described as the ‘comparison with others...in order to fulfil the basic human drive for self-evaluation’ (Engeln-Maddox 2005 p. 1116.), we use this process in order ‘to understand how and where we fit in the world’ (Krones et al 2005 p.134). The motive for the social comparison is important to the effect, with three main motives being identified; self-evaluation, self improvement and self enhancement (Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002) Many suggest that exposure to such unattainable beauty standards as depicted in the media will cause women to engage in social comparison as a source of self-evaluation (Engeln-Maddox 2005). A woman looking to evaluate her appearance might look to fashion and beauty magazines as the experts. The beauty standard portrayed here is almost impossible to achieve hence she is likely to fall short and so this would evoke negative feelings about her own body, repeated exposure to these images would result in negative behaviours in order to achieve the ideal (Engeln-Maddox 2005) (Krones, Stice, Batres & Orajada 2005).

However some research suggests that women also use these same sources as a reference point for tips on improving appearance and enhancing self-image (Clark, Tiggemann 2006) ( Tiggmann2006 & 2003). A number of authors have offered Rubin’s uses and gratification theory as an explanation as to why women continue to seek out this content in that the motives for comparison may also affect the type of media chosen by the individual to use for the comparison (Holmstrom 2004) ( Tiggemann 2006 & 2003). So rather than individuals being innocent bystanders just going along with ideals promoted in media people are ‘active media consumers’(Tiggeman 03 p.420) and seek out specific sources for a specific purpose. This...
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