In our society, the media works in many ways. It is a means for information, promotion, communication, and news. It is one huge factor in our environment that influences decisions and acts to inspire our youth. Sometimes the messages that the media projects, however, are not all positive. There is a common appearance of waif-like models around the globe. These models are on the covers and in the popular magazines that are generated for the age group of thirteen to seventeen year old girls. These images send a hazardous message about being skinny. If these women were on the cover of a top-selling magazine, there must be a reason, right? And the way the image is portrayed onto the cover makes it seem as if it is their looks that got them onto the cover. In an article written by Liz Dittrich, Ph.D., who is the director of resource and outreach with the About Face organization that promotes positive self-esteem in women and girls, wrote an article about facts on the media and it’s influences on society. In she states that, “In a study of the content of Seventeen Magazine which is the most widely distributed adolescent magazine, for the years of 1945, 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985 and 1995 found that in all issues the largest percentage of pages were devoted to articles about appearance” (Dittrich, Ph.D.). This shows that this issue of body image has been in the media for the past seventy years. For decades, teenage girls have been exposed to articles about the “ideal” appearance.
Magazines are forever pitching stories and images of how they think young people should act. Look at the magazine Teen People for example; it’s target is young girls aged thirteen to seventeen, and contains articles such as “How To Dress So They Notice You” (Teen People Publishers). The teenage girl magazine CosmoGirl tells thirteen-year old girls, “How to Achieve the Perfect Hair, Skin, Face, and Body.” These girls are growing up out of their child phase and are learning how to find their individual identities. However, they come face-to-face with articles that tell them how to look and how to act so that they will be noticed by the opposite sex and become popular in their school. These articles can be damaging to how girls set standards for themselves and others as they grow up. Not only are today’s female oriented ideals unrealistic, they are dangerous to a person’s health and damaging to their self-image. These naïve girls are easily coerced into following the many different trends. Skinny women on the covers of all the major magazines, that teenage girls have access to, are believed to have the “perfect body.” That is why their picture is in that magazine, rather than an average-looking person’s. This “perfect body” is shown as having a fit stomach, large breasts, a small waist, clear skin and other flawless features that are made standard by the pop culture. This is a common theme in magazines and when girls read about how these small-stature women are starring in their own movies, getting the guy, and becoming famous, girls feel that they have to be just like them to get recognized and be liked by their own peers. At such a young age, girls come face to face with the decision of what they have to become and how they are to achieve that. These girls who are thirteen should not be worrying about how emaciated they can get themselves to look or what is “cool.” Young girls need to be living their own lives and not the lives that the media is trying to sell them. Bernie DeGroat, with news and information services at The University Record, wrote an article about media influencing eating disorders. In it, he said, “In a survey of 232 female undergraduate students at a large Mid-western university in 1994, Kristin Harrison, assistant professor of communication studies at the university, found that about 15 percent of the women met criteria for disordered eating. They had signs of anorexia or bulimia, body dissatisfaction, a drive for thinness, perfectionism and a sense of personal ineffectiveness” (DeGroat). If grown women have such dissatisfaction for their bodies at an older and mature age, what’s to say that the media can’t influence younger girls, who haven’t matured all the way, as well?
Thoughts and ideas about the fear of being fat can be traced as far back as preschool ages. In 1978, researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine observed the attitudes and preferences of preschool-age children to determine at what age anti-fat notions appear. Overwhelmingly, 91 percent chose the thin rag doll over the fat one. The few overweight children in the study, although they could not say why, also chose the thin doll (White Jr.). As you can see, as far back as preschool age, girls somehow have it in their minds what they prefer, skinny or fat. At that young age, one of their media influences is the Barbie doll. Ninety percent of girls ages three to eleven have a Barbie doll with a figure that is unattainable in real life (Dittrich, Ph.D.). As they grow older, they become more perceptive of the ideas around them. At the adolescent age, their minds are so easily influenced that almost anything could create in them a mindset about the way they should look. If a teenage girl does not look the way the media portrays that they should be looking, they retreat into themselves, and that is where problems begin. They begin down a path that leads them to self-doubt and hatred of their body and themselves as a person. This issue can be distinguished in a child’s Disney movie. Take a look at a scene from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The evil sea-witch Ursula has this image across this ocean that she can help people get what they want. An overweight woman “long[s] to be skinny” and a scrawny man “wants to get the girl” and she helps them. However, they have to sell their soul to her. But because she is an evil sea creature she sentences them to a life in her garden as a plantlike being. They have no way to communicate to anybody in the outside world and must suffer silently within themselves for the rest of their lives (“The Little Mermaid”). Just as the mer-people did in The Little Mermaid, girls who have self-image issues due to the media’s influences, they must suffer internally. That is how their suffering leads to anorexia and bulimia. Both are eating disorders that greatly affect girls ages fifteen to eighteen.
Some may say that the media is not the contributing factor to eating disorders in young girls. In an article on the Mental Health Net, reporter Steven Reinberg writes that, “New research, involving 31,406 Swedish twins, suggest that 56 percent of the risk for developing [anorexia] is inherited, and the condition is linked with neurotic symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, early in life” (Reinberg). However, the media plays a very big role in the creating of eating disorders in young girls. The average person sees between four hundred and six hundred advertisements per day. That is forty million to fifty million by the time they are sixty years old. One of every eleven commercials has a direct message about beauty; this isn't counting the indirect ones. So, calculating the math, that is thirty-six to 54 direct advertisements about beauty every day (Dittrich, Ph.D.). So whether the images are direct or indirect, there are ways that we adopt those ideas into our own lives. For girls at such a young and vulnerable age, anything can be taken the wrong way. The media urges teens to follow trends. On account of the direct and indirect impacts pop culture has on youth, media and entertainment need to limit what is shown and advertised in order to limit the amount of influences it has over peoples’ lives. The media not only has an affect on young girls’ images, but it also impels them to be something, look like someone, or to do something that follows the popular trend at the time. There are certain products out in the world that if a person were to only pay “three payments of $19.95,” their lives would be drastically changed forever. Advertisements urge them to buy that new cell phone, and they tell them to go out and get that haircut to look just like Scarlett Johansson, a well-known and famous movie actress. The media makes it seem that it is necessary to have that perfect skinny figure in order for girls to become popular and get they guy. It tells them what kind of music they should listen to in order form to hold conversations with the “cool people.” With the influence that media has over this generation of young adults comes many difficulties, such as low self-esteem which leads to depression, meaningless trends, and in some cases, eating disorders. The television-broadcasting network PBS aired a report on the creators and marketers of popular cultures for teenagers. On the show, it was claimed that, “Kids imitate what they see on TV,” (“The Merchant of Cool”). So, the only way for a girl to finally accept herself for the way she is, the media should limit what is put out to the public in regarding beauty and image. If a teenage girl watches America’s Next Top Model, they will see that in order for you to win that show, you must be the prettiest. Still, because they are at such a vulnerable age, they will take that, and apply it to their own lives, but not in a positive manner. That is how they turn to anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. The media should lessen the amount of unrealistic images and decrease the pressure on these adolescent girls about what is “pretty” and who is “perfect” and what is “cool.” The media will only be encouraging the girls to have a negative view on themselves and of others around them.
Works Cited Page
CosmoGirl Publishers. “How To Achieve the Perfect Hair, Skin, Face, and Body.” CosmoGirl. March 2000: 1.
DeGroat, Bernie. "Media Influence Eating Disorders." The University Record. 22 Oct 1997. 20 Dec 2006 <http://www.umich.edu/~urecord/9798/Oct22_97/media.htm>.
Dittrich, PhD, Liz. "About-Face Facts on the Media." Facts By Topics (2004) 3 Jan 2007 <http://about-face.org/r/facts/media.shtml>.
"Media." Wiktionary. 15 Dec 2006. Wikimedia. 22 Dec 2006 <http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/media>.
Reinberg, Steven. "Anorexia Might Have Genetic Link." Mental Health Net 7 Mar 2006 3 Jan 2007 <http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=news&id=92135&cn=46>.
Teen People Publishers. “How To Dress So They Notice You.” Teen People. June/July 2000: 1.
The Little Mermaid. Dir. Ron Clements, John Musker. Perf. Ursula. DVD. Disney, 1989.
"The Merchant of Cool." Frontline. PBS, Arlington, VA. 27 Feb 2001.
White Jr., Marlene Boskind-White and William,. "Adolescence: Setting the Stage for Eating Disorders." Bulimia 2003 3 Jan 2007 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC?vrsn=230&slb=SU&locID=henrym&sgcmd=REL&srchtp=basic&origsu=%2522Youth%2522&c=1&ste=17&tbst=ts_basic&sitem=22&tab=1&txb=%2522Youth+Culture%2522&docNum=X3010277206&fail=0&bConts=75>.