It’s important to understand the impact of body image in the media. Media and body image is important because we are absolutely bombarded with media images these days and those images have a huge effect on our mental health and the way we see ourselves.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the typical American spends about half of his free time in front of the TV. Television is not the only form of media that influences our body image, of course. We watch movies, see pictures online, read magazines and other periodicals, watch performances by rock stars, see ads for clothing (featuring ridiculously skinny models) and so on. In all these forms of media, we see images of very skinny women.
Body Image in the Media
The average female fashion model weighs about 120 pounds. Meanwhile, the National Center for Health Statistics tells us that the average American woman weighs about 169 pounds. Obviously there is a huge disparity there. Most people probably don’t realize that the average woman weighs 169 pounds, though, because they assume what they see on TV or in the movies is typical. The unrealistic body image in the media distorts reality and leads people to believe they are abnormally heavy when they really aren’t.
Issues of the media and body image are important because of the rise in eating disorders and other disorders related to body image. Certainly not all people with eating disorders have been negatively affected by the media and the media is probably not the sole cause of eating disorders in anybody. However, it is often a contributing factor.
Problems Caused by Body Image in the Media
As mentioned above, the unrealistic images we see in the media can contribute to the development of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. People with anorexia restrict the number of calories they eat. Many do this because they believe they are overweight, even when in reality they may be dangerously thin. People may become anorexic for other reasons; for instance, some control their food intake as a way of maintaining some control over lives that seem unmanageable. A distorted body image is a common factor in anorexic people, however.
Anorexia and bulimia are very serious disorders. They lead to all sorts of health problems, including heart disease and kidney disease. People can die from these disorders if they don’t get proper treatment.
Other problems related to the media and body image include depression and anxiety. People may worry excessively about their appearance and may become anxious or depressed if they feel they don’t measure up to the ideals they see in the popular media.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological condition in which a person becomes obsessed with her appearance and a perceived flaw in her appearance. People with body dysmorphic disorder may avoid social situations because they feel so self-conscious. They may spend a great deal of time trying to conceal the perceived flaw in their appearance. For instance, they may spend hours and hours trying on different clothes trying to find an outfit that makes them look skinny, even though in reality they are of normal weight. The Mayo Clinic reports that societal pressures and expectations of beauty contribute to the development of body dysmorphic disorder.
Body Image in the Media and Children
Issues related to the media and body image are problematic for everyone but they may be even more serious for children. Adults are better able to sort fact from fiction and to recognize when images in the media are unrealistic. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health reports that anorexia is the third leading chronic illness in teenagers. Parents and educators should pay special attention to issues of media and body image and seek treatment for any adolescents that show signs of eating disorders or depression.