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Media and self image

Media and Self Image

"Without social identity, there is in fact, no society" — Richard Jenkins. This

statement holds true to everything in our everyday lives. From the time we can sit up our

parents plant us in front of the television to keep us out of their way. Commercials and

media shape our outlook, our self-image, and our stereotypes. Every commercial has a

message in it; we’re to fat, to stupid, not driving the right car, we are all supposed to be

beautiful.... The list is endless, and by this we are ‘socialized" into our identities.

I am not going to take a look at any one commercial in particular but I am going

to look at few of the market dominators, self-image and dieting, and where they come

from. From catalogs, stores, commercials and magazines, it is not surprising that eating

disorders are on the increase due to the value society places on being thin. In modern

Western culture, women are given the message at a very young age that in order to be

happy and successful, they must be thin. Every time you walk into a store you are

surrounded by the images of withered models that appear on the front cover of fashion

magazines. Women are constantly bombarded with advertisements catering to what is

considered desirable.

Thousands of women and girls are starving themselves to attain what the fashion

industry considers to be the ideal frail figure. The average model weighs 23% less than

the average woman. Maintaining a weight that is 15% below your expected body weight

fits the criteria for anorexia, so most models, according to medical standards, fit into the

category of being anorexic (Brumberg 205). Women must realize that society's ideal

body image may in fact be achievable, but at a detrimental price to one’s body. The

photos we see in magazines are not a clear image of reality. Adolescents and women

striving to attain society's unattainable ideal more often than not, increase their feelings

of inadequacy. In contemporary society young women easily cling to dieting precisely

because it is widely practiced and an admired form of cultural expression.

In the twentieth century, the body—not the face—became the focus of female

beauty. As a consequence of this media portrayal of beauty, dieting has moved from the

border to the center of women’s lives and culture. Nearly 50% of all women are on a diet

at any given time (Bordo 140). The fact that women have such strong concerns about

attractiveness is compelling evidence for the power of dieting message. Given western

culture’s longstanding admiration of thinness, it is no wonder that so many young women

resort to dieting and that eating disorders have become part of the psychopathology of


With this in mind it is no wonder that the diet industry is booming on the promise

of making everyone look the way they want to. Diet commercials are constantly

appearing on our television screens telling us that once we lose the weight, we will be

happy, content, and successful. You stand in the check out line at the grocery store

surrounded by magazines claiming to have the newest and best diet. Each month another

new diet appears claiming to be the diet to end all diets. Dieting has become an obsession

in modern western culture. Many of the diets on the market right now are unhealthy.

They deprive you of the proper nutrition your body needs to survive and can lead to

health problems.

The diet and fashion industries are not totally to blame for society's obsession

with thinness. We are the ones keeping them in business. "It is clear that a very large

percentage of American women are unhappy with their bodies," says Joan Jacobs

Brumberg, author of "The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls," (1998).

"That kind of unhappiness begins very, very early in life," she says. The rise of plastic

surgery, the prevalence of dieting and the high number of women in therapy are examples

proven that women still suffer from self-esteem problems. Women still feel unhappy

about the way the advertising industry portrays females. "Fashion magazines deliberately

promote fantasy," says Mary Peacock of, a Web site for women.

A typical fashion magazine reader can’t afford the clothes or achieve the body

depicted in these publications, she says. Peacock says women's magazines have regressed

in their portrayal of realistic body images since the heyday of Ms. magazine, which she

helped, found with fellow feminists in the 1970s. But Peacock cautions against blaming

the media outright for women’s self-esteem issues. Magazines may portray women in a

manner that upsets the feminist consumer, though the problem can also be traced to the

readers. Readers do not seem to understand that the images conveyed throughout the

pages are not the norm. "The problem is not the magazine, necessarily," says Peacock.

"The problem is also the readers. People don't understand what physical freaks models


The 90’s saw a new trend emerge dubbed "heroin chic" because of the ultra-thin,

strung-out appearance of models like Kate Moss and Shalom Harlow, the look dominated

fashion capitals such as New York, London and Paris until trends began changing in

early 1998. But with the popularity of heroin chic, came controversy over the dangers of

becoming too thin. Though many have criticized the trend, young girls starved

themselves trying to attain the waif-like figure. Even though heroin chic no longer

dominates the market, women remain uncomfortable with the media’s depiction of their


Though women speak up about this dissatisfaction, they still seem to be getting

less and less happy about their appearance. Society is brainwashing young people into

believing that being thin is important and necessary. It's unfortunate, but in today's

society, people have forgotten that it's what's inside a person that counts, not what's on

the outside. We need to start loving and accepting each other for who we are not what we

look like. We also need to teach our children to be proud of whom they are. We need to

remind them that people come in all shapes and sizes, and we need to teach them to

accept everyone for who they are. Parents need to also teach their children the value of

healthy eating and not send the message that being thin is important.

Many children, under the age of 10, are becoming obsessed with dieting and their

bodies. They are afraid of becoming fat. They don't just learn this from the media; they

also learn this from their parents. If their mothers are constantly dieting and expressing

their desire to be thin, these young children will start to believe they also need to be thin.

If a child is raised to love and accept who they are and what they look like, they will be

less likely to strive to fit into society's unattainable standards.

Source: Essay UK -

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