Essay Sample: The Impact of Media on Body Image

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Wesleyan University
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Body image refers to ones perceptions, behaviors, and feelings toward ones body. Our culture, the community that we live in, our families, and individualism influence our attitudes and values towards our bodies. Media is also among the many sets of forces that significantly impact body image. Social psychologists explain that those closest to us, such as family, peers, and mentors, as well as those we come across through the media, can shape our perception of body image too.

Through the years, researchers have investigated the unrealistic appearance ideals put forward by mainstream media. These ideals have resulted in body dissatisfaction and other serious issues, such as depression and eating disorders. So far, research on body image has focused on the impact of traditional media: a form of offline media such as TV, movies, music, advertisements, and print media. However, the young generation today does not consume this type of media as often. In fact, the young people are becoming active creators of media, with access to many online platforms around the clock. Information passed through media plays a crucial role in shaping body satisfaction and gender norms, and the migration to digital and social media means that the youth can easily create, access, share and interact with media messages concerning body image.

This essay focuses on the main trends in body image, including a special section on early childhood. This paper goes further to report on digital and social media influences on body image. The aim is to identify the different types of media, how children perceive their body image, and how media affects them. Furthermore, this essay will concentrate on the impact of media on body image in teens and adults as well. This paper incorporates related topics such as gender roles and sex appeal where applicable and how the perception of body image has changed over time because of media.

Types of Media

Two forms of media that influence body image are traditional media and digital/social media. Traditional media refers to any form of mass media that is not digital.

Print Media

The word 'print media' is used to define the old-fashioned print-based media that today's parents are accustomed to, such as newspapers, books, magazines, comics, and novels. In the past, only the wealthy had access to type-setting technologies required to produce print media. Recently, print media has been made available to everyone through desktop publishing software and print-on-demand services (, 2017).


The television has been there for over half a decade. Televisions had minimal content when they started, but today, there are numerous general and specialty channels and programs to choose. News, Movies, Music, and other forms of information depend on the TV for broadcasting which means that it is a widespread form of media.


Movies are motion picture technologies that are capable of capturing realistic video images. Initially, people watched movies at the movie theater, but nowadays movies are accessible to people in the comfort of their homes, computers, and even phones. Movies are a prevalent type of media that may influence its audience in various ways.


Music is another highly popular form of media entertainment. The 19th century welcomed the age of analog sound recordings on vinyl records and later on audio tape cassettes. The 1980s saw the distribution of music in a digital format on CD-ROMs. In the 1990s, it was possible to compress large digital music files into the MP3 format. Music has a powerful influence on its listeners.

Digital media, on the other hand, is audio, video, and photos that have been digitally compressed. After digital media is encoded, it can be easily manipulated, distributed, and played by computers, smartphones, and all internet-enabled devices. Transmission of this media possible through computer networks as well. Examples of digital formats include WMA, WMV, MP3, MP4, DVD, JPEG, and AVI.

Mobile Phones

Modern cell phones perform multimedia services such as the sending of photos videos, and music from one phone to another. Many phones comprise of digital cameras, music and video players, and can access the internet. With the right smartphone and data plan from your service provider, it is possible to watch television shows on the phone, browse the Internet, and share information, therefore, making the phone a powerful media tool.


Computers are programmed to perform various tasks. The software in itself is a form of media since it provides the computer with instructions on how to accomplish its tasks. An example of this type of media is the Videogame. However, there are numerous other uses of computer programs as media tools. For instance, young people, mainly those in photography, may use software to edit digital pictures taken with digital cameras and phones. These people may also use software to create or edit videos as well as voice recordings. Software programs also teach people how to type, offer help with homework, assist users in the formation of a family tree, among other uses.

The Internet

The Internet comprises of millions of interconnected computers capable of instant sharing of data. All forms of internet communication, be it video, voice, or image occur through a common transmission format. Even though the web is global, it offers a level playing field so that everyone can be able to create and publish content which is accessible around the world.

The internet is also responsible for Social media. Social media are computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. Examples include WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Childrens Perception of Body Image

Childrens body image starts to develop at a young age alongside the development of their cognitive, physical, and social traits (Slaughter and Brownell, 2013). Around age 2 and 3, children start to become aware of their body sizes even more, especially when carrying out tasks. As soon as the children master a concept of their bodies, they immediately begin to show interest in it, having been influenced by peers, adults, and the media surrounding them.

Almost a third of kids age 5 to 6 opt for a body size that is much thinner than their current size. By the age of 6, children are aware of dieting. Approximately a quarter of 5-year-olds recommend some dieting behavior as a solution to weight gain, and by the age of 7, one child in every four has undergone a dieting scheme. Furthermore, young children interact with some of the exaggerated portrayals of body image in media such as skinny dolls and buff action figures.

Young kids particularly, adopt models for thinking and behavior from the people around them. Body-centered talk is no exception. Childrens observation of their parents body dissatisfaction predicts the childs dissatisfaction.

How the Media affect kids' Body Image

Many times the media portrays certain human appearances and behaviors which strongly impact our kids, influencing their thoughts on what makes them attractive, popular, and happy (or vice versa). Children often compare their appearances to those of media personalitys body shapes that are mostly unrealistic or simply unattainable. This type of comparison can result in body shame and low body esteem.

It's also imperative to remember that todays youth is not only consumers but also active creators of media. This fact alone provides opportunities as well as pitfalls. On the positive, children understand how to present and manage their online presence; kids might also find themselves comparing their looks to their friends, or maybe gets fascinated with their friends' reactions towards their photos. Contrastingly, kids may see characters, peers, and celebrities who utilize online platforms to defy harmful stereotypes connected to appearance ideals. How Traditional Media affects Body Image: Teens and Adults

For girls and women

Most media content highlights the value of being young, beautiful, and particularly thin. Female actors in movies, childrens shows, and prime-time television most likely have unusually small waists in contrast to their male counterparts. Plus-size girls and women are underrepresented in almost all types of media. The ones showcased are probably old and less likely shown in romantic states than thin characters. A study of childrens shows in the early 2000s, reveals that approximately 72% associated slenderness characters with decent traits like kindness, 84% of the shows related attractiveness with positive traits, and every three out of four films and shows linked obesity with unwanted merits. In cartoons, females are portrayed as skinny while the heavier characters likely depict dim-wittedness (Klein and Shiffman, 2005).

For boys and men

Present mainstream media overemphasizes fitness and muscularity by showcasing buff and toned bodies. Over the past forty years, depictions of male characters in the media have become gradually muscular and impractical. Action figures today, are much more muscular than those made in the 1970s. Muscle size of male models in popular centerfolds has also increased over the years. These facts show that ideal body image for boys and men have become overly unattainable through the years. These body depictions have certain impacts on teens and adults as well.

Appearance-Oriented behaviors: Girls and Women

Experimental and correlational research have found proof to support the relationship between female consumption of traditional media, their perception of body image, and appearance-oriented behaviors. For instance, further investigations reveal credible associations relating media exposure to female body dissatisfaction, conceptualization of the thin ideal, and strange eating habits. The petite mean sizes (d = -.28, -.39, and -.30), overly hyped by the media, establish the negative influence that media have on female perceptions of body image.

Young womens body image is adversely affected by the thin ideal depictions they see in mainstream media. A country-wide survey conducted by the girl scouts Research Institute in 2010 shows that approximately 48% of teenage girls wished to have skinny bodies like the ones on models in fashion magazines. They also added that what they strive for in body goals came from these journals. Body dissatisfaction in females, according to a survey by the Today Show is as a result of comparing themselves to celebrities.

In a captivating study of teenage girls in Fiji, young womens perception of body-image before, and after the introduction of Western television, revealed that almost 75% of the young women described feeling too big or fat shortly after being exposed to television. Similarly developing a willingness to stay fit and healthy which was not there previously.

Appearance-Oriented behaviors: Boys and Men

Studies show that there is a relationship between male exposure to the idealization of masculinity by the media and body esteem. Recent correlational and experimental studies (effect size, d = -0.19, d = -0.22 respectively) found that exposure to mainstream media may produce negative outcomes such as body dissatisfaction as and low self-esteem.

Negative Impacts Relating to thin ideal and sex appeal

Often the media exploit peoples need to look more attractive; the media is responsible for creating an association between body image, sexual drive, and success. Sexualization is a term that occurs when the value of an individual only comes from their sexual appeal (American Psychological Association...

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