Mass media are forms of communication directed towards large audiences and include television, radio, internet, news papers, magazines, books and any other means of communication (Helsin, 2006). The media today has become more powerful than ever and it is difficult to find a person in our society that does use or come across to one of the forms of mass media in their everyday life. The media has taken a central part in our lives and also has the ability to influence the way we think and perceive things around us. In particular television, and more currently the internet are the most powerful forms of media as they are able to combine pictures and sound and are more realistic to their viewers. Much research on the influence of the media has targeted the effects of media violence on aggression, pornography and political converge (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005).However media influences do not stop here and they are able to affect our views and promote stereotypes ideas on several issues in our lives. A significant element to mention when it comes to media is the influence of advertising with its nature to ultimately persuade the audience about products or others matters of interest. One of the stereotype ideas that media seems to promote relates to body image for both males and females. Media today has set standards about who is consider attractive and fashionable, and size 0 seems to be the appropriate figure for a women in order to be considered attractive. Messages promote the idea that in order to be successful and attractive you have to be thin. However this has caused many and in particular young people to become obsessed with their weight which leads to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. It is estimated that up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from these types of eating disorders in the U.S. and eating disorders have resulted in death for about 6% of those who have them (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders[ANAD],2011; Taylor,2012,p.105)( http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/). Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight along with an extremely distorted body image and causes self-starvation (Donattele, 2008). Bulimia involves alternating cycles of binge eating and purging through methods such as vomiting (, 2012). Binge eating is like bulimia but the person does not take excessive measures such as vomiting in order to lose the weight they gain (Donattele, 2008). These disorders could be examined and s to media sociocultural factors are the ones that influence the most. Theories such as the social influence theory could be used to explain these disorders.
Today in our modern society being thin is what is considered to be fashionable. Most of the celebrities depict this profile and many people are influenced by this model and preoccupied to control their weight to unrealistic levels. Teens and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to these messages as they are more susceptible to external influences, haexplained through the biopsychosocial model as there is biological, psychological, and social factors involved. However when it comeve not fully developed their identity, have greater tendency to imitate other's behaviors and concepts displayed in the media, and they are affected by peer influences (Berger, 2005). Eating disorders could affect people as young as 7 and as old as mid-80s (, 2012). I personally remember a period in my life when I was young when I was preoccupied with my weight but I did not end up developing one of these eating disorders. However I know friends and coworkers that had anorexia and bulimia and despite any advice and encouragement from others they were extremely dissatisfied with their weight. For instance one of my coworkers who was bulimic either did not usually join us when we went out to eat as a group or when she did she was always ordered extra meals to take home as she was planning to eat them and after purge herself. I remember one time when there was a birthday party in the office she ate several pieces of cake and then ran to the bathroom. It did not take long for all of us to figure out what was going on with her. Despite the fact that several of us tried to help, she was unresponsive to any advice. She was so obsessed with getting thin that nothing else seemed to matter to her even the fact that she was damaging her health. As mentioned eating disorders can even affect young children and parental monitoring is very important. It is difficult for many to imagine that young children could become influenced by stereotyped ideas about body image and I was previously one of them. However at a recent family reunion diner I witnessed my 11 year old niece being extremely concerned with her weight and even claiming that she was on a diet. She did not want to eat her meal and she only took couple of bites from it. When I asked her if she wanted something else to eat, she categorically responded that she needed to lose several pounds in order to be pretty. The majority of celebrities and particularly most models have a specific profile that includes being thin. Young girls seem to be familiar with this image and will most likely try to achieve the same with their bodies. When the body shapes of young girls change during puberty problems might start to arise and become worse as the girls grow older.
The media is so preoccupied with promoting this model that on occasion can become extreme. For instance in cases where a celebrity or model happens to gain some weight they are crucified by the media and their pictures appear on the front pages of popular magazines and their story becomes the center of attention on popular talk shows. Furthermore most of the advertisements and products advertised every day are products for how a woman can look better, younger and thinner. While watching your favorite show, listening to your favorite station, or surfing the internet, one is constantly bombarded by messages from advertisers. Statistical facts regarding the influence of media and advertising shows that on average we are exposed to approximately 5,000 advertising messages per day and on average young adolescents watch 3-4 hours of TV per day (National Eating Disorder Association [NEDA], 2005). Considering these facts one can think about the concept of persuasion and how its application affects social influences regarding body shape. Persuasion refers to a specific kind of social influence where a particular message attempts to change someone's attitudes and beliefs (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005).However the majority of the media messages portray an unrealistic model of body shape.For instance the average women is 5"4' and weighs 140 pounds whereas the average model is 5"11' and weighs 117 pounds, and most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women (The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, 2011; http://www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com/what-causes-eating-disorders). Furthermore ironically the media promotes quite conflicting messages particularly when it comes to the advertisement of food products. Large amounts of food products such as snacks, cakes, cereals, and fast foods that are extremely fattening without significant nutritional value are continuously advertised. The people used to advertize these products however are thin, beautiful and healthy females and males that actually in order to maintain their shape cannot indulge in these products. Therefore on one hand the media endorses the consumerism of high caloric food items and on the other hand promotes the concept of thinness.
Apart from the individual's desire and obsession with appearance their social surroundings could affect and promote these tendencies. Particularly during adolescence and in early adulthood where peer and social influences can be very critical for one's development. People in these ages are concerned more with how they look and they try to "fit" into their group and be desirable (Berger, 2005). Media and particularly television influences what is considered a trend and establish a specific concept of appearance that many young people try to adapt. Social influences refer to the idea that interaction with others could lead to a change in our attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005, p. 184). People want to be accepted by others in their social environment and often end up conforming to behaviors that they believe the majority holds as appropriate. This is known as normative social influence and refers to the idea that people end up conforming to a behavior due to social influence in order to be liked and accepted by others, and this could happen even if an individual does not actually accept this group's behaviors (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2011).Western cultures and particularly our culture contribute much attention and value on thinness and the media is constantly reminding us of this. In particular women try to conform to the beliefs and norms and end up trying to achieve the unrealistic notion of the "perfect" body shape. They try different types of diets and as well as several products that promise weight loss. For some this obsession to lose weight could lead to the above mentioned disorders.
The fact seems to be that the media affects our perception about body image and has an indirect cause on the development of eating disorders. Young people are more susceptible to media influences particular regarding body image. Looking over the years one can notice that the body image considered beautiful and attractive has changed dramatically. Even today among different cultures one can notice different perceptions about what figure is consider attractive. Therefore it is evident that the idea of the "perfect" body relies of sociocultural influences. Media by being a form of communication is able to transmit ideas and perceptions and even influence attributes and beliefs. One way that would help reduce eating disorders and the general obsession over weight is to have media promote and depict more realistic models of what every day people actually look like. Also important is to educate and help young people develop strong critical thinking, proper judgment and self control. It is critical for one to learn to define what is normal and real and distinguish this from fabricated messages. It is truly disturbing and unfortunate to have this large number of people suffer from eating disorders and also to have a percentage of these to end up losing their lives as a result of these disorders.
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It was fashionable to be fat throughout most of history. Obesity was attractive because it was considered to be a sign of wealth. Those who could obtain enough food to keep themselves and their family well fed were people with money. In the past century, however, food has been abundant in most of the developed nations, and thinness has become fashionable. Eating disorders have increased significantly over the past thirty years.
The two most common eating disorders include anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a disease in which women become very self-conscious about their weight and have an intense fear of becoming fat. They go to such extremes as starving themselves in order to keep thin, and some use additional methods such as vomiting, taking excessive amounts of laxatives, or exercising profusely. Bulimia nervosa on the other hand is an eating disorder in which the patient eats large amounts of food in a short period of time, also known as binge eating. Another symptom of bulimia is ridding oneself of food through vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising, commonly known as purging. Women with anorexia nervosa or bulimia often experience fatigue and decreased energy, headaches, personality changes, and abdominal pain. If an eating disorder is left untreated, it can lead to serious health damage, even death. These eating disorders are usually brought on because a girl is unsatisfied with her own body image. Oftentimes she feels out of control, and restricting her intake of food is one way to regain control. The patient has a sense of power over food, and this makes her feel more secure about everything else going on in her life. Many times, girls with low self-esteem are the victims of eating disorders because they often seek approval from their peers. By being thinner, they believe that they will become more desirable. Studies have shown that the majority of women with eating disorders are adolescents.
What makes a young woman associate thinness with beauty? Many are now beginning to believe that the media has much to do with how women view themselves. Young women see thin models and actresses in magazines, advertisements, and television shows. The media have portrayed the successful and beautiful protagonists as thin. They have promoted the image of thinness through popular programming.. Thinness has thus become associated with self control and success. The average American woman s body weight has increased over the past thirty years, yet the models that represent American women have become increasingly thinner. The media s portrayal of happy, successful women being extremely thin makes a huge impact on women s perception of beauty. When girls begin to compare themselves to the famous and thin women they see on television, or in magazines, they equate thinness with beauty, and many strive to become beautiful.
An increase in the number of diet and health articles and advertisements had also risen along with the number of eating disorders. Articles on weight loss can be found in almost every issue of women s magazines, and new "miracle" diet books are constantly being published. Many of these diets are unhealthy, and some are even dangerous. Weight loss advertisements are found in almost every type of media, and women are constantly obssessed with the topic of weight. Many young woman can overlook the stream of thinness and diet propaganda that they encounter, but an increasing number of women are not so lucky. As the media puts more and more emphasis on thinness, more women become dissatisfied with their own bodies.
Some may argue that the media has nothing to do with a woman s perception of herself. They believe that women want to look at people more beautiful than themselves, and that thin models inspire people to take better care of their own bodies. But researches suggest that exposure to thin models resulted in lower self-esteem and decreased weight satisfaction. Studies prove that the media does directly relate to and affect a woman s body image and self-esteem, which is directly related to eating disorders.
There are ways that women can overcome social pressures about weight and appearance. One way to recognize stereotyping in the media and to appreciate and respect persons of all sizes. The media often portrays obese people as funny or stupid and they are frequently shown eating large amounts of food. Thin people, on the other hand, are portrayed as smart and successful. Acknowledging stereotyping will help to respect people of all sizes, and to accept all sizes as equal. Women also need to learn to reject negative messages from the media and to accept themselves as they are. When women stop measuring themselves against the almost impossible standards that the media have set, and learn to like themselves, they will become happier with themselves and will not worry about their weight or appearance. One needs to find comfort in activities, people, or goals rather than food or appearance. When a woman learns how to love and care for herself correctly, she will be content with her appearance even if she is not what the media would portray as the "ideal" woman.