How many times have you seen the Victoria’s Secret models or the guys in the Calvin Klein ads, and thought “Wow I want to look like that. I’m going to start eating right, go to the gym”. Let’s face it, it never sticks; but why are we thinking that we have to look like that anyway? This is where the question of media effects comes in. The theory is that the media and what the media publishes on multiple networks effects the way the mass audience thinks, feels and acts. But we have to remember, everything the media circulates is subjective, and each message that is sent out is interpreted differently by each individual, depending on an array of influences including their background, social pressures, age and experiences. Thus, each message has different meanings to different people.
In a study conducted by Gina L. Bruns and Michelle M. Carter at the American University (US), 202 women between 18-45 of African-American and Caucasian backgrounds were shown body image stimuli from the media and asked to complete a questionnaire. It was found that Caucasian women had generally higher body dissatisfaction than African American Women (G. Bruns, M. Carter, 2014). The media effects theory is in play here- the women reacted to the stimuli, with different overall outcomes depending on their cultural backgrounds.
On social media we are constantly bombarded with ads that make us question ourselves; teatoxes, diet fads, pills. Then there’s the ‘selfie’, which can be edited quickly and easily. This goes out to the individual’s friends, followers and the whole Internet, and allows for other people to scrutinize every detail and pick out every imperfection. In an article from a 2008 Feminist Media Studies journal, Rebecca Coleman states that all aspects of the media portray “impossible images” of women, causing dissatisfaction and a “bad body image”, especially in young women. Coleman’s studies found that many of the young girls involved in the study were able to recognize that these images were edited and photo shopped, but that they still wanted to achieve a level of perfection.
There are photos all over our newsfeeds, Instagrams and Tumblr of girls with their ribs and hipbones clearly visible. These are re-blogged thousands of times, suggesting that this is the ideal body image and they should strive for the same. Guys with perfectly sculpted abs and arms are also re-blogged; is this condoning that all males should look like that, and alter their eating habits to achieve this?
The media then contradicts itself. They are presenting us with all these images, weight-loss programs and dieting tips that force us to question our bodies, but they then go onto report how the media actually contributes to issues surrounding body image. In an article for BBC, Caroline Nokes, an MP in the UK campaigning for changes attitudes to body image, says that social media certainly effects the way young people view themselves simply because it (social media) is everywhere; it cannot be ignored.
But to what extent can we hold the media responsible for body image-related issues? I think it is completely justifiable to say that the media is partly to blame. However, we are responsible for our own actions and thoughts. Just because the media is showing us these images, doesn’t mean we should act on them or interpret one article on how much weight Britney has put on as a slam on all women to be skinny. Maybe we should care more about how we view ourselves, rather than the way other people view us, and stop pointing out every flaw in people.
In Chris Crocker’s words, I think its time we LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!
* Coleman, R, 2008, “The Becoming of Bodies – Girls, Media Effects, and Body Image”, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 8, no. 2.
* Bruns, G.L. 2014, “Ethnic differences in the effects of media on body image: The effects of priming with ethnically different or similar models”, Eating Behaviours: an international journal, Vol. 17, April 2015 Issue, pg 33-36