Body shape refers to the many physical attributes of the human body that make up its appearance, including size and countenance. Body shape has come to imply not only sexual/reproductive ability, but wellness and fitness. In the West, slenderness is associated with happiness, success, youth, and social acceptability. Being overweight is associated with laziness. The media promote a weight-conscious standard for women more often than for men. Deviance from these norms result in social consequences. The media perpetuate this ideal in various ways, particularly glorifying and focusing on thin actors and actresses, models, and other public figures while avoiding the use or image of overweight individuals. This thin ideal represents less than 5% of the American population.
It has been stated that the increase in eating disorders over the past several decades has coincided with an overall decrease (pound-wise) in women’s ideal body weight portrayed by the mass media. A group of researchers examined the magazines Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Vogue from 1959 to 1999. Fashion models became increasingly thinner during the 1980s and 1990s, making the thin ideal even more difficult for women to achieve. Photos depicting the models’ entire bodies significantly increased in number from the 1960s to the 1990s. From 1995 to 1999 models were dressed in far more revealing outfits than they were from 1959 to 1963.
Women’s magazines have been criticized for their conflicting messages, with an emphasis on food, cooking, child rearing, and entertaining. 75% of women’s magazines contain at least one ad or article about how to alter one’s appearance through cosmetic surgery, diet, or exercise. 25% of the women’s magazines surveyed included tips for dieting or messages about weight loss. Many women’s magazines focus on how to lead a better life by improving physical appearance. Men’s magazines provide information about hobbies, activities, and entertainment in order for men to better their lives.
Much of the research pertaining to how the media effects body image examines the change in models and magazine articles over time. Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz, and Thompson paid particular attention to the difference in body shape of Playboy centerfolds over a 20-year period. They found that over the years, the body mass, bust, and hip measurements decreased; however, the height increased. They also determined that the Playboy centerfolds were 13%-19% lower than the normal body weight for women of their age (Cusumano, Thompson 1997). Other studies found that over the years, magazines like Seventeen, YM youth sports uniforms, and Cosmopolitan all had an increase in articles pertaining to diet and exercise. Anderson and DiDomenico (1992) compared women’s and men’s popular magazines and found that diet and exercise articles appeared more than 10 times as much in women’s magazines than men’s.
Modeling and fashion industries have come under fire in recent years for embracing and promoting an ultra-thin appearance. The majority of elite models are around 20% underweight vintage football tops, which exceeds the anorexia nervosa indicator of 15% underweight. Many models have died due to complications from their dangerously underweight bodies, including Isabelle Caro.
In 28 primetime situational comedies analyzed by researchers in 2002, 33% of the central female characters were below average weight. As the thinness of a female character increased, the number of compliments she received from men did as well. Research has shown below average weight female characters are over represented, while above average weight female characters are underrepresented in situational comedies as compared to the norms of the US population. Primetime television shows that appeal to a primarily female audience, such as Friends or Ally McBeal are helmed by young, attractive, and thin women smartphone waterproof pouch. Extremely skinny or emaciated women are shown on fashion industry related shows, like House of Style.
Male characters often negatively comment on average and above average weight females’ body shapes and weights and audiences usually react by laughing. Male characters are not immune to unfair representation. 33% of male characters were below average weight and 13% were above average weight. By comparison, approximately 30% of men in the US are overweight. In 2003 a study was conducted on ten top-rated American primetime fictional television programs. 33% of female television characters were underweight.
A study was done of 10 primetime television programs on each of the 6 major TV networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, UPN, NBC, and WB) with the largest Nielsen audience ratings during the 1999–2000 season. Of the 1018 characters on all of the shows 14% of females and 24% of males were overweight or obese. These numbers represent less than half the percentage of overweight or obese males and females in the general population. Overweight female characters were less likely to be considered attractive, display physical affection, or to connect with romantic partners. Overweight males characters were less likely to interact with friends or romantic partners and less likely to talk about dating. Overweight males characters were often shown eating. These statistics are representative of the fat stigmatization present in many US television programs. The small number of fat female television characters that do exist are consistently depicted in relation to thinner, highly sexualized female characters. These characters are used as props, against which thinner women are compared, judged and valued.
In 2007, analysts sampled 135 scenes featuring overweight individuals from popular television programs and movies and coded for anti-fat humor. The majority of anti-fat humor found was verbal and directed at the individual in their presence, with no regard for their feelings. Self-deprecating fat comments were much less common than those about or directed at another person. Male character were three times more likely to engaged in fat commentary than female characters. Media programs containing fat stigmatization content often are popular and have high ratings, suggesting that the general public finds it acceptable to overlook such remarks in the context of the story.
According to Renee Hobbs, EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University, the average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily and only about 10 minutes of parental interaction a day. Girls often take drastic measures in an attempt to become like the media images they view. Many end up with very low self-esteem and dangerous eating disorders. Elissa Gittes, MD, a pediatrician in the division of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh says “We’re seeing girls at younger ages starting to be dissatisfied with their bodies, proactively trying to change them, and feeling like they need to emulate something different than what their bodies can do.”
In 2009 a content analysis of 150 top-selling video games found that games rated for children depicted female characters as significantly thinner than female characters in games rated for adults. Females in video games had significantly larger heads, but smaller chest sizes, waists, and hips than the average American woman.
In 2001 British newspaper The Independent wrote about the silhouette of American TV stars like Calista Flockhart and Sarah Jessica Parker and compared it to that of the women in Pop group Destiny’s Child saying, “The lollipop silhouette long-favoured by the female stars of American sitcoms, which involves disproportionately large heads wobbling atop stick-thin bodies does not say rich and it doesn’t say clever. It says take me to a clinic. The New Athleticism, however, sends out a rather different set of messages: strong, confident, independent woman.”
Surgeon General Richard Carmona speaks of obesity as the “terror within” and says “unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9–11 or any other terrorist attempt.” The news media has been criticized for its alarmist and overly dramatized reporting on the issue of weight and obesity. By using key words such as “war” or “epidemic” in their reporting, the news media attracts greater attention to the issue. News reports likely reinforce the stigma of fat bodies, linking them to disease and likening fatness to a health behavior instead of an inalterable trait.
In September 2011 nationally syndicated columnist Michael Kinsley, the founding editor of Slate magazine, wrote harshly critical remarks about New Jersey governor Chris Christie and his weight. Kinsley wrote “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cannot be president: He is just too fat . . .why should Christie’s weight be more than we can bear in a president? Why should it even be a legitimate issue if he runs? One reason is that a presidential candidate should be judged on behavior and character . . . Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.”
A content analysis done of children’s videos and books found that 72% of videos and 7.5% of books placed emphasis on physical attractiveness. In 60% of videos, a character’s love for another depends on physical appearance and attractiveness. Examples include Cinderella, where the prince invites maidens to the ball to select a bride and Beauty and the Beast, where the Beast falls in love with Belle purely based upon her physical appearance. In 72% of videos and 10% of books characters with thin bodies have desirable traits. In 84% of videos and 10% of books female physical attractiveness is associated with kindness, sociability, and happiness. While 60% of videos portray female thinness, only 32% show male muscularity. No physical attraction is shown between a slender character and an obese character, with the exception of Beauty and the Beast.
In 64% of children’s videos and 20% of books obesity is related to negative traits. Obese characters are often shown as evil, unfriendly, cruel, and unattractive. Ursula from The Little Mermaid is an obese, unattractive octopus. In 40% of videos and 20% of books at least one obese character is disliked by others. Obese characters are shown thinking about food or depicted in setting related to food in 52% of videos and 20% of books. Children’s media is perpetuating the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype through its portrayals of thin and obese characters.
Approximately 92% of women feel pressure to conform to the standards of beauty which the media perpetuates. After viewing images of women with “ideal” body weights, 95% of women overestimate their body size and 40% overestimate the size of their waist, hips, cheeks, or thighs. Those with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, show a significant increase in overestimation of body size after viewing such images. Similarly males who are exposed to body-related advertisements show an increase in body dissatisfaction and depression. Men shown advertisements containing images of exceptionally muscular men were shown to be dissatisfied with their own musculature, not their body fat, after viewing such advertisements. This finding is consistent with previous evidence that states muscularity is more important than body fat in men’s body satisfaction.
The correlation between media image and body image has been proven; in one study, among European American and African American girls ages 7 – 12, greater overall television exposure predicted both a thinner ideal adult body shape and a higher level of disordered eating one year later. Adolescent girls are the most strongly affected demographic; “More and more 12-year-old girls are going on diets because they believe what you weigh determines your worth,” Cutler observed. “When all you see is a body type that only two percent of the population has, it’s difficult to remember what’s real and what’s reasonable to expect of yourself and everyone else.”
Put simply, the beauty ideal in American culture is: thin. “Large populations of ‘average’ girls do not demonstrate clinically diagnosable eating disorders—pathologies that the culture marks as extreme and unhealthy—but rather an entirely normative obsession with body shape and size,” Cutler said. “This ongoing concern is accepted as a completely normal and even inevitable part of being a modern girl. I think we need to change that.”
Statistics And Interesting Facts
1.) More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health.
2.) 90% of respondents from 18 to 24 years of age said they would trust medical information shared by others on their social media networks.
3.) 18 to 24 year olds are more than 2x as likely than 45 to 54 year olds to use social media for health-related discussions.
4.) 19% of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their phone. Exercise, diet, and weight apps are the most popular types.
5.) 41% of people said social media would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital, or medical facility.
Body image is a huge problem especially in young teens. Media makes it hard for young girls and boys to feel attractive enough. Media shows people what they are supposed to look like, and defines what beauty should be. Most people in this world cannot fall under the standards of what media says beauty should be, and the pressure of that can be devastating and harmful to teens. According to one study, using actual body size based on teens’ reports of their height and weight, the researchers found that overall, overweight or underweight teens were only slightly more likely than normal-weight teens to have suicidal tendencies. From the study, they found that about 19 percent said they had considered suicide in the previous year and about 9 percent said they had attempted it. About 65 percent of students were in the normal-weight range, but only about 54 percent perceived themselves as “about the right weight.” Some thought they weighed too much; others thought they were too thin. There have been so many studies done that have shown the effects media have on a persons body image. Everyone should feel beautiful and happy with the way that they look, and not let media tell them they should be ashamed in any way.