The Medias Influence on Adolescents Body Image Essay

This essay has a total of 3029 words and 12 pages.

The Medias Influence on Adolescents Body Image

Adolescence is a time for learning and growth. This time can be easier to handle by some
than others. For some it can be a revelation of new experiences and ideas, while
adolescence can also be a difficult, stressful time for those trying to discover
themselves. This can affect themselves as well as those around them. During this time,
adolescents are likely to identify with those around them, their peers. Identifying with
peers can help adolescents along by giving them the opportunity to see how others deal
with problems similar to their own and by offering their own advice to those who need it.
Along with this, adolescents are liable to worry about their body image, and may want to
conform to those who have achieved the "desired" image. This image may be thin, muscular,
or just average. Nevertheless, some adolescents will go too far to achieve this image,
usually this is done by adolescent females who wish to become thin. This can be attributed
to media's portrayal of women. The majority of women in ads, television and movies are
thin and are seen as attractive because of this. Adolescent girls will see these women and
may want their image as their own, and some will go to any lengths to acquire this. This
in turn could lead to the idea that during this process of change and growing up,
adolescents are often concerned about their physical image, which is influenced by the
media.

Adolescents may want to change their body image for a number of reasons. During
adolescence, they may feel unsatisfied with their bodies and want to change how they look
just to fit in. "Fitting in" with their peers is an important part of adolescence. It
gives young people a sense that they belong; the need for peer influence is a necessary
part of growing up as peers can offer advice and insight to anything that may be troubling
adolescents, including how they feel about their image. Also, adolescents look up to a
number of people, namely celebrities, and try to adopt their style as their own in hopes
of being able to fit in. Many celebrities are thin. There are those who need to have that
small body frame, such as some athletes. Gymnasts would be an example of this because they
need to keep their body this way in order to perform their gymnastic feats; a gymnast will
never again be seen as just "average" since the 1972 Olympics, when crowds were awed by
the daring moves performed by the tiny Olga Korbut. Since then, one requirement judges
were looking for was the tiny build commonly found in adolescent girls (Cahn 341).
Therefore, when the petite gymnasts are shown on television during gymnastics
competitions, young people who wish to become gymnasts see the need to have a petite but
muscular frame.

The media widely popularizes the female figure as very thin. The majority of actresses
throughout the history of media have been thin, as shown in a study by Silverstein,
Perdue, Peterson, and Kelly of photographs and movies from the early twentieth century to
the present (Botta) and sometimes an aspiring actress would not even have the chance at
becoming famous if she did not have a lean build, since that "look" was desired. Many of
today's personalities are thin, and with the newer shows and movies coming out, it is
often rare to find an actress with an "average" built body. Because of this fact, many
people will be influenced by shows whose characters are stereotypical of women; all are
thin and viewed as beautiful. In the popular show Friends, the 3 female leads, Jennifer
Aniston, Courtney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow, all have thin builds. Also, the more popular movie
actresses, such as Catherine Zeta Jones, Cameron Diaz, and Gwyneth Paltrow, are very thin.
One might conclude that only those who are thin will become famous. This may appeal to
adolescent girls because they may want to be thin if they see that this seems to be the
norm in society. Adolescent girls need someone to look up to, and if they look up to
celebrities and want to be like them, they may do anything to do this; Roberts expresses
this view as "whenever an adolescent faces a particular issue, it can almost ‘consume'
him or her in the sense that it simultaneously creates a deep thirst for information about
the task of the moment and a filter that influences interpretations of perceived events
and messages" (173).

A popular pastime of adolescent girls is reading magazines. In these magazines they look
for ways to make themselves more attractive to others, sometimes by wearing the latest
fashions or wearing makeup. Magazines today are full of models and advertisements. It is
rare to find a model that is not tall and thin, given the fact that most designers tailor
to the needs of tall, thin women. Famous designers usually base their designs on
celebrities' bodies, and since the majority of them have slender builds, their designs
will be specifically for those who have similar builds. Many advertisements operate the
same way. Whenever a woman is in an advertisement, she is usually wearing the latest
fashions, whether or not the advertisement itself is for fashion. Usually she is very
thin, as models are used in advertisements, and, in order to be a model, a slim build is
almost next to necessary. It is hard to miss any of these things, especially in an
advertisement on a billboard. Billboards are a good way to advertise because as people are
driving, their eyes are drawn to the billboard, and the advertisers want to make every
detail possible so that the passersby will be interested in what the billboard has to say.
Often advertisers will use pictures of models who are thin to attract even more attention
to their service or product. The media's representations of these have an impact on
adolescents that the Journal of Communication calls "body image disturbance" (Botta).
Adolescents are then concerned with their own image when seeing others their age as they
are depicted in the media and believe that that is how they should appear to their peers.
A theory by Festinger further is explained this in Journal of Communication; he calls it
the "Social Comparison Theory" and it is based on six hypotheses, including "body image
disturbance" is directly influenced by the comparison of one's body with another's and the
"thin ideal endorsement" is a factor toward "body image disturbance" (Botta).

"[I]n our current cultural context ‘thin' has come to represent much more then physical
beauty. A thin body has become synonymous with self-discipline, success, and control"
(Dworkin). This ideal that has become so common in society can often lead vulnerability.
Kathy Bruin is the founder of an organization called About-Face whose goal "is to try to
provide a place where a woman's worth is isn't weighted in weight; where we begin a
discussion where all of us participate in creating more inclusive, healthy images about
women." With all of the models in the media spotlight, sometimes they are so made up that
it is not their beauty that attracts an audience, but that certain "look" that a company
is trying to get across. About-Face wishes to chastise these companies who do this. One
particular campaign launched by Calvin Klein in an Obsession advertisement does just that.
In the ad, the model Kate Moss is shown as "weak and scared, cadaverously thin, and above
all, sooo vulnerable" (Bruin, "Models"). Because she is seen this way, the general public
may view Kate Moss as having these qualities; they may only believe in this because that
is how the advertiser depicts her. Bruin's argument is not about how thin Kate Moss is,
but that other photographs taken of her in relatively the same time frame show a much
healthier Moss. Calvin Klein gives her this "manufactured" appearance to achieve the
"look" that he wants in the advertisement, and therefore displays a negative body image.
Another advertisement of Moss's that can be contrasted with this is the "got milk"
campaign where famous people are pictured with milk mustaches basically saying that "we
drink milk, so should everyone else." In this advertisement, the caption underneath the
picture of Moss reads, "Bones. Bones. Bones. Maybe so, but unlike seventy-five percent of
women today, there's one way I'm taking good care of mine. By getting lots of calcium.
How? From drinking lots of milk. 1% ice cold. And besides, haven't you heard that the waif
look is out?" (Bruin, "Models"). This directly contradicts the Calvin Klein ad she had
previously done. In response to this, About-Face made a statement that said "Emaciation
Stinks," and provided their members with the proper definition of "emaciation" which
reads, "abnormal thinness caused by lack of nutrition or by disease" (Bruin, "Models").
Emaciation should not be a public standard.

Bruin notes another prime example of attracting attention with the use of popular public
figures in the well-publicized weight roller coaster upon which Oprah Winfrey rides. Over
a photograph of Oprah on the cover of Vogue's October 1998 issue reads the headline
"Oprah! A Major Movie, An Amazing Makeover" (Bruin, "Oprah"). The editor of Vogue includes
an article in which herself and Oprah discuss why Oprah lost twenty pounds both for the
shoot and for her movie version of Toni Morrison's classic novel, Beloved, in which she
starred in it as well as acting as producer with Jonathan Demme as director. In this same
article, Demme talks about Oprah's numerous qualities as an actress as well as a
businesswoman, and "[h]e acknowledges that she is gifted, driven, emotionally rich, funny
as hell" (Bruin, "Oprah"). He also comments about Oprah that even though he loves her, she
is just too big for the movie. The article continues on telling of Oprah's weight-loss
efforts. Oprah admits that she knew that she needed to lose weight for the movie by a
certain deadline, but it seems as if that was her only reason for losing weight (Bruin,
"Oprah").

The media can have certain effects on people. About-Face recognizes some of these effects
as becoming everyday norms in our culture and society and criticizes the media for
instilling these unachievable images the minds of young people. Dittrich supports this
stand and substantiates it with a compilation of media-related facts. "Ninety percent of
all girls ages three to eleven have a Barbie doll, an early role model with a figure that
is unattainable in real life" (Dittrich). "Sixty-nine percent of female television
characters are thin, only five percent are overweight" (Silverstein, Peterson, Perdue, and
Kelly). "The average person sees between four hundred and six hundred ads PER DAY - that
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