Does the media’s portrayal of body image affect how the average person feels about themselves? Sandra Blaies, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Eating Disorder Program Supervisor at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital shares her thoughts on the relationship between the media and body image.
Media images help form cultural definitions of beauty and attractiveness. Media messages screaming “thin is in” may not directly cause eating disorders, but they cause us to place a value on the size and shape of our bodies. Media helps our culture define what is beautiful, and therefore the media’s power over our development of self-esteem and body image can be incredibly strong.
Media’s representation of body image is often in conflict with reality. For example, the average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women.
This representation of “beauty” as defined by media drives many individuals to diet. Consider these statistics from the National Eating Disorder Association.
- Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
- 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
- 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets
- 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always”.
- Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year.
- 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week kicks off on Sunday, February 26. Let’s all remember that size and shape is not as important as health, and that media images of beauty are often not realistic. We need more diverse and real images of people with more positive messages about health and self-esteem. We need to reduce the pressures many people feel to make their bodies conform to one ideal, and in the process, reduce feelings of body dissatisfaction and ultimately decrease the potential for eating disorders.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, please contact Aurora Behavioral Health Services at 877-666-7223 or visit our web site at Aurora Behavioral Health Services