Body Image and Eating Disorders

Various factors, like interpersonal, social, and psychological issues, lead to the development of a complex problem known as eating disorders. Media images are also one of the factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders through their cultural definitions of attractiveness and beauty. 

Media messages keep suggesting, “thin is in”, and even though this does not directly cause eating disorders, but it changes the mindset of the people, and they start giving more importance to the shape and size of their body. Media messages like celebrity spotlights and advertising has a very strong impact on the self-esteem development of the audience, and it has the power to alter the way people see “good” and define beautiful.

Some Examples to Reflect How Media Influences the Lives of People

As per a recent study on adolescent girls, it is clearly seen that media is the primary source through which they gather information relating to health issues of women (Commonwealth Fund, 1997).

According to a research, about 60% of middle school girls from Caucasia read a minimum of one fashion magazine on a regular basis (Levine, 1997)

A study of various mass media magazines proved that women’s magazines had about 10.5 times more advertisements and articles about weight loss compared to what is found present in men’s magazines (Guillen & Barr, 1994).

When a study was conducted on a teen adolescent magazine for about 20 years, it was discovered that:

Each of the articles printed in such magazines had statements that promoted the idea that losing weight would make one look better.

In articles relating to exercise or fitness plans, 74% suggested beginning exercising in order to become more attractive, and 51% talked about the importance of burning calories and losing weight. (Guillen & Barr, 1994)

An average young adolescent spends about 3-4 hours watching TV every day (Levine, 1997).

When a study was conducted on 4,294 network commercials, it was found that in every 3.8 commercials, 1 sends some kind of “attractiveness message”, which suggested what is not and what is attractive (Myers et al., 1992). These researches further concluded that an average adolescent views more than 5,260 “attractiveness messages” every year.

If the media is encouraged to produce more real and diverse images of people, and offers positive messages about self-esteem and health, it might not be successful in eliminating eating disorders completely, but it will definitely lessen the pressure that many people go through, in trying to make their bodies look great. Thus, people will not give that much importance to body dissatisfaction, and this will eventually curb the growth of eating disorders.