Do you know the effect of media for body weight?

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If you've watched TV, picked up a magazine,or skimmed the tabloid headlines at the grocery store, you should have an idea of what these images represent. They show a sexy Britney at the peak of her career,contrasted with a picture of her appearance during her period of crisis.When Britney Spears was going through her crisis and gained a significant amount of weight, the only media attention she received was negative.She was no longer considered a sex icon of her generation,but rather an example of what happens when a star goes "against the grain."

This is an example of how our society associates thinness with beauty and adds all kinds of negative connotations to being overweight.The standards applied to Britney Spears and other celebrities come from our social constructions of what it means to be beautiful. As a society we define what is positive and what is negative,and what is meaningful and valuable to us,and thus we construct reality.These sets of values are filtered into our everyday life and affect us when we interact with others, read a magazine,and even when we browse the Internet.But what is the effect of internalizing the social constructions and accepting them as truth?

These images have a much stronger effect on teenage girls because they are at a stage where they are trying to develop their sense of self and personal identity.According to Erikson's Eight Stages of Psychosocial Personality Development, from ages twelve to eighteen,the basic conflict that exists in teenagers is identity versus role confusion.For teenagers,the most obvious way to find their place is by comparing themselves to their peers,and noticing qualities that make them socially successful.They also look to the media to figure out which qualities are considered superior and more highly valued among the rest of the population.This stage of development is particularly difficult for girls because they not only have to be accepted by other girls,but also have to appeal to the opposite sex.While guys deal with similar struggles,they have less media pressure to act or look a certain way.

According to a recent study, regarding teenagers and body image,adolescent girls describe their ideal female body as thinner than the ideal female body described by boys (Thompson, Corwin, & Sargent, 1997). Not only do girls try to appeal to guys but also they compete with other girls for male attention.Because girls equate thinness with beauty,and they wish to have a comparative advantage over other girls,they tend to assume that the thinner they are,the better.Magazines,targeted at teenage girls,focus on how to impress guys and look thinner.They use celebrities as "tangible" examples of how to appeal to peers and the opposite sex.There are, however,consequences to such an exposure to the media's definition of beauty.

The following statistics are from various studies about the significance of body weight to young adults:

  • Nationwide,12.3% of high school students had gone without eating for 24 hours or more to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight during the last 30 days. (2005 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance)

  • Research shows that more than 90 percent of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25 (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 2003)

  • 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted "often" or "always" (Kurth et al., 1995).


How we do we interpret these statistics? Well, these could be used as clear indicators of the effect of internalizing the media's construction of beauty.Girls often find themselves unhappy with their body image and decide to go on diets and exercise regimes.After these methods prove to be ineffective in delivering quick results,they opt for more extreme and dangerous methods, such as Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa.They also try to change their appearance through plastic surgery,and artificial tanning, both of which could represent serious health risks.The media plays a role in advocating for these unsafe methods.Take for example Nicole Richie. At the beginning of her career she was practically ignored by the media,but after she lost weight she attracted the attention of Paris Hilton and the media.

With the understanding that the concept of female beauty is nothing more than a social construction,we can conclude that there is no definite,and objective definition of beauty.Failure to see this is what pushes people to act in certain ways to fit this idealized image. More specifically, it is what makes teenage girls self-conscious about their appearance,and pushes them to look at celebrities for advice.The consequences of this is that these girls set the bar so high for themselves when they compare themselves to the rich and famous,that they never feel good enough. Trying to lose weight becomes a vicious cycle that hardly ever ends,and that can push them to jeopardize their health.What we learn from this is that it is important to find a balance between society's expectations of us and our own identity.

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