Body image refers to one’s own personal perception of her/his physical appearance based on self-observation and the reactions of others. Body image affects how you think and feel about yourself as a person. This image is not based on facts, it is psychological in nature and the image one has of her body is learned. So, poor body image indicates being dissatisfied and unhappy with your body and believing others perceive you the same way.
A widely held theory indicates that poor body image is in part caused by a culture that values appearance over one’s true essence and values women more when they are thin. The media’s power over the development of poor body image is leading to the increase of more deadly eating disorders. Images of the “perfect” or “ideal” female body are everywhere. Celebrities are consistently becoming younger and thinner. Media advertising, including magazines, television, and Internet are sending very dangerous images and messages, which further contribute to poor body image. You have seen it, “I’ve lost 20 lbs. on this diet and I can finally put on my size 2 jeans again- I feel great,” she says provocatively staring into the eyes vulnerable women. Media advertising even goes so far to place these commercials on the channels our children are watching. Then you hear the messages on the radio and it goes something like this, “Ladies, are you constantly trying to lose that extra 10-20 lbs. in your mid section that won’t go away no matter what you do. Well our product promises this result and all you need to do is call for a free trial.” Then there is the advertising on magazines where the front cover either criticizes the celebrity who has gained a few lbs. or praises the actress who is withering down to nothing. The advertiser then, in such a subtle manner, places these photos side by side for even a greater impact. Media and advertising sells so much more than products, they sell values, unrealistic expectations, and ideals of success and self-worth.
It is clear that media advertising increases pressure to become thinner, more perfect, and to conform to one ideal. Body image distortion begins to grow as she continues to compare herself to others and creates more and more unrealistic expectations of self. On an even more dangerous note, poor body image has the potential to grow and flourish into an eating disorder if these media advertising tools continue to draw her in even deeper and deeper. Losing 10 lbs., going to the gym 5 days a week, limiting her daily caloric intake to a specific number no longer seems to be enough. There becomes a very vicious cycle, this continual strive for perfection and control that never seems achievable or enough. Important to emphasize that these advertising images do not cause the eating disorder but they are a large contributing factor to what shapes one’s body image.
By choosing to remain unaware of the deep seriousness of this ever-present influence, the repetitive messages and the subliminal impact of advertisement, we ignore one of the most powerful “educational” forces in our culture. Although the cultural demands placed upon the body may change over time, these spoken and unspoken cues that come through all these outlets of media advertising continue to have a huge impact on an individual’s self-esteem and sense of well being. So, next time you are thinking about buying or even just picking up that magazine with the alluring image, or feel like clicking on that diet that promise you the world, or find yourself stuck watching that commercial or program that confirms you are not enough just being you-STOP! Take a moment to see how you are also contributing to this growing epidemic of poor body image. Choose to make a difference in your generation and the generations to come.