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The Effect Media has on our Body Image

Updated on June 17, 2013


Teenage years are usually known as the years that an individual feels most insecure about their body image. At the time, everyone looking at them seems as one who judges them for being a certain way; the smallest physical feature becomes magnified under a non-existent microscope provided by the media. In these years, the teen is extra self conscious and has a distorted body image due to the media’s portrayal of the “Perfect Body.” The Perfect Body is described as having the body that actors or actresses have, at the same time labeling each body type in a negative way. Skinny equals anorexic whereas fat equals obese. The media serves as a constant reminder of what we should look like.
The consistent reminders of such bodily portrayals make teenagers feel as if they will not be accepted into society, another major blow to the psychic of a human being. To be healthy on a psychological level, one must feel welcomed and accepted into the social pyramid. When this is denied, people develop psychological problems and have an unbalanced mental status.
According to a blog online, “The media negatively influences society because of its portrayal of extremely thin and beautiful woman as the norm, causing females to feel dissatisfied with their bodies, potentially leading to eating disorders. The media also depicts men as tall, dark, and handsome... this results in a distorted perception of what beauty is” (The Power of Mass Media, 03/2/2012). Such fantasies and reminders quickly become the reasons behind eating disorders, psychological problems, and even serve as the greatest push into going under the knife.


The push to be perfect starts very young with barbie dolls having perfectly proportioned body parts, at least they seem perfectly proportioned to us, and the male dolls having six pacs.

In the book “Body Wars, Margo Maine, a PH.D, gives statistics about Barbies and when a child is first introduced to them. (Body Wars, 2000)

  • There are two Barbie dolls sold every second in the world.

  • The target market for Barbie doll sales is young girls ages 3-12 years of age.

  • A girl usually has her first Barbie by age 3, and collects a total of seven dolls during her childhood.

  • Over a billion dollars worth of Barbie dolls and accessories were sold in 1993, making this doll big business and one of the top 10 toys sold.

  • Slumber Party Barbie was introduced in 1965 and came with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs with a book entitled: 'How to Lose Weight' with directions inside stating simply 'Don't eat'.

In 2011, former anorexic, Galia Slayen made a life sized model of what Barbie would look like if she were a real woman. The woman would be extremely disproportionate; 5ft 9in, 39in bust, 18 in waist but 33 in hips, size 3 feet. If real, the woman would be 110lbs with a BMI of 16.24, according to which, her body would be considered abnormal and she would have an eating disorder, she would also be unable to walk unless on all fours and unable to menstruate.

Different forms of media continue to serve as the mentors through the early adolescence with characters from the preteen’s favorite tv shows having perfect bodies with talent accompanied by the perfect life. For example, Zendaya and Bella Thorne from Shake it Up Chicago, Brenda Song from Suite Life, Zac Efron from High School Musical or Jake T. Austin from Wizards of Waverly Place. Then as the preteen slowly goes into adolescence, the actors in shows like Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and The Hills become the role models. All of these shows showcase people with perfect bodies, perfect hair and perfect skin; the perfect reason to want perfection. A statistic, shown on South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s website in 2006, showed that 8 million Americans have eating disorders, out of which 7 million are women and 1 million are men. The statistic goes on to show that Anorexia is the third most chronic illness among adolescents; 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12-25 (DMH, 2006). The drive to be like their favorite actors convinces teenagers nationwide to participate in behaviors commonly associated with eating disorders.

We hear about celebrities suffering from eating disorders all the time; Paula Abdul, Susan Dey, Elton John, Princess Di, and Joan Rivers to name a few. Paula Abdul, who battled bulimia for almost two decades, stated “Battling Bulimia Has Been Like War On My Body. Me And My Body Have Been On Two Separate Sides. We’ve Never, Until Recently, Been On The Same Side” (Prime Time Live, 1995). Paula also said that she never felt tall enough or skinny enough to fit in with all the other dancers, and when she discovered the tradition of throwing up right after eating to maintain her body, she started to do the same around the age of 16. As her talent was exposed and she rose to stardom, she felt extremely pressured to maintain her weight and the only way possible was to continue on the road of bulimia. "I Felt Nervous And Out Of Control, And All I Could Think About Was Food. Food Numbered The Fear And Anxiety. I'd Eat And Then Run To The Bathroom" (Prime Time Live, 1995). Finally in 1994, Paula started to get therapy for her condition and defeated the ongoing war on her body. Looking at how Paula got therapy and professional help to assist with her problems, youngsters should learn and realize that even the biggest celebrities have image issues but that is all a part of self-acceptance and that eating disorders are not the way out.

With characters like “Fat Amy” of Pitch Perfect and “Ugly Betty”, our society is taught that fat or ugly, unkempt people are usually outsiders and only good for comical or depressing roles. In most shows and movies, the main character(s) are similar to the likes of Ryan Gosling, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba, Megan Fox, Miranda Kerr and Taylor Lautner. Not too many films show a healthy, curvy, or slightly fluffy character as the main lead. One of the films that stood out in 2009, Precious, showed an obese girl as the main character and showed her journey to try to better the lives of her and her children. Although the effort was small, it opened a gateway where dealing with obesity and other such problems was finally accepted and tackled. Another effort, put forth by the media, that has greatly affected society’s outlook on body types is the existence and acceptance of actresses like America Ferrera and Kate Winslet. Such actresses show society that its okay to embrace their curves and the importance of maintaining a healthy body over a skinny one.

In recent times, the media has slowly changed from exemplifying skinny actresses to calling them out for being too bony and unhealthy. Lindsay Lohan, Kate Bosworth, Rene Zellweger, Nikki Cox, Mary Kate Olsen, and Keira Knightly all went from a healthy curve to a bony figure due to various reasons and were somewhat criticized by the media for being a negative influence on young girls. They were criticized for promoting an unhealthy weight and body type, and also for promoting unhealthy lifestyle. Some of the actresses were able to reform themselves and go back to being healthy. Mary Kate Olsen got professional help and put a few pounds on to make her body healthy once again.

Model Cameron Russell gave an influential TED talk in October 2012, with her tagline as “Looks aren’t everything, Believe me, I’m a Model.” In the presentation, she states that she only looks the way that she does because she won the “genetic lottery.” More and more stars are focusing on making sure that girls and boys don’t go to extremes to look like what they see on TV. Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Hudson both promote a healthy body image and achieving the body you want from healthy routes. “Permanent weight loss doesn’t come with an on and off switch. It is not something you do for a little while and think it is going to change your body,” (Jennifer Hudson, Good Housekeeping Interview). Actress and singer Demi Lovato also promotes Eating Disorders Awareness by sharing her own struggles with eating disorders and a distorted self image.

Our society also never sees plus size Victoria Secret models, despite their “Love my Body Campaign.” Dove also launched a campaign, “The Real Beauty Campaign.” The main difference between Dove and VS is the fact that Victoria Secret used size zero models with perfectly sculpted bodies whereas Dove used women with curves and voluptuous bodies.

Both campaigns had their share of criticism; VS was questioned for its actual purpose behind the campaign due to the fact that most women would not learn to love their curves while looking at the chiseled bodies of the models. Dove got criticized for only showing curvy women, as some women are naturally slim.


Recently, a man sent a CBS WKBT News Anchor hate mail, calling her out on her overweight appearance and how she is a bad influence on the youngsters of that society. This is a prime example of how some people now expect all forms of media to showcase “Perfect Bodies”. These types of expectations are a threat to our struggle of wanting to correct the thought that being skinny is more important than being healthy.

For many years, people have felt the pressure to fit in and look a certain way due to the media, but in recent times, outlooks of the media have changed and are starting to promote a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body over a skinny body. Awareness for eating disorders and psychological problems correlating with eating disorders has increased in the past few years. Obtaining help for these sorts of problems has gotten easier and more welcoming. Celebs, who are major influences in the lives of teenagers, have started to promote healthy lifestyles and warn against falling into eating disorders. People of all body types are finally being accepted into the media and society. Where a few years ago, an actress with a few curves would be criticized for being that way is now preferred over the bony actress. Such behavior is noted by teenagers and causes them to also embrace their bodies and live their life healthily and away from the influences of eating disorders.


The power of mass media | ashmmmm. (2012, March 2). Retrieved April 15, 2013, from

Abraham, T. (2011, April 22). Former anorexic's life-sized Barbie reveals doll's dangerous

proportions | Mail Online. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from


Eating Disorder Statistics. (2006). Retrieved April 15, 2013, from

The Paula Abdul Bulimia Story - This Brave Womans Battle. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2013, from

Holland, J. (2013, February 5). Defying Hollywood norms: Celebs promote body image & eating

disorders awareness - National Eating Disorder | Retrieved April 15, 2013,




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