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Body Image

The purpose of this study is to further explore and examine the influences of mass media on male’s and female’s personal body image satisfaction and the awareness and internalization of societal pressures regarding appearance. For a number years evidence surrounding the insecurities that women have towards their own bodies has been widely published. More recently, it has been suggested that men are falling victim to media and societal pressure, and are developing insecurities traditionally associated with women.

Much of the body dissatisfaction that we see today can be attributed to the enormous disparity between our current cultural beauty ideals and our actual bodies. Although most of the research surrounding the influences of media on body image has taken the form of analyzing exposure through the examination of such things as magazine content, recent research has begun to focus on an individual’s awareness of societal pressures, as well as one’s acceptance, or internalization, of these societal standards (Cusumano & Thompson,1997). Every culture has standards of beauty.

Through the ages and around the world,people have evaluated the appearance of themselves and others. A person’s body image is his or her concept of their physical appearance. The mental representation which may be realistic or unrealistic, is constructed from self-observation, the reactions of others, and a complex interaction of attitudes, emotions, memories, fantasies, and experiences, both conscious and unconscious. A pleasing appearance has often been associated with higher status, better opportunities to attract a mate and other positive qualities.

We live in a society that thrives on first impressions. Many people interact with large numbers of new people everyday, especially in their work lives, and we often have little information about who these people are, but we do know how they look. We try to size them up based on how they are dressed, how they talk, how they move and their overall physical appearance. People tend to judge a fat person as lazy and self-indulgent and a thin person as organized and disciplined and these stereotypes are reinforced by the media.

A study done by Franzoi and Herzog (1987) examined what body parts and functions young adults use in judging physical attractiveness and how they are related to self esteem. They found that aspects of male self esteem dealt with upper body strength and aspects of female self esteem dealt with weight concerns. They further indicated that men generally have more positive attitudes toward their bodies than women do. Levine and associates (1994) reported that 70% of the teenage women who regularly read fashion magazines considered the magazines an important source of beauty and fitness information.

The mass marketing of body images through print media and television advertising has been well documented as a powerful force in creating the 90’s perception of the tall, thin, and toned ideal for women and the medium-sized, muscular ideal for men (Rabak-Wagener, Eickhoff-Shemek, & Kelly-Vance, 1998). As media increases as a vehicle for information to develop our identities it expands its potential to create and reinforce particular values, stereotypes and behaviors as well as alter societies erceptions of reality (Fouts & Burggraf, 1999, Sipiora, 1991, Leobert & Sprafkin, 1988).

The more people are exposed to these values, stereotypes, and behaviors the more it is reinforced that there is an association between the ideal body image, physical attractiveness, desirability, personal self-worth, and success (Fouts & Burggraf, 1999). The implication is a society that appears to associate body size and shape as direct aspects of their identities and self worth; if a man or a woman is unhappy with the way they look,then they are unhappy with themselves.

In one of the most classic research studies in the area of body image, Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz, and Thompson (1980) investigated the changing body shape of Playboy centerfolds and are considered to be the epitome of the female body. The researchers collected hip and bust measurements as well as the weights of the centerfolds for a twenty year period (1959-1978). The results indicated that the centerfolds weighed significantly less than that of the average female and that the bust and hip size had decreased over the period of time (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997).

In 1992 Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, and Ahrens attempted to replicate the research of Garner et al. (1980) and expand it by making it a more recent ten year span (1979-1988). Their results indicated weights for the Playboy centerfolds were 13-19% lower than the weight assigned as normal based on actuarial tables. A decrease in bust and hip measurements was also seen (Cusumano & Thompson,(1997). The researchers of this study point out that maintaining a body weight that is 15% lower than one’s expected weight is a criteria for anorexia nervosa.

One of the best explanations for the increase in body dissatisfaction and the increased prevalence of eating disorders seems to be the societal pressures pushed by the media. The role of the media and the thin standard of attractiveness for women promoted by the media has been shown to lead women to rate their bodies more negatively (Hamilton & Waller, 1993), which, in turn, leads to an increase in low self esteem, depression, and eating disorder symptoms (Irving, 1990, Stice & Shaw, 1994).

Different vehicles of media have been researched, with magazines and television seeming to be the most widely studied and film close behind. A study of Hollywood films by Smith, McIntosh, and Bazzini (1999) established that attractive characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters in such dimensions as friendliness and intelligence and that exposure to highly stereotyped films can elicit stronger favoritism towards the ideal stereotypes in real life situations.

In using television and magazine advertising research has shown that a person’s body image is elastic and can fluctuate in response to media content that focuses on the presentation of the ideal body shape (Myers & Biocca). A study done by Lavine, Sweeney, and Wagner examined the effects on body dissatisfaction after exposure to certain TV ads. Participants were divided into one group that viewed 15 sexist and 5 nonsexist TV ads, another that viewed 20 nonsexist TV ads, and a no TV ad control group.

Their results showed that women exposed to the sexist ads revealed larger discrepancies between their actual and ideal body sizes and judged themselves as larger than the women who viewed the nonsexist and no ads. Men exposed to the sexist ads viewed themselves as thinner and also showed larger discrepancies between their actual and ideal body sizes than the viewers of nonsexist ads and no ads. Men that viewed the sexist ads also exhibited large discrepancies between their own ideal body size and their perception of other’s ideal body size preferences.

This showed that the men that viewed the sexist ads believed that other men preferred a larger ideal body size (Lavine, Sweeney, & Wagner, 1999). Renee A. Botta explored body image in relation to television using social comparison theory and critical viewing of 214 high school girls. Her results indicated that media variables accounted for 15% of the variance for drive for thinness, 17% for body dissatisfaction, 16% for bulimic behaviors, and 33% for thin ideal endorsement.

Botta goes on further to suggest that body image processing is the key to understanding how television images affect adolescent girl’s body image attitudes and behaviors (Botta, 1999). A very intriguing content analysis was done by Fouts and Burggraf (1999) of 28 different prime time television comedies. They examined the weights of 52 central female characters (88% white, 19% black, & 2% Asian), the verbal comments they received from other characters as a function of body weight, and their comments about themselves with respect to their body size, weight, shape and dieting behaviors.

Below average weight central characters were over-represented and above average weight characters were under-represented. The characters that were below average weight received significantly more positive comments from male characters and females that were dieting gave themselves more negative punishment for their body. This over-representation of the thin ideal combined with the verbal reinforcement of that ideal likely contributes to the internalization of the thin ideal and puts some young female viewers at risk for developing eating disorders (Fouts & Burggraf, 1999).

Hamilton and Waller (1993) found that exposure to female fashion images contributes to overestimation of body weight and overall dissatisfaction with one’s body Turner, Hamilton, Jacobs, Angood, and Hovde Dwyer (1997) examined the impact of exposure to fashion magazines on women’s body image satisfaction. 39 undergraduate women were randomly assigned to either a group that viewed fashion magazines or a group that viewed news magazines and then both groups took a body satisfaction survey.

Women who viewed fashion magazines were less satisfied with their bodies, preferred to weigh less, were more frustrated about their weight, were more preoccupied with the desire to be thin, and were more afraid of getting fat than were the group that viewed news magazines (Turner, Hamilton, Jacobs, Angood, & Hovde Dwyer, 1997). A similar study with an experimental group and a control group found significant changes in beliefs regarding their own body images of the group that viewed magazine advertisements that contained ideal body size images.

This study concluded that it is possible for fashion advertising to enhance people’s negative attitudes and behaviors regarding their own body image (Rabak-Wagener, Eickhoff-Shemek, & Kelly-Vance, 1998). Crouch and Degelman (1998) found that adolescent girls’ ratings of self attractiveness were significantly higher following exposure to fashion advertisements containing models who were overweight and lower self attractiveness after exposure to advertisements with models that were not. More research is being done today that examines the body image satisfaction of men.

In Franzoi and Herzog’s 1987 study they asked men and women to judge 35 different aspects of their own bodies. Men judged 16 items (e. g. body build, stomach, buttocks, thighs) more favorably than women, while women only found more positive attitudes associated with their ears. According to Franzoi and Herzog (1987) these body esteem differences can be attributed to three things; the greater public attention to the female body, the greater importance females place on their appearance due to such attention, and the manner in which physical appearance more clearly defines a female’s worth and status than that of a male’s.

Andersen and DiDomencio (1992) compared body shape ideals in articles and advertisements in 10 men’s magazines (Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Field & Stream, Jet, Life, Newsweek, National Geographic, Rolling stone, Playboy, Penthouse, and Sports Illustrated) and in 10 women’s magazines (Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Seventeen, Glamour, McCalls, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and cosmopolitan). They found that diet advertisements magazines.

This ratio closely reflected the ratio of the incidence of eating disorders in women to the incidence of eating disorders in men (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997). According to Botta the available reports suggest that media do have an impact on body image disturbance, both directly through body image processing and indirectly by encouraging males and females to endorse their respective ideals and by establishing what they see as realistic ideals (Botta, 1999). The present study seeks to examine the influence of exposure to media ideal body images and the awareness and internalization of those ideals on males and females.

The results of previous studies indicate that the media plays a role in not just reflecting societal perceptions of male and female body image, but in shaping those perceptions. Media stereotypes, advertising ploys, and the fashion industry have all lead to the introduction of the unrealistic ideal body shape that we compare ourselves to. How we feel about our bodies and how our bodies look to us in the mirror is an important aspect of our self esteem and for many Americans the media tells us how we should feel and look.

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