How the Media can Negatively Influence Women’s Perception of Beauty and their Personal Health

Digitally altered photo of Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton, and a photo of her on the catwalk in New York. Photo: AP

In recent years the increasing use and influence of media has had a major impact on individuals around the world. The increase of media use and advertisements have assisted in promoting the concept of the thin-ideal media. The media tends to portray beauty as extreme thinness, which is often unattainable. This portrayal can result in body image and self-esteem issues in women, along with negative health-related consequences such as increased obesity rates and accelerated rates of negative body image. These consequences can ultimately lead to eating disorders, making this a serious public health issue.

This unattainable concept of beauty has been a recurring issue throughout history. Women have always been expected to look a certain way or act a certain way, so this concept of beauty is not new to women. For years the media has forced these unrealistic images of how females are supposed to look onto women, and the increase of body shaming from tabloid magazines has reinforced the media’s idea of beauty by exploiting women’s insecurities.

The media has even affected how children view body image. In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that children as young as 3 years old have associated positive characteristics with thin body sizes, and children as young as 5 years old have begun to develop disordered eating habits due to exposure to the media. The fact that children are being affected by this unrealistic image of beauty is alarming.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders are a serious health issue that can have detrimental consequences, affecting every organ system in the body, and anyone with an eating disorder should seek professional help. Self-esteem and body image influence each other, and developing a bad body image and low self-esteem negatively impact mental health. Having a poor body image can lead to depression, anxiety, problems in relationships, and substance abuse, along with other health problems. While having a poor body image doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual will develop an eating disorder or mental illness, it can increase the chances of developing these health issues as it triggers the same kind of negative thoughts that eating disorders trigger. Twenty million women in the United States have suffered or are currently suffering from some type of eating disorder due to body shaming. This shows how much of an impact the media has on the public’s perception of beauty.

Some celebrities and companies have been working together to raise awareness of the issue in an effort to change the media’s portrayal of beauty. Several clothing producers have vowed to stop photo-shopping models in their catalogs to promote positive body image. France recently banned the use of models with a BMI under 18 in their country, and any designer in France that is found to have used a model with a BMI under 18 could face up to 6 months in jail.

While there have been strides made in addressing the correlation of media and negative body image, many issues still remain. To address these issues, parents should be educated about how to choose media for their children that doesn’t promote the thin ideal, as well as the importance of physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices for the whole family. Additionally, the government could elect to fund campaigns that promote healthy lifestyles, and magazine publishers could incorporate average sized women in their publications. While it might be more difficult to get the government and magazine industry to participate in the positive body movement, a positive body image can be promoted at home. By promoting positive body images in the home, family and friends are encouraged to live healthier, more positive lives. Eventually this positive attitude could spread out into the community, and make a positive impact. Promoting a positive body image brings awareness to others about the effects media has on body image and self-esteem, and how this negatively effects one’s mental and physical health.