The Relationship between Media, Image, and Eating Disorders


The mass media provide a valuable and influential context from which people get to learn about various things. However, recent reports have shown that the media negatively affects people’s perception of how they should look (Gilbert 640). In fact, teenagers are the ones who have been adversely affected. One of the critical questions is whether the media is influencing the youth to adopt eating disorders.

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The Adverse Effect of the Media

It is general knowledge that the invention of the mass media has brought both good and bad effects. Various studies have proved that the media have an important role to play in the effect of self-image and eating disorders, especially among teenagers. Self-image refers to how a person views himself or herself. Televisions, movies, magazines, and the internet have influenced teens with images and pressure on their appearance. Through the media, the teen’s self-image has been distorted, leading them to engage in risky behaviors when they feel they are not up for the task. Thus, they engage in eating disorders like anorexia which refers to a situation when one tries to lower their weight. Bulimia is an eating pattern that occurs when someone attempts to control their weight through vomiting and using laxatives. Another eating disorder is binge eating, which also occurs when one feels that they are compelled to eat. About half of the teenage girls and a third of teenage boys use detrimental weight control behaviors like failing to eat, fasting, vomiting, and taking laxatives. Many women have been found not to be satisfied with their body image. Body image becomes an issue when girls go through puberty, which makes them preoccupied with weight loss techniques.

In addition, many images depicted by the media in the current world portray an unrealistic feminine beauty that can negatively influence how women view themselves. From the mass media perspective, the thinness of a woman is idolized, and such women are considered to be attractive.

In fact, images in advertisements, television, music, and even videos usually portray an ideal woman as tall, white, and thin, with a tubular body and blonde hair. Research has repeatedly shown when females are exposed to thin models, they will want to change their body images, which eventually leads to eating disorders. Different types of programs seem to provoke higher levels of body satisfaction in women. Schooler, Merriweather, and Caruthers highlight that those women who were exposed to television programs were too high levels of body image disturbance experiences than those who never had television exposure (38-47). In addition, Tiggermann and Slater confirm that women exposed to videos and music which showed models with super thin bodies later experienced dissatisfaction with their body image and negative moods. In fact, music videos’ underlying message is that women should demonstrate a certain cultural and social ideal. The model reveals how women are portrayed and almost directly represents what culture considers beautiful (Tiggermann and Slater 48-58).

 The idealized pictures of the models are specifically found in magazines and advertisements. Research shows that 83% of teenage girls were reported to have many fashions (Thompson and Heinberg 339-353). Information on beauty, keeping fit, and style are aspects that have been sort after in fashion magazines. Indeed, women who read magazines allied to fashions depicted higher levels of “thin-ideal” internalization, negatively impacting eating patterns and weight (Thomas and Heinerberg 339-353).

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Actually, various theories have been discovered to explain how the media affects people’s behavior.  According to the social comparison theory, media images influence women’s feelings about their bodies. The theory scrutinizes how people view themselves relative to their peers and other social groups. In addition, the theory avers that people usually liken themselves to their peers but use different dimensions. Thus, people develop upward comparisons where an individual compares himself to someone who is better than they are. Televisions, magazines, and advertisements provide this type of comparison. In essence, women showed moods and body image dissatisfaction symptoms when they viewed thin models in the mass media. Pressure from the mass media to be muscular appears to be related to body dissatisfaction among men. Moreover, young men are prone to be more negatively affected by the media than adolescents because they want to be in line with modern culture. In addition, it is evident that those women who compared themselves to others were more likely to be influenced negatively by the media. The aspect of social comparison is a crucial tool used, although negative by the unrealistic media, to create image dissatisfaction among the individuals who view them.

Cultivation theory is another concept that shows the images of those women who are considered beautiful and fit in the cultural and social concepts of beauty. Therefore, those images are shown repeatedly, a situation that influences teenagers to consider them as realistic. Eventually, women adopt a standard of beauty that is unrealistic. For instance, women continue to view thin females as role models who set good examples. On the other hand, those women who are not thin are not regarded as ideal, and they are viewed as abnormal in terms of role modeling (Schooler et al. 38-47). Women who do not know the standards that are viewed in the media are unrealistic are more likely to show resilience to body image concerns (Tiggermann 418-430).

Thirdly, there is the self-schema theory, which purports that women use three points of reference to construct their perception of their physical appearance. The points include the socially represented ideal body, the objective body, and the internalized ideal body. Firstly, the socially represented perfect body occurs when society sets individual beliefs with the respect to physical appearance and beauty. Secondly, the objective body refers to a person’s evaluation of their body. Thirdly, the internalized ideal body occurs when the individual envisions an ideal body image and desires to achieve it. Indeed, the internalized aspect of the body structure is said to represent a perfect body that is socially accepted. In fact, this view of a perfect body makes women vulnerable to the influence and effects of powerful media (Sands and Wardle 193-204).

However, many things influence body image, including parenting, education, intimate relationships, and peer pressure. If the parent is supportive of the child and keeps encouraging him or her, the child will have a high sense of confidence. When student gets good grades, it will increase their confidence which shall impact their self-image. How his friends view a person will also have an impact on his self-image. If these three groups take active roles, then the child will not turn to the mass media to build his self-image. Moreover, the media has a small role to play in inducing eating disorders. Imagine those people who have no access to television or newspapers, how will they get to be influenced by the media? One can quickly develop eating disorders through low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, stress, and even loneliness. Furthermore, it can also be caused by troubled personal relationships, genes, or the presence of protective parents. In this view, the media is not solely to blame for eating disorders. People engage in eating disorders to address a particular problem that they are passing through.

According to the above discussion, it is evident that the media affects people negatively. However, we should remember that eating disorders are usually caused by a combination of behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Hence, it means that the media, which is a social tool, is not entirely responsible for the disorders. In that aspect, the effects of media can be reduced. Firstly, parents should limit their child’s exposure to media images by providing guidance and counseling facilities. Secondly, the advertisements should also include plus-sized women so that the teenagers will get to know that everyone is accepted in society despite their size. Parents should also spend time with their children so that they get to know them better and even explain the unrealistic way in which the media portrays girls and women. People should also learn to deal with the problems affecting them because not doing so will mean they will look for comfort elsewhere. Lastly, people should work on their self-esteem and confidence because high self-esteem controls personal behavior, which eliminates peer pressure. Therefore, they will not be affected by what other people are doing.


The mass media portrays women’s standard of beauty as one that is not realistic and unattainable for many women in society. The models depicted in the popular media are what has come to be understood as healthy body weight. Hence, for women to be considered attractive, they must surrender to societal expectations and set the standards that require them to emulate the models in the media by engaging themselves situation in eating disorders. The different concepts that explain how media images influence how individuals take their physical appearance and view their bodies are very practical. However, the negative effects of the media are avoidable if the guardians, parents, and caregivers are willing to guide the children. Either way, we should appreciate the fact that the mass media has helped spread a new culture worldwide.


Works Cited

Gilbert, Muller. Issues across Disciplines. Custom ed. Oklahoma: McGrawreader, 2009. 640-642. Print.

Sands, Everlyne, and Wardle, Joyce. Internalization of ideal body shapes in 9–12-year-old girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, (2003). 33(2), 193-204. print

Schooler, Jonathan.Merriwether, Andrew. and Caruthers, Allan. Who’s that girl: Television’s role in the body image development of young white and black women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2004. 28(1), 38-47. Print

Thompson,  Kevin. and Heinberg, Jonathan. The media’s influence on body image disturbance and eating disorders: We’ve reviled them, now can we rehabilitate them? Journal of Social Issues,1999. 55(2), 339-353. Print

Tiggemann, Marika. Media exposure, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating: Television and magazines are not the same! European Eating Disorders Review, 2003. 11(5), 418-430. Print

Tiggemann, Marika and Slater Amy. Thin ideals in music television: A source of social comparison and body dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2004. 35(1), 48-58. Print

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