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Impact of Media Idealized Body Image on Eating Disorders in Females

Ariel Feldberg

December 3rd, 2010



            Media has continuously become more prevalent in society each year. Mass media originally denoted the circulation of newspapers and magazines to target a large, and diverse audience. With increasingly technology, mass media began to also include internet sources such as blogs, podcasts and other forms of the internet. The media’s sole purpose was originally to amass information to deliver to the world. However, in recent years, the media gained such power that it acquired the ability to influence the world on different topics. With such popularity, people began to look at the media for advice on political topics, economical topics, and social topics. People have begun to rely on the media for so many issues that they somehow lost their own opinions.

Our society has put so much trust in the media that we look at the media for everyday information. A normal person usually puts on the news right when they wake up. Thus, it is evident that our society depends on the media’s news to start and continue our day. In particular, the media depicts sociocultural ideals of the perfect body. Thus, through magazines, TV shows, newspapers and other forms of the media, the media affects the self-esteem of many females. Females are constantly exposed to images of waif thin models and celebrities. The increasing popularity of fashion magazines and blogs online has an increasing affect of body dissatisfaction in females. 

A. What is Body Dissatisfaction?

            In essence, body dissatisfaction is the extent of how someone perceives his or her body, usually in a negative way. Usually, the individual sees their body image different from how they would ideally want to look. One tends to perceive their physical appearance based on self-observation and the judgments of others. Thus, body dissatisfaction links with self-esteem, usually causing a drastic drop in self-esteem. Body dissatisfaction is also linked to depression, and anxiety. In all, body dissatisfaction can ultimately lead to a major risk for physical and mental health. Essentially, women are inclined to become more dissatisfied with the exposure of perfect body images in the media. Women are pressured by society to look like an ideal Barbie doll. Thus, they are pressured to achieve a body image that is frankly unreachable.

Not only do women want to be accepted by their family and friends, they also want to be accepted as a “beautiful woman” in society. Many females portray through the media that if you don’t look like a perfect celebrity, you are basically not worthy. Women look at super-thing, digitally altered females in the magazines as their roles models. Consequently, females strive to obtain a body like the thin and beautiful models and celebrities that are advertised in all forms of the media. Therefore, females become so obsessed with their displeasing body images that they resort to starving themselves, and purging to quickly look like the super models and celebrities advertised through the media. Although not every single person reacts to these idealized body images with eating disorders, many studies show that there is a high correlation with perfect body images shown in the media and unhealthy eating patterns in retrospect.

History of Different Body Images

            The standards of the idealized female body have constantly changed through different time periods, even in one century. Throughout different time periods, the media portrayed a certain type of body as ideal and desirable. Some consider that the first standard for feminine beauty was the Gibson Girl in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The Gibson Girl was large busted with a tiny waist. She was tall, slender, and had an S-curve torso that looked like the workings of a corset. During this time period, all females wished to imitate the Gibson Girl by having a very contrasting large bust and extremely small waist. Completely changing the ideal body image, the Flapper look evolved in the 1920s. Through movies, celebrities and beautiful woman across America, every female yearned to change their body to a young boyish figure. Contrasting completely from the Gibson Girl, Flappers had bodies that were extremely straight and flat. Thus, Flappers had flattened breasts and no curves in their body. Females aspired to imitate this new breed of women because of their glamorous lives. Flappers wore the most outrageous fashion designers and went to elegant, and enchanting parties.

Next, the ideal body image completely moved to the other side of the spectrum. Jane Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe became the new role models for ideal body image. In today’s standards, their bodies would be viewed as too large. However, during that time period, it was not only accepted, but it was desired to have a voluptuous body. These women had tremendous curves that made them iconic. People viewed the proportions of her body as timeless and perfection, even though her body size would be equated to a size 8. Soon after Monroe, Twiggy became the new icon for beauty and fashion. Thus, Twiggy lead the era of the perfect, ultra thin body type. Therefore, under weight women became the standard for the ideal body image. This truly evolved women’s outlook on body today nowadays. Subsequently, the ultra thin desirable body completely leads to body dissatisfaction and then eating disorders in many females.

Media’s Importance and Effects on Females

            Our culture is now obsessed with thinness due to the media’s portrayal of ideal body images. Studies prove that the exposure of media images on idealized body types easily cause body dissatisfaction, which can eventually lead to eating disorders. Studies reveal that the media’s publicity of ultra-thin models and celebrities has many detrimental effects in females of different ages. A study was held to assess media’s ability to persuade girls perceptions and concerns of body weight and shape.  The cohort included 548 girls from 5th to 12th grade in the working-class suburbs northeastern America. The students took cross-sectional surveys on dissatisfaction with body weight, exposure to fashion magazines, impact of media on feelings about shape, and whether the students had gone on a diet to lose weight due to the exposure of an article in a magazine. Results prove that the exposure of images in magazines strongly affected how girls perceived their own body image. The study showed results that 69% of the girls were completely influenced about the “ideal body image” by magazine pictures. 47% of the girls reported that they wanted to lose weight after being exposed to the magazine pictures. The study confirms that there is a direct relationship between the frequencies of reading women’s magazines and the occurrence of trying and desiring to loose weight (Field, 1999). 

            Another study investigates the consequences of idealized body images within the media on female’s eating behaviors. The cohort for the experiment was 72 female university students. The experimental stimulus was six magazine advertisements that publicized idealized female models.  Then, the control stimulus was the same six magazine advertisements with the ideal body removed digitally from the page. Through classic taste tests, eating behavior was investigated. The researchers found that total food intake after the exposure was the same in the body present and absent conditions. Moreover, high self-objectifiers ate more when the body was present than when it was absent. However, low self-objectifiers ate more food when the body was absent than when the body was present in the advertisement. Furthermore, the exposure of the idealized images lead to changes in eating patterns in the females. Thus, the image exposures can lead to dieting-related disorders (Monro, 2006).

            Hill explicates that recently body dissatisfaction is extremely common for teenage girls. Thus, many girls begin to take place in unhealthy eating patterns. It is evident that the drive for thinness is due to the media’s portrayal of the ultra thin models. Magazine companies in the UK explain that their main consumers are adolescent girls that look at images of models, celebrities, and actresses. Thus, surveys show that these teenage girls look at these thin body images as their desirable body type. Thus, studies prove that this affects the prevalence of body dissatisfaction. Teenage girls frequently look at the magazine pictures in comparison to their own bodies (Hill, 2006). In another study, 145 college women were randomly shown pictures from in style magazines that include thin idealized body images or regular, neutral images. The college students that were exposed to the thin idealized body images experienced increased body dissatisfaction, negative mood states, lower self-esteem and a higher frequency to obtain an eating disorder (Hawkins, 2004).

Additionally, another study was held with a cohort of 133 women. Using the Eating Disorder Inventory-2, and the Obligatory Exercise Questionnaire, these women were assessed on their unhealthy eating behaviors. The psychological traits that were tested included, body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, body comparison, depression, self-esteem, and identity confusion. The females were shown pictures of skinny female models. After being exposed to the pictures, the females demonstrated increasing anger, depression, anxiety and body dissatisfaction. These women gained a desire to become ultra skinny and gained multiple symptoms of eating disorders (Cahill, 2007). Another study proves that through mass media, females can be manipulated on what is the ideal body type. Participants that took place in all 25 studies were under 19 years of age. These participants had a negative outlook on their own body image after looking at thin body types in the media than after looking at average size models, plus size models or inanimate objects (Groesz, 2002).

Racial and Cultural Differences in the Ideal Body Image

            This intense pressure to be thin is not evident in other races and cultures. The standards of beauty are very difference across different cultures. Euro-American women are those who are most likely to desire ultra thin bodies and are most likely to experience body dissatisfaction. A study proves that African-American women have a higher prevalence of obesity, a lower prevalence of eating disorders like anorexia, and are very satisfied with their bodies. In a study, 63 African American and 116 Euro-American men were asked to rank a sequence of women body types in the order of how attractive they find them. As a result, Euro-American men choose much skinnier silhouettes than African-Americans. Euro-American men admitted that they would love their girlfriends to loose weight (Greenberg, 1996). Hence, some cultures prefer larger women and see ultra thin women as very unattractive.

            Another study assesses 98 female college students on eating behaviors and body image. The cohort includes 36 African Americans, 34 Asian Americans, and 28 Caucasians. Originally, African Americans had the highest body mass index than the rest of the cohort. Caucasians demonstrated the highest levels of disordered eating and dieting behaviors compared to the African Americans and the Asian Americans. Furthermore, those with low self-esteem were highly correlated with higher levels of problematic eating behaviors and body dissatisfaction (Akan, 1995).

In many cultures, women are more respected by their body type, in particular how big they are. In Tuareg, a woman’s size symbolizes how wealthy she is. In all, different cultures value different body types. Contrasting to Tuareg women, the pressure to be thin in America increases with class. African Americans, and Native Americans are more tolerant of larger women than the middle and upper class white women are. White women are more prone to developing eating disorders than African American women. White women mostly choose a thinner idealized body image than African American women do. Furthermore, white women encounter more social pressure than black women do. White men desire to date thin females than black men do. Moreover, white men even admit to being embarrassed to date a large woman (Powell, 1995). In all, the media portrayal of perfect, ultra thin body types affects more Euro-American women than women of other races and cultures.


            All the studies completely prove that media images that depict especially thin models and celebrities have a very negative affect on females in the Euro-American culture. Idealistic body types are portrayed in the mass media by under weight supermodels and digitally altered actresses to fit the “perfect body” criteria. Many females look to pop culture beauty icons as role models and consequently experience body dissatisfaction and ultimately acquire an eating disorder. It is proven that after being exposed to media images, women usually compare themselves to the super models and want to loose weight. Studies also confirm that Euro-American men entirely prefer very skinny women to large women. This leads to the fact that ideal body types are different throughout different cultures. The very thin iconic body type is not popular in other cultures. Furthermore, in other cultures it is not only more attractive to be large, but also it is more respected to be larger. Some women’s wealth is based on their body size.

            In all, it is evident that America’s obsession with the media can ultimately harm many females. America’s magazine companies and television shows portray extremely thin models in all of their advertisements. Furthermore, many actresses are digitally altered in magazines to have the so-called perfect bodies like super models. Therefore, magazine companies need to put limits on the weight of models allowed to be present in their advertisements. This should be the same rule on television and other forms of the media. America should follow in the footsteps of Spain in that they did not allow models to walk the runway if their BMI was less than 18. America needs to advertise models that have proportionate and healthy bodies. America needs to stop digitally altering models to fit a certain look, and instead show their true bodies to inspire other females to be proud of their body type. Since the media has so much influence, the media needs to promote healthy body types through new models and healthy celebrities. The media needs to publicize a ban on under-weight models and celebrities in shows and advertisement. Thus, other females will not look at these women as role models; instead they will look at healthy models and celebrities as motivation.




















Akan, G. E., & Grilo, C. M. (1995, September 18). Sociocultural Influences on Eating Attitudes and Behaviors, Body Image, and Psychological Functioning: A Comparison of African-American, Asian-American, and Caucasian College Women. Retrieved December 3, 2010, from PubMed.

Cahill, S., & Mussap, A. J. (2007, June). Emotional Reactions Following Exposure To Idealized Bodies Predict Unhealthy Body Change Attitudes and Behaviors in Women and Men. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from PubMed.

Field, A. E., Cheung, L., Wolf, A. M., Herzog, D. B., Gortmaker, S. L., & Colditz, G. A. (1999, March). Exposure To The Mass Media and Weight Concerns Among Girls. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from PubMed.

Greenberg, D. R., & LaPorte, D. J. (1996, April 19). Racial Differences in Body Type Preferences of Men for Women. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from PubMed.

Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002, January 31). The Effect of Experimental Presentation of Thin Media Images on Body Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from PubMed.

Hawkins, N., Richards, P. S., Granley, H. M., & Stein, D. M. (2004, Spring). The Impact Of Exposure To The Thin-Ideal Media Image On Women. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from PubMed.

Hill, A. J. (2006, November). Motivation For Eating Behaviour In Adolescent Girls: The Body Beautiful. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from PubMed.

Monro, F. J., & Huon, G. F. (2006, November 7). Media-Portrayed Idealized Images, Self-Objectification, and Eating Behavior. Retrieved December 3, 2010, from PubMed.

Powell, A. D., & Kahn, A. S. (1995, March 17). Racial Differences in Women's Desires To Be Thin. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from PubMed.




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