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Do media matter?...Does it, does it really?

Shunise Bledsoe

February 21, 2011

Introduction: Mega Media

The purpose of this piece is to answer the question, “Does media matter?” and mainly is effect of body image, self-esteem, and other things of that nature.  Media is one of the most powerful and influential forces in our culture.  The strongest of these forms being: television, movies, magazines, and the internet.

Description: C:\Users\Shuni\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\9AF2E4QP\MP900422806[1].jpgBody: Methods of the Madness

Television and Movies. Television and movies, why are they such an addiction for so many people?  Television is a mass method of communication, and it requires very little work to indulge in.  One needs simply to grab the remote or clicker and press their way into mind numbing entertainment.  The amazing thing about television is that there is a program to fit nearly every desire, or personality.  As society and culture have evolved, so have television and its programming.  Movies can be seen on television which allows them for the purposes of this paper to be place under the same category.  When it comes to understanding why the media is important and its effect on body image, it is highly pertinent to understand what they have to offer.




“At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky


Reality Shows

Reality shows are a very popular form of entertainment and cover a very wide range of topics like fashion, weight loss, plastic surgery and the lives of everyday young adults, who are placed into a nicely furnished habitat with complete strangers.  The message of such shows are generally extremely obvious, “Be Fashionable!!, “Lose Weight!!”,”Be tan and obnoxious!”  Are these necessarily negative messages? No, but the messages are generally never singular.  They always seem to have an accompanying message; the message that reality television is real.  It implies that one must mimic it in order to be real and normal.  The irony of it all is that these shows may be put under the heading of being “Reality”, but if everything must be staged, then how can it be considered real?  Most people do not view these shows with this mind set and thus continue to see them as a guideline for how they ought to live or try to live.  At this point, the concept of Reality TV becomes almost dangerous.  What means will an individual go through in order to be “real”?  Will they change personality or even their body?  According to “A correlational and experimental examination of reality television viewing and interest in cosmetic surgery” an article which documents the study of Charlotte N. Markey and Patrick M. Markey it is highly likely that one would desire to alter their appearance after watching shows on plastic surgery.      

Perhaps the most unique contribution of this research was its focus on one particular form of media influence – reality television shows featuring cosmetic surgery – on young men's and women's interest in cosmetic surgery. Consistent with research indicating that media exposure typically has deleterious effects on body image, we expected that these media messages about self-transformation would predict young men's and women's desire to obtain cosmetic surgery. In both Study 1 and Study 2, this hypothesis was confirmed.” (Markey and Markey)



Commercials can be very persuasive and have a major effect on people.  Products are sold with an image.  Whether it is an image of beauty, wealth, or popularity, these images are not easily ignored.  Adolescents are more likely to have a negative outlook on their body image after viewing “thin” centered commercials (Journal of Youth Adolescence).  Commercials may be less than one minute long, but evidently can have a large impact on their viewers.

Other forms of Programming

There are numerous other shows and programming types on television, however they all revolve around key elements: popularity, wealth, beauty, body image the same way that reality television does.  However the efforts in prime time dramas, cartoons, or other shows don’t seem nearly as blatant in the other forms of programming.


Magazines.  Even though television and movies are very big forces in the media, magazines still play a major role in shaping culture and views on body image.  It may appear as though they are just harmless clutter on the coffee table but this is not necessarily so.  A study by Gina M. Luff and James J. Gray the article for which is entitled “Complex messages regarding a thin ideal appearing in teenage girls’ magazines from 1956 to 2005” was conducted in order to prove several hypotheses.  The magazines that were used in the study were Seventeen Magazine an YM.   

Hypothesized Statements (Luff and Gray)

1. Written content regarding dieting would increase.

2. Written content emphasizing exercise would increase.

3. Written content promoting dieting as well as exercise would increase.

4. The average body size of cover models would decrease.

5. The percentage of covers featuring at least three-fourths of a model's body each year would increase.

According to the study there was an increase in the amount of information that related to exercise, and diet.  This does not necessarily mean negative things about body image and health concerns, it is rather subjective.

It seems as though average number of body size of cover models did not decrease, neither did the percentage of covers featuring at least three-fourths of a model’s body increase.

 “The hypothesized decrease in cover model body size in teen magazines over time was not confirmed. In fact, YM demonstrated a statistically significant increase in the body size of the cover models rated across time. The finding of an increase in body size in this study may be related to the fact that YM used illustrations of young women on their covers until September 1964 but then switched to photographs since the drawings had a significantly smaller average body size. Since the number of full-body cover models was inconsistent over the years, this may have biased the data obtained for examining cover model size trends.” (Luff and Gray)

However, it is my opinion that with a statement such as this for a point of conclusion, more research is needed for better defined results.  In general the findings of the study seemed ambiguous, they may have an impact but whether it would be a negative or positive impact is left up to question.


With the continuing advancement of technology, nearly everything is accessible through the internet.  One can watch movies and television programs through the internet just as easily as one can through television.  A major factor in the internet is social networks.  People have begun to rely heavily on a picture of a person instead of focusing on personality factors and human interaction.  This can lead to a person having the desire to achieve the perfect photo or display picture.  It becomes of very high importance to put forth the best image possible.  Cyber bullying has recently become a major problem, it is very cowardice and even easier than traditional bullying.  It makes the task of depleting another individuals self esteem as simple as typing a message.  There are even pro-anorexia or pro-bulimia websites.  One may wonder how much of an impression could this have on a person?  The results of a study entitled “Impact of exposure to pro-eating disorder websites on eating behaviour in college women” suggest a rather large one.  The results were as follows:

“The pro-ED website group experienced a significant one-week decrease in caloric intake from pre- to post-exposure (12,167 calories vs. 9697 calories). Following exposure, participants reported using techniques on the websites to aid with food reduction and had strong emotional reactions to the websites. These changes persisted for 3 weeks following the study's end.” And the discussion was summarized in this way: “Even modest exposure to pro-ED websites may encourage significant changes in caloric intake and increased disordered eating behaviours. By extension, even greater exposures to these websites by at-risk females may contribute to the development of EDs.” (Jett S, LaPorte DJ, Wanchisn J.) 


Who’s affected by the media?

Everyone is affected by the media in one way or another however; some demographics are more heavily or easily influenced than others.  The media can affect a person’s body image, self worth and self esteem.


In a study entitled “The Effects of the Ideal of Female Beauty on Mood and Body Satisfaction” it is shown that a woman’s mood is very likely to change after viewing pictures of model.  How often are pictures of models, or weight centered images viewed on television, internet, or in magazines?  What kind of attitudes can these images lead to and therefore what negative actions or habits can form?  “This study supports previous findings that suggest that these images have a detrimental effect on women and may play a role in episodes of binge eating in response to negative mood states (Waller et al., 1992).”(Pinhas,Toner, Ali,  Garfinkel, and Stuckless). 


            “Role of media and peers on body change strategies among adult men: Is body size important?”  Yes, even men are affected by the media. The results of the study with this titled stated that “Body image and media messages were the strongest predictors of losing weight, whereas body image importance and messages from peers were the strongest predictors of increasing muscles.”  (McCabe MP, McGreevy SJ)  These findings are just an example of how men are affected by the media.  Although there isn’t nearly as much research on the affect of the media on men, it still has an impact.

Children and Adolescents

            Children are even more susceptible to the media.  They are influenced in similar ways however it seems to come from more than one direction. The younger they are, they less of a balanced perspective they will have when indulging in the media.  Children begin emulating what they see from a very young age.  Also, there are many other factors that will tie into how a child views their world and the media.  What is their home life like? What is their relationship with their parents and other family members?  What if the media becomes their family?  Overabundance of media at an early age is very dangerous.



Conclusion:  Maneuvering through the Media

If there seems to be no way to avoid the media, then what is one to do?  The media should be filtered and used positively.  There are essentially three steps to “correctly” using the media or using it in a balanced manner.

1.)   Use it as a resource not as a primary source. 

This entails using it for new reports and current events and staying aware of happenings in pop-culture (Not being obsessed).  It should not be the primary source from which one receives information about health, weight, and body image.  Ideal  isn’t always real.  One should view their body from the perspective of health and not perfection.  Health should also come before the aspect of body shape as well.  One must remember “Wide hips, broad shoulders, always wide hips, broad shoulders” (Dr. Schlundt) This type of process is easy to hold to if it starts at an early age. “Parents need to limit children's exposure to media, promote healthy eating and moderate physical activity, and encourage participation in activities that increase mastery and self-esteem.” (Derenne JL, Beresin EV)  With a few alterations, this is actually good advice for any age bracket.

2.)  Use it for entertainment.

It should be seen as something for human entertainment.  Constantly watching shows that spark a negative self image, or always set a depressing mood should be avoided.  People control the television, it should never be the other way around.  In retrospect, it is the same concept as being controlled by a toaster.  It is an inanimate object and should not be given and more power than it receives from a socket.

3.)   Remember that if you have to stage reality, then it isn’t real.

Reality television or television in general should never be used as a guideline for one’s life. Generally, everything is staged and completely unrealistic, therefore it should not hold importance.  One should strive to love themselves as they are and live their lives in a way that will allow them to be happy, and not in a way that attempts to uphold everyone else’s view of happiness.

Conclusively, media does matter, but only as much as we allow it to.

Works Cited

Leora Pinhas, Brenda B. Toner, Alisha Ali, Paul E. Garfinkel, and Noreen Stuckless (1998). The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto,

Ontario, Canada

“The Effects of the Ideal of Female Beauty on Mood and Body” Satisfaction Retrieved : February 21, 2011 from,


Charlotte N. Markey and Patrick M. Markey (2009). Rutgers University,and Villanova University.

“A correlational and experimental examination of reality television viewing and interest in cosmetic surgery” Retrieved: February 21, 2011 from,


Duane Hargreaves and Marika Tiggeman (2001). The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.  “The Effect of “Thin Ideal” Television Commercials on Body Dissatisfaction and Schema Activation During Early Adolescence” Retrieved: February 21, 2011 from,

Gina M. Luff and James J. Gray (2008). American University “Complex messages regarding a thin ideal appearing in teenage girls’ magazines from 1956 to 2005” Retrieved: February 21, 2011 from,


McCabe MP, McGreevy SJ (2010.) School of Psychology

“Role of media and peers on body change strategies among adult men: Is body size important?”

Retrieved: February 21, 2011 from,

Derenne JL, Beresin EV(2006).Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry . “Body image, media, and eating disorders”. Retrieved: February 21, 2011 from,

Jett S, LaPorte DJ, Wanchisn J.(2010) Department of Psychology “Impact of exposure to pro-eating disorder websites on eating behaviour in college women”. Retrieved: February 21, 2011 from


Picture cites

Jersey Shore Picture

Halle Berry Photo,r:0,s:0

Seventeen Magazine Photo,r:0,s:0&tx=60&ty=82

Children and Television,r:4,s:51&biw=1229&bih=518





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