How Media, Advertising and Celebrity Culture Affects Female Body Image

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Research Project                                                                                    Kayleigh Giles-Johnson

 How Media, Advertising and Celebrity Culture Affects Female Body Image

In this essay we will be exploring the subject of body image, looking at which outside influences contribute to the high rate of body dissatisfaction from both psychological and sociological viewpoints, taking into account a range of evidence varying from statistics to studies in order to draw a conclusion. Firstly we will define the meaning of body image and look at the way in which the ideal has changed in recent years, before analysing the effects of media, advertising and the accompanying celebrity culture on body dissatisfaction in females. I will then apply this information in order to explain why it is that some people suffer body image related mental illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia.

Body image refers to an individual’s own perception of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of their own body and facial features. The ideal has changed over the years with the preference of modern culture being a slender, toned figure and delicate, symmetrical features. In the 1800’s the idealised form was still voluptuous and plump, as we can see from some of the art from that time, for example in Renoir’s Blonde Bather of 1881 (Plate 1). The idealisation of slimness in women dates from the 1920’s which is argued to be the outcome of successful marketing by the fashion industry, becoming the standard of cultural beauty in the industrialised affluent societies of the twentieth century (Grogan S, 1999, p.14). In Western culture, slenderness is generally associated with happiness, success, youthfulness and social acceptability. Non-conformity to this idealised body image is regarded as resulting in negative social consequences, such as physical unattractiveness and low sexual desirability. Being overweight may hold other negative stereotypes, such as being perceived as lazy or having no self-control, whereas slenderness may symbolise personal order and a sense of self-denial in the face of plenty (Grogan S, 1999, p.6).

Body dissatisfaction is a person’s negative thoughts about his or her own body. Women have always been encouraged to change their shape and weight to conform to current trends and it is often argued that failure to do so leads to self-criticism, feelings of guilt and lowered self-worth, a strong effect amongst women due to the cultural pressures of the idealised body shape. Body dissatisfaction is the norm in western women from as young as eight years old (Grogan S, 1999, p.3) and research has concluded that the majority of women are dissatisfied with body weight and shape. Psychology Today’s 1997 Body Image Survey has concluded that for the past three decades, women have been preoccupied with how they look and are more discontent with the shape of their bodies now than ever before. 56% of women said they were unhappy with overall appearance, with an overwhelming 89% wanting to lose weight ( The silhouette technique (Stunckard et al, 1983) is the most widely used measure of body dissatisfaction in which the participant is presented with an image of a range of body shapes and asked to choose one representing her perception of her own body size and one representing her ideal body size. Out of 25 of my female college peers asked to choose out of the nine silhouettes on the scale, many appeared to exaggerate their perception of their own body shape and an overwhelming 94% were unhappy with their current figure and chose a slimmer example as their ideal body shape, and only one person chose a larger shape as their ideal.

The influence of media

The ultra-slender ideal body image portrayed by the media is typically reported as 15% below the average weight of women. Approximately 90% of the female models are below average weight (Vaughan & Fouts, 2003). Because of the usage of such slender models, psychologists have suggested that the media can affect women’s self-esteem by becoming a reference point against which unfavourable body shape comparisons can be made. A commonly adapted theory to explain media effects on body image is that of Festinger’s (1954) Social Comparison Theory – the idea that conformity can be explained in terms of the need to evaluate our beliefs in opinions by comparing them with other people’s (Gross, 2010, p.428). This means that we seek the need to self-evaluate by comparing ourselves with other people, driving ourselves to achieve more should we feel we do not measure up to the standards set by their example. In the case of body dissatisfaction, this theory would predict that the media will set a standard of ideal body image by which women will determine their own social and personal worth based on how they “stack up” against models or actresses (

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We can see the extent of how television and media can change the way women think about themselves by looking at Becker's (2004) study of Fiji, a country which was recently a media-naive population until the introduction of television in 1995. Prior to the 1990's, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were thought to be rare or non-existent among ethnic Fijians (Becker 1995, cited by Becker 2004). In Fijian culture, it had always been acceptable and even attractive to have a heavier body shape; however the arrival of television affected these cultural traditions negatively by causing women to aspire to the ...

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