This paper examines the influence that media has on adolescent females feelings towards their place in society, sexuality, self-esteem and body image.

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Literature Review of

Media Messages to

Adolescent Females

Submitted By:  Debi Naigle

Submitted To:  Dr. Rick Schwier Class:  EdCmm 802 / Historical and Theoretical Foundations of Educational Technolgy Due Date:  Saturday, February 12, 2004


Research shows that media play a dominant role in influencing females’ perceptions of the world around them, as well as helping them to define their sense of self. This paper examines the influence that media has on adolescent females’ feelings towards their place in society, sexuality, self-esteem and body image. Areas for future research and possible solutions to some of the problems mentioned are also addressed.

Time of Adolescence

Adolescence can be a confusing and unsettling time for young adults. Changes to their bodies, their interests, and their social relationships cause them to question who they are and how they fit into the dynamic and confusing world around them. They question their place in their family, with their friends, with their teachers, and with others around them. This is a time of increased self-awareness, self-identity, self-consciousness, preoccupation with image, and concern with social acceptance (Slater & Tiggemann, 2002). Adolescents are trying to discover and solidify their senses of self and their roles in society.

Adolescence can be a period marked by severe psychological and emotional stresses (Durham, 1999). It is during this time that gender identities, values of self worth, and sexual attitudes become topics of relentless and serious contemplation. Adolescents are moving from childhood into adulthood. They want to understand their new roles, their new ideas, and their new feelings. This exploration of self and new found independence can result in feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Now while these changes are occurring in both males and females, it has been found that females experience a more difficult time with this transition than males (Block & Robins, 1993). Adolescent girls are more apt to experience decreased feeling of attractiveness and self-esteem. Girls are more likely to feel ashamed and distressed by the

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changes in their body and appearance. They become more insecure and self-aware of the changes that occur. Boys, however, find the progression of adolescence to be a more positive and reassuring time. They tend to experience improved feelings of body satisfaction and self-assurance. While both are increasing in size and changing in shape, boys welcome this change and girls dread it.

Adolescence is a time of extreme introspection. And more than their male counterparts, females look to media to help them define and explain the world around them (Polce-Lynch, Myers, Kliewer, and Kilmartin, 2001). Females seeking information about their current developmental tasks will take that information from any available source (Granello, 1997). Mass media is one of the main resources to which they turn.


Media is a pervasive and ever present entity in the lives of North Americans. It is a strong influence for constructing meaning in our everyday lives. Social Comparison Theory posits that “people will [at some point in their lives] compare themselves and significant others to people and images whom they perceive to represent realistic goals to attain” (Botta, 1999, p. 26). We look to the media to help us define, explain, and shape the world around us. Without always knowing it, we make automatic comparisons of ourselves, those close to us, and situations in our lives after seeing images in the media. And as a result, after these comparisons we are motivated to strive for, and achieve, new found goals and expectations. Adolescents, because they haven’t reached the cognitive level to critically analyze and determine reasonable levels of realistic goals, are more vulnerable to media images (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2003). They are more likely to take at face value all images and scenarios portrayed in the media.

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Because they tend to see most everything as realistic and attainable, adolescent girls are more likely to emulate the images portrayed in the media. They will attempt to model themselves, both physically and through their actions, after the images viewed. They look to the media to define how they should look, act, and feel.

Pop culture, more than current events, is what adolescent females look to in the media to help them define their role in the world around them (Durham, 1999). Arnett (1995) says that “media consumption gives adolescents a sense of being connected to a larger peer network” (pg. 524). Adolescents look to television, magazines, and movies to help them find and define their station and place in society.

Now while adolescents are developing an increased cognitive capacity to process information (Botta, 1999), critical evaluation skills are not fully matured. This is especially true for adolescents in the 13 to 14 year range (Rosenblum & Lewis, 1999). For these early teens, media have a stronger influence on their view of reality than it does on those even two years younger or older. Those younger are more indifferent to media messages and those older are more critical of the messages presented. It was found that girls in the thirteen to fourteen year age range are the most susceptible to the messages presented through the media.

Granello (1997) found that girls at the ages of 12, 17 and 21 looked to the media to help them define social meaning in different ways. All three age groups looked to television programs to help them construct meaning into their lives. How this meaning was created varied at each developmental level. 12-year-olds looked to the media to define how their lives will be. They looked at the characters and situations presented on television and believed that if they modeled themselves in the same manner they would be able to achieve the same status and rewards as those characters presented. 17-year-olds looked to the media as a way to see how

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their life could have been given different circumstances (e.g. had they lived in a different geographical location or had a different socioeconomic status). They looked to characters on television as role models and strived achieve the same experiences. They were however, cognizant of the fact that there was no guarantee that their lives would turn out exactly like those portrayed; television characters simply exemplified the ultimate goal. 21-year-olds we able to distinguish the difference between their real lives and the fantasy lives portrayed on the television shows. However, they used the circumstances portrayed on television as a way of initiating dialogue with peers. Though this interaction they were able to collectively construct social and personal meaning.

No one type of media can be held more responsible for the messages presented to adolescent females. Each form of media plays a crucial role in influencing adolescent females in different ways. Although television viewing is related to body dissatisfaction, there are no strong correlations linking this channel of communication to proactive drives for thinness or eating disorder behaviors like there are with magazine consumption (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). And within television viewing, different types of programming are more influential than others (Borzekowski, Robinson, and Killen, 2000; Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Seidemen, 1999). So in order to understand the overall role that media have on female adolescents’ perceptions of self and society, all genres must be examined.

Pipher (1994) states that pervasive media messages have a strong influence on an adolescent girl’s self image. Adolescent girls, in their search for self identity and social acceptance, are quick to model themselves on the images and messages presented in the media. Their sense of personal identity and ability to interact socially is not yet developed. They look to the media to help them find meaning in their lives, rules for social interactions, and definitions of

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self. Adolescent girls are heavy consumers of media. The images and messages presented in the media have a strong influence on how an adolescent girl views the world and her role in it.

Place in Society:

More than anything, adolescents want to feel like they belong to, and that they are accepted by, a community. This is especially true for adolescent females. While adolescent males are striving to construct their own sense of individuality, and develop their position in the hierarchy of the world around them, adolescent females are searching for relationships and attempting to ...

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