National Eating Disorders Association

Media And Body Image

Keith Miguel, Communications Intern

Body image. We all have one. We all have an idea in our heads of how we look, in other words, our own body image. We also have thoughts about how attractive or unattractive we perceive our body image to be. How do we come up with our body image? What standards of beauty do we compare our body images to? For our American society, the answers to those questions can be found in the media we consume on a daily basis. 

Media plays an overwhelming role in our thinking, just by volume and repetition alone. According to research done by the San Diego Supercomputer Center, by 2015 we will consume an average of 15 hours of media a day. 15 hours a day! Many of the messages that we are bombarded with have to do with beauty, and the media images and messages about beauty are usually unattainable. 

The purpose of media advertising is to make a profit. The way many companies do this is to exploit dissatisfaction and insecurities about things we have or do not have, and about our bodies themselves. According to Roy A. Cui, a Photoshop professional, “Anything that you see in print…all of these have been manipulated.” 

Media literacy is being able to understand and analyze advertising in that context; that advertisers are trying to make a profit, and they do so by creating dissatisfaction about ourselves using unattainable illusions about body image and beauty. Melanie Klein, a media literacy educator and professor of sociology and women studies said:

Media literacy education is designed to allow individuals to be active consumers of media, to be conscious consumers of the media. It’s about waking up, and understanding how the media operates.

That understanding can grant us the power to discern between a normal body image and a distorted body image based on an unrealistic illusion of beauty standards, and ultimately prevent the harm done by eating disorders. 

If you would like to learn more about the effect of media on body image, check out NEDA's free webinar entitled “Mirror, Mirror; Standards of Beauty, Body Image, and the Media.”