National Eating Disorders Association

Media messages about body shape and size do not need to affect the way we feel about ourselves and our bodies. One of the ways we can protect our self-esteem and body image from the media’s often narrow definitions of beauty and acceptability is to become critical viewers of the media messages we are bombarded with each day. When we effectively recognize and analyze the media messages that influence us, we remember that the media’s definitions of beauty and success do not have to define our self-image or potential.

When Viewing Media, Remember:

  • All media images and messages are constructions. They are NOT reflections of reality. Advertisements and other media messages have been carefully crafted and are intended to send a very specific message.
  • Advertisements are created to do one thing: convince you to buy or support a specific product or service. To convince you to buy a specific product or service, advertisers will often construct an emotional experience that looks like reality. Remember, you are only seeing what advertisers want you to see.
  • Advertisers create their message based on what they think you will want to see and what they think will affect you and compel you to buy their product. Just because they think their approach will work with people like you doesn’t mean it has to work with you as an individual. 
  • As individuals, we decide how to experience the media messages we encounter. We can choose to use a filter that helps us understand what the advertiser wants us to think or believe and then choose whether we want to think about or believe that message.  We can choose a filter that protects our self-esteem and body image.

Help Promote Healthier Body Image Messages in the Media

  • Talk back to the TV when you see an ad or hear a message that makes you feel bad about yourself or your body.
  • Write a letter to advertisers you think are sending positive and inspiring messages that recognize and celebrate the natural diversity of human body shapes, looks, and sizes. 
  • Make a list of companies that consistently send negative body image messages and make a conscious effort to avoid buying their products.  Write them a letter explaining why you are using your “buying power” to protest their messages. Tear out the pages of your magazines that contain advertisements or articles that glorify or degrade one type of look.  Enjoy your magazine free of negative media messages about your body.
  • Talk to your friends about media messages and their impact on you. Ask yourself if you are inadvertently reinforcing negative media messages through the ways you talk to yourself (and the mirror), the comments you make to children or friends, or the types of pictures you have on the refrigerator or around the office.
  • Become a Media Watchdog! NEDA’s Media Watchdog program works to improve media messages about size, weight and beauty by empowering consumers to advocate for change.  We are all consumers of the media and we can all speak out to educate industry leaders about the impacts of their messages and encourage companies to send healthy media messages. Support current Watchdog actions, notify NEDA about praise or protest-worthy ads, and learn how to be a media activist!

For more information, please see NEDA’s Digital Media Literacy Toolkit.