We live in a world where media is no longer only accessible through television and magazines. We have unlimited access to the world at our fingertips through computers and phones, and social media is bombarding our everyday feed. At any given moment, we can be scrolling through our phones and exposed to a plethora of images and messages from celebrities to close friends and everyone in between.
When it comes to media messaging around beauty, fashion, and health, there is a disproportionate number of images that reinforce a thin ideal. That is, our media tends to be centered on images of thin women that send the message that a thin body is the most attractive and ideal body type.
Thin ideal media also contains images and messages about weight loss, dieting, and fitness that ultimately portray the ideal that you need to follow these standards to be happy and successful. It is not surprising that the prevalence of body dissatisfaction in the United States has remained high for over 30 years, and it is now considered normal for girls and women to be dissatisfied with their bodies and have weight concerns. Research shows that body dissatisfaction is the biggest risk factor for the development of an eating disorder (Stice & Shaw, 2002).
While treatment is available and recovery is possible for those struggling with an eating disorder, primary interventions, awareness, and education are key in the prevention of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. As consumers, we need to be smart when it comes to social media and potentially harmful messaging.
When exposed to thin ideal images or messages on either television or social media, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Who created this message, and why are they sending it?
- How does this message make me feel?
- Who owns and profits from the message?
- What is omitted from this message?
- What techniques are used to attract and hold my attention?
Next time you are comparing yourself to the images you see, stop and question what and who you are really comparing yourself to and/or if this message was designed to benefit from your dissatisfaction. When we effectively recognize and analyze the media messages that influence us, we don’t let it consume or control us. Rather, we reinforce the message that the media’s definition of beauty and success does not have to define our self-image and self-worth.
Moving forward, unfollow accounts that are not in line with your true beliefs and values. Look for opportunities to publicly stand up against the ideal thin. Share an unfiltered picture of yourself. Instead of commenting on how someone looks in a picture, share your excitement for them, and send them well wishes. Create an environment that focuses on body acceptance and body activism.
Stice, E., & Shaw, H. E. (2002). Role of body dissatisfaction in the onset and maintenance of eating pathology. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 53, 985-993. doi:10.1016/S0022-3999(02)00488-9