Body image and the media
BODY IMAGE AND THE MEDIA
We have known for a long while that "the way you look" is the most common worry for young women aged 14-15 years of age in our UK surveys. We also know that around 60% of girls in this group want to lose weight, which, whatever the obesity statistics are like, is far more than might need to lose weight for medical reasons (indeed, we would expect teenagers to put on weight all the time they are growing). Even some underweight teenagers say they want to lose weight.
And we know that teenagers who say they want to lose weight aren't just talking or playing games -- they are more likely to skip breakfast and/or lunch, and may be restricting their diet unnecessarily in other ways.
(When I say "we know", I'm referring to figures from our own and related publications.)
Images of people in the media -- particularly in advertising and film -- are often more white, more thin, more toned than are found in the rest of society. Anecdotal and other evidence suggests that this mismatch between what we see and who we are creates problems for people's satisfaction with their own appearance, and this dissatisfaction can be very deep and corrosive of confidence -- not least among young women (http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19970201-000023.html). "It's no longer possible to deny the fact that images of models in the media have a terrible effect on the way women see themselves. Women who have eating disorders are most influenced by fashion models.", said Psychology Today after their 1997 survey.
(Tables of Results: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1175/is_n1_v30/ai_19013601/pg_6).
Unkind or even bullying classmates and family members can make this corrosion of confidence much worse; we do know children often report bullying for reasons of size or weight.
For this reason I applaud initiatives by some advertisers who use models with a variety of body shapes in their materials. Off the top of my head I can think of the current Dove campaign, but http://www.about-face.org/gow/ is always happy to record and celebrate positive images of women in advertising. It would be unthinkable these days that we would have no images of black or Asian women in advertising (although I am sure there are still not enough). Why is it that we cannot have more images of curvy women, or cuddly men?
And I can only despair when absurdly young and/or thin models are chosen for campaigns. Again, About Face! has a gallery of offenders. Did I hear right that a teenage girl in the UK, who had recently received treatment for anorexia and was still rather thin, attended a fashion show... and was invited by scouts for a model agency to get in touch?
We ask about newspapers available at home, and group newspapers into three groups:
Group I: Telegraph, Scotsman, Guardian, Times, Independent, Glasgow Herald
Group II: Daily Express, Daily Mail
Group III: Daily Star, Daily Record, The Mirror, The Sun
Where papers from two groups e.g.I /II are present, the upper group(I) is recorded.
We ask a couple of questions related to body image:
Which statement describes you best?
0 'Would like to put on weight'
1 'Would like to lose weight'
2 'Happy with weight as it is'
How much do you worry about the problems listed below?
1 'Hardly ever'
2 'A little'
3 'Quite a lot'
4 'A lot'
and the list includes: 'The way you look'
So, we can look to see if the proportion of pupils who want to lose weight or who worry at least 'quite a lot' about the way they look can be related to the newspapers they have at home.
|Year 10 N= 7574||Want to lose weight - Males||Worried about the way you look - Males||Want to lose weight - Females||Worried about the way you look - Females|
|Group I (Broadsheet)||24%||18%||49%||46%|
|Group II (Tabloid)||28%||23%||55%||51%|
|Group III (Popular tabloid)||25%||19%||53%||48%|
|[No papers given]||27%||19%||53%||46%|
YEAR 10 (14-15 YEAR OLDS)
So, it seems that, although the differences are not large, having the Group II newspapers at home is associated with a higher proportion of pupils wanting to lose weight and worrying about they way they look.
This doesn't tell us that the newspapers are *causing* the concern with weight or appearance, of course, but the connection is at least interesting.
http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html and http://www.cswd.org/facts.html and http://www.about-face.org/r/facts/ )
(Recent and more local: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3368833.stm )
Dr. David Regis,