The Media Affects a Teen's Body Image

Stacy Zeiger
Girl looking at a computer

The effect media has on a teenagers' body image is immeasurable. Each year, thousands of teenagers use diet and exercise to conform to an image that has been created by the media. For many teens, becoming a model is the ultimate goal. Being worshipped for beauty can become more important than scholarship or being true to oneself.

Teens and Media Consumption

According to the Center for a New American Dream, children and teens are exposed to over 25,000 ads in a year, and companies spend over $17 billion a year on marketing toward children and teens. In addition to the general exposure from advertising, the National Eating Disorders Association, in a paper entitled, The Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders, says that at least 60 percent of caucasian middle schoolers regularly read at least one fashion magazine. Because children and teens are exposed to some many advertisements and magazines, organizations focused on teens believe there must be an effect.

What the Media Promotes

The Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders paper by the National Eating Disorders Association says that over 70 percent of articles on weight loss in teen magazines claimed attractiveness as a reason for needing to lose weight. The association also notes that at least one out of every four advertisements sends a message about attractiveness.

A report on the effect of the media by the British Medical Association (BMA) found that while there have been no studies that can verify the effect that the media has on teenagers, the media does help channel a teen's way of thinking. As a result of their studies, the BMA demanded that the media and advertisers start portraying realistic images of women to help prevent eating disorders and other effects on teens.

Effects on Females

In a discussion of the media and eating disorders, the National Centre for Eating Disorders argues "the media doesn't make women feel a need to be thinner per se, but the media may assist them in feeling bigger than they already feel themselves to be." If women feel bigger than they are, they are more likely to want to lose weight or develop an eating disorder. The same discussion argues that, in addition to giving females a reason or desire to be smaller, the media has other effects on females:

  • Ads persuade females that wrong eating habits are right.
  • Girls feel as if they don't have what everyone else has.
  • The media makes girls think that those with ideal body images have perfect lives.

Effects on Males

The media does not affect females alone. According to the Center on Media and Child Health, boys can also face lower self-esteem if they feel their bodies do not measure up to the idea of perfection presented by the media. The center explains that, according to the media, males should have the following traits:

  • Six-pack Abs
  • Acne-free faces
  • Tall height
  • Toned arms

When boys do not have these traits, they seek out ways to get them, such as exercising too much, using steroids or dieting.

Helping Teens

According to the book The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, in order to combat the negative effects of the media on body image, schools, parents and magazines can help teens see that the ideals they see on TV and in magazines are unrealistic.

Parent Further, a resource from the Search Institute, provides parents with advice on how to help teens improve their body images. Suggestions include:

  • Praising your teen
  • Limiting your teen's time on the computer and watching TV
  • Encouraging healthy eating habits
  • Opening the lines of communication with your children

Improving Body Image

Today, the constant parade of beautiful people on television and in print has fostered negative body images for teens. Unless teens look like those actors and actresses they admire, they believe they just aren't living up to society's standards. What can parents do? Parents can help their teens combat negative body images by acknowledging that celebrities are not the standard by which teens should measure themselves. Fad diets are unhealthy and proper nutrition is more important than weight loss. If parents encourage and accept teens for the way they look right now, it can go a long way in creating a positive self-image that will last a lifetime.

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The Media Affects a Teen's Body Image