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The role of mass media in relation to body dissatisfaction Essay Example

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2The Role of Mass Media in Relation to Body Dissatisfaction


The Role of Mass Media in Relation to Body Dissatisfaction

The role of socio-cultural influences has been widely investigated. One of the areas that have attracted a lot of scholarly interest is the relationship between exposure to mass media and body dissatisfaction. Most of the studies conducted in this area have established that body image attitudes arise from media influences as well as interpersonal influences (Warren, 2014). We live in an era popularly dubbed “the digital age.” The advances that have been made in the digital arena so far have seen a significant rise in the number of people who now have access to mass media. A wide range of behavioural and emotional influences has accompanied the increased exposure to mass media. Many people now subscribe to the ideals and symbols that mass media promotes (Dye 2016, 217). A significant portion of these ideals has to do with bodily appearance. They include the thin ideal, where being thin is portrayed as the most ideal standard for women’s appearance, and the muscular ideal, in which having a well built and muscular body is showcased as the most ideal standard for men. This paper argues that mass media has significantly contributed to cases of body dissatisfaction through the promotion of such ideals.

Digital technologies have undergone significant development over the past three or so decades. The number of people who use the internet, have smartphones and watch television has tremendously increased. It is reported that at least 80% of Americans watch television on a daily basis. The average time that an American spends watching television is said to be 3 hours (NEDA, 2017). The availability of the Internet through personal computers and smartphones has also led to an increase in the media activities that American children engage in. It is reported that American children aged between 8 and 18 years take an average of 7.5 hours engaging in some form of mass media activity (NEDA, 2017). The different forms of mass media provide quite an influential context for both the children and adults to gain an understanding of body ideals as well as the value of being attractive. In adverts, movies as well as television programs, people are increasingly being fed information on how they should be. Over time, the people internalise this information, both consciously and unconsciously, and start evaluating themselves as well as others based on the said information (Warren, 2014). A wide range of studies that have been conducted so far indicates that mass media is doing a great job of making people feel bad about themselves. It has become evident that the main objective of many consumerism and mass marketing initiatives is to convince people that they are less than ideal, but utilising certain products will go a great way in fixing the issues that make them less than ideal (Warren, 2014). Internalising such messages has been shown to make people more dissatisfied with themselves and their bodily appearances.

Colado et al. (2011, 390) state that findings from correlation research have shown that there is a significant association between body dissatisfaction and exposure to magazine and television. However, they are quick to point out that this relationship is not direct given the many psychological variables that have the potential to mediate or mediate the association. Some of the mediating and moderating variables they mention include a person’s body mass index, internalisation of an ideal as well as self-esteem. In their study, Colado et al. (2011, 390) sought to establish the extent to which mass media contributes to body dissatisfaction among adolescents of Spanish decent. They report that a high level of body dissatisfaction was strongly associated with specific types of TV programs and magazines as was well as the frequency of exposure. According to Colado et al. (2011, 390), mass media exposure to a certain range of content, as opposed to the total frequency of exposure, was strongly associated with body dissatisfaction among females compared to males.

A big body of research has established that there is a strong link between exposure to thin ideal through mass media to disordered eating and body dissatisfaction among women. Levine and Murnen (2009, 9) review studies that sought to examine mass media as an important contributing factor to negative body image as well as disorder eating among females. They opine that a big number of professionals, adolescents as well as parents think that mass media is the main cause of increased cases of body dissatisfaction, the desire to become thin as well as eating disorders. According to Levine and Murnen (2009, 11), most of them think that the association between mass media and the highlighted ideals are self-evident. They go on to state that mass media has been designed to reach and influence a huge number of people and that the effects of the media on people are salient hence the several well-established findings. Levine and Murnen (2009, 11) point out that studies that have been so far conducted have shown that the prevalence of body dissatisfaction has been relatively high among girls and women. Additionally, they state that previous studies have established that about 20% of females aged between 12 and 30 years have levels of body dissatisfaction as well as disordered eating that are high enough to result in considerable suffering for themselves as well as others. In their conclusion, Levine and Murnen (2009, 34) state that as at the moment, mass media is generally considered a variable risk factor for body dissatisfaction, but future studies might establish that it is an important causal risk factor.

Mass media has been shown to promote a wide range of ideals other than the thin ideal. Betz and Ramsey (2017, 18) point out that despite a significant portion of the body image research paying more attention to the thin ideal, there is a wider range of body-ideal messages in the US pop culture. These messages include those that curves as well as athleticism. In their study, Betz and Ramsey (2017, 18) sought to assess how women react to two different sets of messages conveyed through mass media. The two messages were those that conveyed thin, athletic and curvy ideals and those that placed emphasis on accepting all the body types. In their findings, they report that body-ideal messages resulted in more self-objectification compared to messages that promoted body-acceptance. Additionally, they report that athletic messages resulted in more body dissatisfaction compared to messages that promoted the thin ideal. According to Betz and Ramsey (2017, 18), the findings show that the diverse messages about body ideals that mass media feeds women elicit a complexity of responses.

Stronge et al. (2015, 200) also acknowledge the fact that the relationship between exposure to mass media and body dissatisfaction has been well documented. They add that the consistent evidence showing the existence of this association has raised the concern that the considerable increase in the consumption of media in the last few years could have contributed to a rise in cases of body dissatisfaction. Stronge et al. (2015, 200) are also opine that the consumption of media has undergone tremendous social change, thanks to increased availability of individualised media platform and that self-presentational choices as opposed to controlled availing of content, now dictates the consumption of media. The researchers that these new forms of mass media, led by Facebook, makes it possible for users to unexpectedly make appearance-based comparisons with family, peers and what is portrayed in other forms of media In this study, Stronge et al. (2015, 200) were examining the role of Facebook on body dissatisfaction. They report that using Facebook is strongly correlated with heightened levels of body dissatisfaction among both men and women. This is a clear indicator that new forms of mass media, just like the old forms, significantly contribute to people having negative feelings about their bodily appearances. Additionally, Stronge et al. (2015, 200) report that young women who use Facebook showed the lowest level of body satisfaction, an indicator that young girls might be the most vulnerable group to body dissatisfaction facilitated by mass media.

Dye (2016, 217) states that mass media is an important component of the contemporary culture given the great potential it has when it comes to impacting people. In his study, Dye (2016, 217) focuses on college students and reports that this population consumes a lot of mass media information by watching movies, television programs, reading magazines and newspapers and surfing the internet. He states that surveys conducted in the recent past have shown that college students are one of the highest consumers of high-end fashion magazines as well as health and fitness magazines. According to Dye (2016, 217), this high exposure to mass media most likely has a negative impact on how college students view their body image. He reports that the increased exposure to different types of mass media leads to increased internalisation, which in turn triggers body dissatisfaction. Dye (2016, 217) goes ahead to highlight the negative impacts of body dissatisfaction, pointing out that it leads to disordered eating behaviours such as eating restraint and dieting. Palloti et al. (2016, 2) also highlight the role that mass media and fashion have played in the socio-cultural idealisation of bodily appearance. They acknowledge the role that mass media, adverts, and fashion have played in promoting some ideals, especially thinness among women. However, they are quick to point out that daily contexts as well as the relationships consumers of mass media share with others also play a significant role in shaping how individuals perceive their bodies. This shows that despite the presence of mass media pressure to follow certain ideals and values, social contacts and family expectations may negatively or positively influence the effects of mass media.

In conclusion, mass media has significantly contributed to cases of body dissatisfaction through promotion body-related ideals such as being thin and muscular. The modern era of digital technologies has led to increased consumption of mass media. This increased consumption has also been accompanied by increases cases of body dissatisfaction. Many people now subscribe to the ideals and symbols that mass media promotes. In adverts, movies as well as television programs, people are increasingly being fed information on how they should be. Over time, the people internalise this information, both consciously and unconsciously, and start evaluating themselves as well as others based on the said information. The fact that the different forms of mass media are leading more people to view their bodies and images in a bad light is highlighted in the numerous studies that have so far been conducted. Despite most studies showing that there is a strong correlation between increased consumption of mass media and body dissatisfaction, some researchers point out that the association is not direct. It has been reported that there are many psychological variables that have the potential to mediate or mediate the association. Overall, mass media remains an important component of the contemporary society and it is no brainer that consumers will always tend to follow or believe the messages being passed across.


Betz, Diana E., and Laura R. Ramsey. 2017. «Should women be “All about That Bass?” Diverse body-ideal messages and women’s body image.» Body Image 22: 18-31.

Calado, María, María Lameiras, Ana R. Sepulveda, Yolanda Rodriguez, and María V. Carrera. 2011. «The association between exposure to mass media and body dissatisfaction among Spanish adolescents.» Women’s Health Issues 21(5): 390-399.

Dye, Heather .2016. «Does Internalizing Society and Media Messages Cause Body Dissatisfaction, in Turn Causing Disordered Eating?» Journal of evidence-informed social work 13 (2): 217-227.

Levine, Michael P., and Sarah K. Murnen. 2009. «“Everybody knows that mass media are/are not [pick one] a cause of eating disorders”: A critical review of evidence for a causal link between media, negative body image, and disordered eating in females.» Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 28(1): 9-42.

NEDA. 2017. We live in a media-saturated world and do not control the message. Accessed Jul 11, 2017. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/media-body-image-and-eating-disorders

Pallotti, Francesca, Paola Tubaro, Antonio A. Casilli, and Thomas W. Valente. 2016. «“You see yourself like in a mirror”: the effects of internet-mediated personal networks on body image and eating disorders.» Health Communication: 1-11.

Stronge, Samantha, Lara M. Greaves, Petar Milojev, Tim West-Newman, Fiona Kate Barlow, and Chris G. Sibley 2015. «Facebook is linked to body dissatisfaction: Comparing users and non-users.» Sex Roles 73(5-6): 200-213.

Warren, Cortney. 2014. The Mass Media, Body Image, and Self-Deception. Accessed Jul 11, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/naked-truth/201406/the-mass-media-body-image-and-self-deception