In the United States alone, 20 million women suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders (“Get the Facts on Eating Disorders,” 2015). These problems arose due to the mass media’s promotion of an ideal image of female beauty and body type. It is dangerous to conform to a certain absolute standard, especially when it comes to a woman’s body and ideal body weight. Mass media greatly influences the minds of women, which causes negative social, mental, and physical consequences such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression, which are caused by negative emotions. Thus, it is imperative to counteract the effects of mass media’s information dissemination process regarding a woman’s ideal body image. Mass media must stop portraying images of ideal beauty and body shape because it is based on false assumptions and it has caused irreparable damage to women all over the world.
Mass media greatly influence women’s outlook regarding body type and facial features. Television shows, magazine covers, and blockbusters glamorize the slim figures of female actors, models, and pop stars, which has a psychological effect on women (Bulik, 2012). Because of these images, women begin to think that they must adhere to a certain body type, skin type, and facial features. As a result, women’s mentality has changed, and women all over the world experience intense psychological pressure. They try to emulate and resemble the images of women they see in magazine articles, TV screens, billboards, and other mass media outlets.
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The impact of these images on women’s mental health is quite obvious. First, women’s self-esteem becomes low as they try to judge their self-worth by comparing themselves to the said images (Bulik, 2012). It is the constant exposure to false ideals that forces girls and women all over the world to become self-conscious about their bodies (Smith, 2013). Before the negative influence of media and its psychological effect on them, these girls and young women used to love their lives and bodies and they led an untroubled life in the community that they adored. They were happy and contented until they were told subliminally that something was wrong with their bodies and faces.
Further, mass media continues to promote the idea that thin bodies are the standard when it comes to beauty (Farrar, 2014). As a consequence, young women desire to follow this suggestion without realizing that they are already causing much damage to their health (Farrar, 2014). As a result, a significant increase in the number of young women suffering from bulimia and anorexia has been reported (Calvert & Wilson, 2011, p.395). Although these two eating disorders have physical effects on women’s bodies, like a drastic reduction in body weight, they develop because of social and psychological factors, since women force themselves to lose weight because of the need for social approval (Calvert & Wilson, 2011).
Lastly, the desperate need to conform to an ideal body type and facial features is an example of the social impact of mass media on women. If they do not have the ideal body type promoted by media, women suffer from feelings of rejection and worthlessness, and this is often worsened by people’s taunts, hurtful words, or cyberbullying. In addition, the desire to transform into someone else or to live a life that is not their own is another negative consequence of the mass media’s social impact on women. The number of women who undergo medical operations rises, but they do that not because of health problems. They pay for surgery to alter what is natural in exchange for an image or idea suggested to them by advertisements, movies, music videos, and TV shows.
However, some do not agree with the idea that mass media is to blame for women’s eating disorders, social behavior, and mental health issues related to the ideal body image. They claim that the fact that women suffer from excessive weight loss, eating disorders, and depressive mood is not the direct result of mass media’s influence on the lives and outlook of women. Supporters of this view argue that genetic factors cause these mental, social, and physical problems. In other words, those who suffer from the aforementioned problems were born with a genetic predisposition to develop certain mental health issues and other manifestations of deviant behavior. For example, numerous studies provide strong evidence that there is indeed an inherited predisposition to succumb to mental health issues like eating disorders (Engel, 2007).
Others claim that mass media should not be blamed for the alarming increase in the number of women suffering from eating disorders because these problems are caused by inborn weaknesses in the structure of the brain, specifically in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, stress, and other responses. Thus, an overactive amygdala increases the person’s anxiety, which leads to psychological disorders and addictions that, in their turn, result in health problems.
The arguments based on genetic factors and brain weakness, however, disregard the evidence supporting the idea that popular culture influences the behavior of the general public. The ideas and images promoted by people in authority or celebrities radically affect the mindset and behavior of ordinary people. For instance, in the pre-modern age, women wanted to have a different body type despite genetics and brain characteristics. Their preference towards a plump and curvaceous figure is manifested in the works of art produced by such world-renowned realism painters as Rubens, Renoir, and Raphael (Kirsh, 2010, p. 126). These paintings depict heavy-set women, a body image that 21st-century people may link with obesity. However, diseases like anorexia or bulimia were not known in the past, which means that they have developed not long ago. It takes many generations for genetic characteristics to change; thus, the women of the past centuries were not much different from the modern women, but they did not experience the same physical, social, or mental problems.
Therefore, the emergence of mass media, especially during the golden age of cinematography, TV, and radio, greatly affected the lives of average women. For example, mass media was responsible for the popularity of a particular body type represented by Marilyn Monroe during the 1950s. During this particular period, Marilyn Monroe’s size 14 physique was the gold standard when it came to women’s beauty (Kirsh, 2010).
If mass media did not play a role in the desire of women to have a body like Marilyn Monroe, one could argue that her death would have forced women to revert to an old idea, which was the plump and curvaceous figure of women in the pre-modern times. However, when mass media focused on another campaign regarding what is believed to be an ideal body type, the world followed their lead. As a result, in the 1960s, the ideal figure belonged to a model named Twiggy (Kirsh, 2010).
The social comparison theory refutes all the counterarguments (Nabi and Oliver, 2009, p. 397). Researchers argue that women assess their qualities and abilities by comparing them to those of other females (Nabi & Oliver, 2009). Thus, women looking for an ideal standard for comparison. The application of this theory is called “upward comparison” when a person is perceived as possessing superior capabilities (Nabi & Oliver, 2009). Advertising agencies know about this and use it to dictate standards. “Upward comparison” becomes a powerful and influential driving force that compels people to change their behavior according to a particular ideal. As a result, it may lead to deviating social behavior, poor body image, eating disorders, and the acceptance of the slim figure ideal (Nabi & Oliver, 2009, p.397).
In conclusion, mass media should stop portraying the image of an ideal woman because such promotion has negative mental, physical, and social impacts on females. Women must increase their awareness with regards to the impact of mass media on their lives, mentality, and outlook. To avoid the negative influence of media, they should not pay attention to the propagation of idealized images of beauty and body type. They must realize the mental, physical, and social consequences of adhering to the absolute standard. Women have to increase their level of understanding of the fact that mass media plays a critical role in creating “upward comparisons”, and by doing so they can resist the temptation to conform to the standards dictated to them by mass media. Some people state that genetics or issues with the amygdala are to blame for the increased number of women suffering from eating disorders, deviant social behaviors, and psychological issues. However, proponents of this thought cannot explain the manifestation of social, mental, and physical impacts of the influential power of mass media on the shaping of belief systems and preferences. Without a doubt, hereditary factors and weaknesses or problems with brain functions also play a role in terms of behavioral tendencies. However, the triggering effect of mass media is more influential than any type of genetic predisposition or insignificant aberration in brain function. Besides, the modern diseases and conditions associated with the issue under discussion did not exist in the past, which means the arguments concerning genetics and the amygdala do not cover the whole picture. The desire to look for an “upward comparison” is a stronger influencing force, and mass media manipulates women’s minds to promote a slim physique as the ideal image of female beauty. It is impossible to explain why millions of young girls suddenly develop low self-esteem, poor body image, and feelings of rejection if not consider the influence of media.