Recently in the media there was a campaign which was advertised by Protein World called “Are you beach body ready?”. Within this advert which was seen all over the London underground there was a picture of a slim, sleek, toned young woman. Over the last few days there has been uproar over this campaign with 70,000 people signing a petition asking for the advert to be banned. Critics have criticised Protein World arguing that this is heavily impacting on people’s body image. The media play a large role within our society whether that is newspapers, magazines or even brands. In every sport advert posted online there is a picture of a toned, muscular, slim female or male. The question which we must ask ourselves is what impact does the media play within this process?

How does body image develop?

A person’s body image is something which starts to develop in early adolescence due to cognitive and physical changes (Benowitz-Fredericks, Garcia, Massey, Vasagar & Borzekowski, 2012). During puberty, children gain 50% of their adult body weight (McCabe, Ricciardelli & Finemore, 2002). Cognitively, adolescence is a period where people start to become aware of societal norms which are focused around our physical appearance. As children start to date, and go out with friends they become aware of physical desirability and features that people prefer. Adolescent girls gain most of their self esteem from their physical appearance (Benowitz-Fredericks, Garcia, Massey, Vasagar & Borzekowski, 2012). In society young girls and boys associate thinness with beauty and attractiveness. There are a number of sociocultural factors which also influence a person’s body image. Bullying around weight issues is something which can cause dissatisfaction of body image. The question that we must ask ourselves is what makes us become dissatisfied with our body image? Why do we always have to think about losing weight or being in the perfect shape?

Before we look at the media and how they influence this process it is important to look at the link between body image and eating disorders. To achieve this so called “beach body” people often try to achieve this unattainable physical appearance which can lead to eating disorders. Since 2000 eating disorders have risen by 15% and it is estimated that more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder (10% anorexia, 60% bulimia and 40% were classified as EDNOS; Eating disorder not otherwise specified)(Beat, 2015). 11% of those affected are male (Micali, Hagberg, Petersen & Treasure, 2013).

What role does the media play?

If you go down to your local supermarket and look at a number of women’s magazines and fitness magazines you will see a number of common things. Magazines have always emphasised the importance of physical appearance and within most of the pictures you will see a slim, muscular person. The magazines will constantly talk about weight issues or weight loss which are usually featured on the front page. Television is now being taken over by fitness and exercise programmes which are trying to promote exercise or health products. Often the programme will feature a very muscular female or male who are promoting what they do.

There have been a number of studies that have looked at the link between body image and media use. A longitudinal study which followed 2,500 girls in a middle and high school found that girls who were heavy readers of magazines were twice as likely to engage in disordered weight control behaviours (Van den Berg, Neumark-Sztainer, Hannan & Haines, 2007).

The media plays a large role within influencing body image. The media constantly reinforces certain key messages which people often think will lead to a healthy, successful and better lifestyle. For males it is increased muscle growth and for females it is trying to maintain a thin ideal body. The social comparison theory is closely linked to this process. When people see healthy, strong, thin, toned fitness models in magazines they will compare themselves with these people which can result in body dissatisfaction and decreased self esteem (Tiggemann, Polivy & Hargreaves, 2009).

As mentioned earlier there are a number of factors which can influence a person’s body image. Exercise will also play a large role within this process. Do you train to try and achieve a perfect body or for health reasons? Can trying to achieve this unrealistic body image lead to exercise addiction? The final question that must be answered is what can the media do about this? Should there be an organisation who monitors this type of content or material? Should it be available for young people to see?

We want to know what you think about this campaign. We want to know what you think the media could do to help with these issues surrounding body image. Please leave your comments in the section below.

ReferencesShow all

Beat (2015), http://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders.

Benowitz-Fredericks, C. A., Garcia, K., Massey, M., Vasagar, B., & Borzekowski, D. L. (2012). Body image, eating disorders, and the relationship to adolescent media use. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 59(3), 693-704.

McCabe, M. P., Ricciardelli, L. A., & Finemore, J. (2002). The role of puberty, media and popularity with peers on strategies to increase weight, decrease weight and increase muscle tone among adolescent boys and girls. Journal of psychosomatic research, 52(3), 145-153.

Micali, N., Hagberg, K. W., Petersen, I., & Treasure, J. L. (2013). The incidence of eating disorders in the UK in 2000–2009: findings from the General Practice Research Database. BMJ open, 3(5), e002646.

Tiggemann, M., Polivy, J., & Hargreaves, D. (2009). The processing of thin ideals in fashion magazines: A source of social comparison or fantasy?. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28(1), 73-93.

Van den Berg, P., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P. J., & Haines, J. (2007). Is dieting advice from magazines helpful or harmful? Five-year associations with weight-control behaviors and psychological outcomes in adolescents. Pediatrics, 119(1), e30-e37.