Step Away From the Mean Girl and Say Bye-Bye to Feeling Bad About Your Looks
The Effects of Media on Adolescent's View of Body Image

When I was younger I constantly asked my mother, "Why do the other kids pick on me? Why do they pick on me for what I wear? Why me and not someone else?" My Mother would always reply with a simple statement, "Because you are different. You are not afraid to be different and they are jealous of that." At the time I didn't understand what she meant. I did not understand why they should be jealous of me. I felt as though they should be happy with what they had. Over time I eventually realized that what my mother had said was correct. Those kids had low self confidence and self-esteem. This led me to ask other questions, "Why are they not confident? Why don't they have high esteem?" The answer has only recently made sense. As each of us hits puberty we begin to pay more attention to our appearance. Clothes and hair become a large concern for many adolescents although the main concern is typically focused on the body. Many adolescents, when they reach puberty, will really start to take a notice of their body and how it is changing. Some start to have larger curves than others, some do not gain much weight or muscle on their body and look extremely thin, and then there are those who have larger bodies either from obesity or genetics. The question that has always bothered me is: Does it really matter what you look like? I have never particularly cared what others think about my appearance, but many do not see past their peers' opinions. What influences adolescents as they form those opinions and what are the resulting consequences? Is it the media having an unhealthy influence over the children of our society?

Self-esteem for an adolescent is difficult to raise and extremely easy to lower. A young child will not think twice about their appearance and roll in a mud puddle without a second thought because it is fun. Just the idea of rolling in a mud puddle, let alone the actual act, would cause concerns about criticism from peers. An adolescent will eventually wake up one morning and suddenly ask themselves, "Do I look fat?" or "Should I eat anything this morning or will it make me fatter?" They begin to question their body image in regards to what others think of them. If the way they look is not what they think others will find appealing, then their self-esteem is negatively affected. "Body-image disturbance, generally consisting of a subjective unhappiness with some aspect of one's appearance, is also extremely prevalent and may be associated with psychological distress (e.g., depression) and functional impairment" (Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia, and Crane). The media has encouraged negative behavior through the derogatory statements made about a celebrities somewhat large belly or the "astounding" makeup or clothes they wore at an important event. Adolescents follow this example by making it a point of looking for something out of place on others to point out to peers. There have been many studies of what causes adolescents to lose their self-esteem. One such survey resulted in a common theme of students placing the blame on the media for feeling the need to look a certain way. A seventeen year old male's response to the survey: "The media does put pressure on girls and women and boys and men to look the same as models, and that's what makes people sad and feel like outcasts. I feel I am a little chubby and that I need to lose weight to gain confidence about myself" (Damico and Fuller). A fourteen year old female's response to the same survey, "Are you happy with your own body is a very complicated question for me. I like having curves and not being stick thin. And then I feel like I don't like my body because others criticize it. I am able to be athletic and can keep up with the thin girls on my softball team. I think that I am healthy and I do like my curves, but others don't, which tends to make me not like my body" (Damico and Fuller). In this research, both male and female students indicated that they felt pressure to look a certain way regardless of how they may feel. Students notice the pressures that the media places upon people. Unfortunately, adolescents are easier to negatively influence through the media than adults, with a lowered self-esteem as the result. Adolescents begin to criticize others because they have been shown by the media that making degrading statements about someone is rewarded through positive attention from peers. They may be content with their body until their peers make derogatory comments. That fragile self-esteem can be broken in moments. When an adolescent's confidence is lowered it can lead to other problems which will make it that much harder for their self-esteem to return (Velasquez).

Eating Disorders are a growing problem with adolescents who have low self-esteem. Many are under the impression that to gain peer approval and feel better about themselves they must meet the media's image of a body – thin. This belief can lead to binge eating and fasting an unhealthy practice denying the human body of the nutrients needed in order to grow and mature properly. Sadly, not many adolescent girls believe they are of a healthy weight when comparing themselves to celebrities in magazines. "In a recent survey of 2,279 female students aged 10–14 years, 31.3% of students reported feeling too fat, 29.3% were trying to lose weight, and 10.5% had scores above the clinical threshold for disordered eating, despite evidence that 92.7% of participants were within or below a healthy weight range for their age and height" (Thompson, Russell-Mayhew, Saraceni). These girls have most likely been criticized by their peers for not looking thin enough. The media influences these girls from a young age presenting the opinion that to be thin is to look good and be considered "popular." "During early adolescence girls are increasingly exposed to messages that promote the objectification of women and loss of voice. This socialization occurs in tandem with the early adolescent transition, which involves changes, adjustments, and transformations in multiple domains of life" (Thompson, Russell-Mayhew, Saraceni). The media creates an unrealistic image for young girls in which to aspire. They are given an unattainable goal that will only cause them more harm than good in the future. They are told to change to fit someone else's perfect ideal rather than accepting who they are and making healthy decisions.

Their unsuccessful quest for a different body, leads many adolescents to have increasing symptoms of depression. A survey taken among 1,868 thirteen year old adolescents revealed a percentage of those who wished for a different body, "Among females, 15.8% desired a bigger figure and 41.4% desired a thinner figure. Among males, this occurred for 34.1% and 33.5%, respectively. After adjustment, we found that body dissatisfaction was associated with increased depressive symptoms, in both genders, especially in those participants who wish to be thinner and in those presenting higher discrepancy between figures… The association between body dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms was stronger among [those] non-overweight" (Almeida, Severo, Araújo, Lopes, Ramos). They may be at a healthy weight, yet some adolescents will continue to work at losing weight in their attempt to imitate the celebrities shown in magazines. As this is an unattainable and unhealthy goal it often leads to depression. "Adolescence is a critical stage for the development of depressive symptoms. The lifetime prevalence of depressive disorders among adolescents may be as high as 20%, making it one of the most prevalent disorders in this group. Additionally, depressive disorders increase the risk of suicide and adverse health outcomes, namely lifelong recurrence of major depression" (Almeida, Severo, Araújo, Lopes, Ramos). Depression, being unable to create an optimistic point of view through all the pessimistic views, is most likely the hardest psychological mentality to overcome.

I have come to the conclusion that the media has a strong negative influence over shaping the opinions of many adolescents. The constant thin-ideal presented in the media has become a negative influence upon adolescents' resulting in opinions leading to unhealthy behavior. Since it is unlikely that the media will willingly change the image they have created, another solution must be found. If there was an increase in education for the pre-adolescent that could aid this age group to better interpret the media's portrayal of body image, would this help them realize at a younger age that the image shown in the media is unhealthy thereby decreasing the negative impact from the media in the adolescent age group?

Works Cited

Almeida, Sandra, Milton Severo, Joana Araújo, Carla Lopes, and Elisabete Ramos. "Body Image and Depressive Symptoms in 13-year-old adolescents." Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 48.10 (2012): E165-71. Print.

Clay, Daniel, Helga Dittmar, and Vivian L. Vignoles. "Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls: Testing the Influence of Sociocultural Factors." Journal of research on Adolescence 15.4 (2005). Print.

Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia, and Josselyn Crane. "A Losing Battle: Effects Of Prolonged Exposure To Thin-Ideal Images On Dieting And Body Satisfaction." Communication Research 39.1 (2012): 79-102. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Mar. 2013.

Krishna Velasquez, et al. "Mirror, Mirror On The Wall: Peer Competition, Television Influences, And Body Image Dissatisfaction." Journal Of Social & Clinical Psychology 30.5 (2011): 458-483. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.

Thompson, Carmen, Shelly Russell-Mayhew, and Reana Saraceni. "Evaluating the Effects of a Peer-Support Model: Reducing Negative Body Esteem and Disordered Eating attitudes and Behaviors in Grade Eight Girls." Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention 20.2 (2012). Print.