Media Influence of Body Image – Sample Sociology Essay
Interestingly, calories in your body can be melt in thousands, if not tens of thousands ways. Even if you read this lines and focus upon what they imply your brain demands fuel so you can comprehend, only just that your brain cannot burn down all of your extra calories. However, what your brain can do, is to persuade you to have a perfect body. Where this idea does came from? How does it affect your life and can it be dangerous? This research proposal compiled studies in this very specific field using the works of prominent scientists and academics in order to give an answer to these questions. Afterwards author implicates in speculations of what he think can be done to tackle these most challenging encounters.
The Core of the Problem
When you are ready, close your eyes and imagine the perfect female body: its height, weight, and shapeliness. Can you name a person who closely resembles the goddess-like form in your mind? Now do the same for males, paying careful consideration to muscle size and tone. At any point did you picture yourself as having the ideal body? Probably not, as the vast majority of females wish to weigh less and have a smaller body shape, and most males desire to have additional muscle mass and be leaner (Norton et al., 1996). So, if you did not picture yourself, who did you picture? In all likelihood, the “perfect” body belonged to someone you saw on TV, in a movie, on the Internet, or in a magazine.
For centuries, media has influenced the “body ideal” for women. During the 1950s, the curvaceous Marilyn Monroe, and her size 14 physique, represented bodily perfection. A decade later, the model Twiggy and her thin stature were considered idyllic. But long before the advent of magazines, television, and movies, images of beauty in paintings, such as those by Rubens, Renoir, and Raphael, influenced cultural standards for the ultimate body. Rather than being physically fit, women of the 17th-19th centuries were painted as being plump and curvy.
Today, the “ideal” body image for women can take many shapes; waif (e.g., Kate Moss), curvy (e.g., Jessica Simpson), or athletic (e.g., Lo Lo Jones). In fact, for many women, the combination of being curvaceous and thin is the ideal; small waist, small hips, and a medium-sized bust. However, there is one thing that contemporary “ideal” body shapes have in common: they are definitely not Rubenesque (Dittmar, 2009).
Nevertheless more than influencing the cultural standards for the ideal body, can media influence how children and adolescents view their own bodies? Do such views impact the psychological and physical well-being of youth? These important questions will be addressed in this research proposal. First, however, the impact of media consumption on obesity, a health crisis affecting youth throughout the world, will be reviewed.
Media Consumption and Body Weight
For children and adolescents, BMI is based on the child’s height, weight, gender, and age. Youth are considered to be obese when their BMI score is greater than or equal to the 95th percentile for their gender and age (see Table 1.1).
Table 1.1 BMI Percentile and Weight Status Category
||Weight Status Category
|Lss that 5th percentile
5th to less than 85th percentile
85th to less than 95th percentile
95th to 100th percentile
Source: Centers for Decease Control and Prevention, 2012.
In a recent assessment of obesity in the U.S. (Children Obesity Epidemic, .world-heart-federation.org, 2012), BMI scores indicated that 17% of 2- to 5-year-olds, 21% of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 19% of 12- to 19-year-olds were considered obese. Worldwide, there are 207 million obese children (or 1 in 8) between the ages of 5 and 17. Nearly 30% of children in the European Union are at or above the 95th percentile in BMI. Even in developing countries (e.g., Brazil, China, and India), rates of childhood obesity are on the rise.
In fact, 3.3% of children in developing countries under the age of 5 are now obese (WorldHeartFederation.org, 2007). Because significant physical (e.g., type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease) and psychological (e.g., victimization, stigma, and low self-esteem) health risks are associated with childhood obesity, scientists have set out to uncover its causes. In addition to diet and genetics, media consumption has been a frequent focus of obesity research across development. But media contains no calories, zero protein, and not a single trans fat. So how is it possible that its consumption could affect body weight?
Explaining Why Media Can Be Fattening
Three potential mechanisms have been forwarded to explain how media consumption can impact weight: (a) Sedentary behavior displaces physical activity, (b) the intake of nutritionally poor foods primarily occurs when using media, and (c) advertisements for food lead to poor eating habits in children and adolescents. Each will be discussed in turn.
Sedentary behavior displaces physical activity. With the exception of Dance Dance Revolution and an assortment of video games for the Wii, and in particular the Wii Fit, media consumption is primarily a sedentary activity. Couch potatoes and mouse potatoes alike burn few calories while surfing the Internet, watching TV, or playing video games. Some have argued that physically inactive media consumption displaces high-energy movement; and that when media is not available, children are outside running, jumping, or otherwise engaged in calorie-burning activities. It has been theorized that as a result of displacing physically active energetic pursuits with physically inactive behaviors, body fat increases (Smith, & Atkin, 2003).
After all, Let us admit, that it is hard to imagine getting rock-hard abdominals or a lean physique while reclining in a La-Z-Boy chair watching The Biggest Loser on TV. Nonetheless, do long periods of media-related physical inactivity really influence adiposity? An additional decade’s worth of research suggests that intuition is not always correct.
From early childhood through late adolescence, numerous studies have attempted to causally link obesity with television viewing, computer use, and video game play. Although several studies have found significant associations between media use and body fatness, the strength of these relationships is consistently weak (Jansen, Smeets, Martijn, & Nederkoorn, 2006
Parents, Media, and Obesity
It is important to remember that parents, and not media, are the biggest influence of eating patterns and food preferences during childhood. In general, parents influence kids through the modeling of healthy and unhealthy eating habits, with the purchasing of healthy and unhealthy foods, and by offering healthy and unhealthy food choices during meals and snack time (Jansen, Mulkens, Emond, & Jansen, 2008). Research has also shown that the amount of food eaten and the nutritional quality of the food consumed are similar between parent and child. Thus, parents who eat a lot of nutritionally poor foods have kids who do the same (Klein, & Shiffman, 2005). Like their children, parents too are influenced by food advertising. In turn, this impact can affect the foods that parents purchase. For instance, in an assessment of parents of underprivileged youth in early and middle childhood, Klein and Shiffman (2005) found that greater exposure to fast-food commercials was increasingly associated with the belief that eating fast food was a normative behavior. Of great significance, the more parents saw advertisements for McDonald’s, Burger King, and the like, the more often their children ate fast food.
Media and Obesity Stigma
The obesity stigma refers to the negative attitudes, stereotypes, and discriminatory behavior directed at overweight youth. Across development, youth view their overweight peers to be more selfish, lazy, stupid, ugly, sloppy, and unlikeable than acquaintances of normal weight. Obese children are also less likely to be preferred as playmates, and experience high levels of social rejection, teasing, and bullying. Obesity stigma, which has been documented in children as young as 3, worsens over the course of development, only lessening during the college years. In addition, the more the child weighs, the worse the stigmatization (and associated bias, stereotyping, and prejudicial behavior). Parents and teachers can also convey statements and act in ways consistent with the obesity stigma. Parents have been shown not only to transmit negative stereotypes about obese children (e.g., laziness) but also to tease their own progeny about their weight. Classroom teachers view obese youth to be less tidy, less likely to succeed, and more emotional than youth of average weight. Similarly, physical education teachers have been shown to hold negatively biased weight attitudes (Klein, & Shiffman, 2006).
In addition to peers, parents, and teachers, media may also contribute to the prevalence of the obesity stigma. Consider Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series, and Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as exemplars of media offerings that promulgate weight bias. Both are obese, both are gluttons, and both disregard admonitions from adults regarding inappropriate behavior. Research has assessed weight status in only one medium that children frequently watch: cartoons. In an analysis of more than 60 years worth of cartoons,
Herbozo and colleagues (Herbozo, Tantleff-Dunn, Gokee-Larose, & Thompson, 2004) found that overweight characters were shown to be less intelligent, and more unhappy and unloved, relative to thinner cartoon characters. Additionally, overweight characters were depicted eating more junk food and behaving more physically and verbally aggressive than lighter characters. Similarly, in an assessment of the top 25 children’s videos sold on Amazon.com (most of which were cartoons), Herbozo and colleagues (Herbozo, Tantleff-Dunn, Gokee-Larose, & Thompson, 2004) found that obesity was associated with negative traits 64% of the time.
Depictions of Body Image in the Media: Dolls and Action Figures
For nearly 40 years, Barbie’s curvaceous measurements were estimated to be 39-18-33. If she were real, Barbie would weigh about 100 lbs. And stand between 6 and 7 feet tall. Like many celebrities of the 1990s, Barbie had plastic surgery and now sports measurements of 33-17-30. Other than Barbie, little is known about the representation of the female body in dolls. At 5’10”, GI Joe’s lean and hyper muscular body supports an 85-inch chest, 34-inch neck, and 65-inch waist (Harrison & Hefner, 2007). These numbers nearly double those of the average male physique and easily surpass the measurements of Issac Nesser, the world record holder for the largest chest (with a 74-inch chest, 23.5-inch neck, and 44-inch waist; see TrulyHuge.com, 2008). Beyond GI Joe, other action figures, such as Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, have become leaner and more muscular over the past 25 years. Since 1980, the arms, chests, necks, forearms, thighs, and calves of the aforementioned action figures have increased in size between 50% and 60% (Harrison & Hefner, 2007).
Magazines targeting adolescent girls present females in near physical perfection, with virtually all blemished and “problem areas” removed. This equally concerns adolescent males. Television tell them to be lean and muscular (Levine, & Smolak, 1996). Such V-shaped men have broad shoulders, well-developed arm and chest muscles, and a slim waist. Nowhere is this more evident than in professional sports (e.g., Tom Brady) and in the non-sport of professional wrestling (e.g., Triple H). In fact, the bodies of men in professional wresting go well beyond the lean muscular look by presenting the hypermale body as ideal. Such Adonis-like bodies are big, muscular, and strong, which, incidentally, is a physique that very few males can ever hope to achieve.
Of note, children and adolescents are also exposed to underweight women and over-muscled men in magazine advertisements and TV commercials for weight-loss products. Helping to propel this $40 billion a year market along are beautifully thin and toned actors, each of which is more than happy to promote the weight-loss benefits of meal replacements like Weight Watchers TV e, diet supplements, creams, for example – Body Sculp Cellulite Cream, – wraps like Wrap Yourself Slim), and exercise equipment like Melt It Of TV program. Regardless of the product being advertised, the same message is almost always being sent: “Beauty is thin-deep.” Currently, little is known about children and adolescents’ overall exposure to such weight-loss ads. What is known, however, is that idealized depictions of male and female bodies in the media do in fact influence the body image of youth (Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002).
Research during middle childhood: Media and Body Image in Girls
Demonstrating that media exposure influences body image during the elementary school years has proven problematic. Not a single study conducted in the last decade has found that viewing thin women on television or in magazines affects current levels of body dissatisfaction in 5- to 12-year-old girls (e.g., Clark, & Tiggemann, 2006). Interestingly, one study did find that television exposure in prepubescent girls predicted what the girls reported they wanted to look like in the future, after they “grew up” (Harrison & Hefner, 2007). Unfortunately, this study assessed the total amount of television consumption rather than the frequency of viewing programs with thin actors. As such, it is difficult to know if girls’ reported desire to be thin in the future truly stemmed from seeing underweight females on TV. In terms of television and magazine exposure influencing the internalization of the thin ideal during childhood, the limited research has been mixed. Only two studies have been conducted, with just one finding that TV viewing was related to the internalization of the thin ideal (Clark & Tiggemann, 2006).
Does the much maligned Barbie doll really influence the body image of young girls? The answer is a qualified yes. In the lone experimental study conducted, Dittmar and Halliwell (2006) showed 5- to 8-year- old girls images of either a Barbie doll or an Emme doll (which has a more realistic shape to it, as it is based on the liked-name full figure supermodel). After seeing images of Barbie, but not Emme, girls between the ages of 5 and 7 reported increased levels of current body dissatisfaction and a greater desire to be thinner as an adult. In contrast, 8-year-old girls’ current and future idealized body was unaffected by Barbie. Contrary to expectations, exposure to Emme images resulted in older girls wishing to be thinner when they grew up (current levels of body dissatisfaction were unaffected). For younger girls, Dittmar and colleagues contended that body image changes are the direct result of exposure to environmental stimuli (e.g., Barbie), rather than the internalization of the thin ideal. The authors also suggested that by age 8, girls have established concept of the thin ideal. Thus, for older girls, the Emme doll may have elicited concern about how they will look as adults themselves. In other words, by 8 years of age, girls believe that it is more acceptable to be heavier (but not fat) during childhood than adulthood, and react accordingly to images that correspond with that belief.
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