These days we know that the media and body image are closely related. Particularly, the body image advertising portrays affects our own body image. Of course, there are many other things that influence our body image: parenting, education, intimate relationships, and so on. The popular media does have a big impact, though.
The Media and Body Image
Together, Americans spend 250 billion hours watching television every year. According to the California State University at Northridge, advertising accounts for about 30 percent of all television air time. The average child watches 20,000 television commercials every year. Of course, television is not the only place we see advertisements. Popular magazines, particularly women’s magazines and many teen’s magazines, are brimming with ads. We even see pop-up ads online.
Anything we look at for so many hours has to affect us. The media and body image are closely related due to the number of images we see in the media and the excessive amount of exposure we have to those images.
The Body Image Advertising Portrays
Although advertising aims to convince us to buy things, ads seldom portray people that look like us. The average female fashion model wears a size two or four, for instance, while the average American woman wears a size 12 to 14. Clothing designers often say they only use very thin models because the clothes simply look better on them. In addition, photos of models in print ads are often “touched up” in order to disguise minor flaws or make the model appear even skinnier than she really is. The bottom line is that the body image advertising portrays seldom looks like the people the ads are aimed at.
The Effects of False Body Image Advertising
These “false body image” ads, showing bodies that are not real at all or that are not very realistic or representative of the general population, have far-reaching effects. It might seem that we could recognize when ads showed us something not real; after all, when we see a dog food commercial featuring a talking dog, we aren’t fooled into thinking dogs can really speak, right?
But we still tend to trust what we see in the media and body image can easily be confused. The constant barrage of unrealistically skinny images can stir up feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression. It can even lead to the development of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
What Can Be Done About False Body Image Advertising?
We can notify advertisers that we object to these “false body image” ads. Advertisers do care what their intended audience thinks of their ads. A single letter from one television viewer may not have much influence, but if a large number of concerned viewers contact advertisers with their concerns, that likely will make an impact.
Contacting advertisers about the media and body image issues remains a long-term strategy, though. While it may be effective, we cannot expect an immediate change. In the meantime, we can limit our exposure to media images, especially advertising. We can also view ads critically, asking ourselves how realistic the images appear and thinking about how they do or do not relate to us.
It is also important to be aware of the effects images in the media can have on us. People that notice signs of anxiety or depression related to body image should consider seeing a counselor for help coping with their feelings. Anyone with signs of an eating disorder, such as losing excessive weight, eating a very limited diet, vomiting after meals or health problems related to weight loss or malnutrition, should seek treatment promptly.