The extent of media influence on body image might surprise you. It’s important to understand, though, because eating disorders and body image are closely related.
Media Influence on Body Image
The National Eating Disorders Association reports that one in every 3.8 televisions commercials conveys an “attractiveness message,” telling viewers what is considered attractive. These messages convey the idea that extreme thinness is much more attractive and desirable than a normal, healthy weight. The typical American teen sees more than 5,260 of these “attractiveness messages” every year. You can see why there would be a connection between eating disorders and body image.
One study found that the more often young men read fitness magazines, the more dissatisfied they become with their bodies. Another study of a popular magazine for teen girls found that 74 percent of all articles about fitness stated becoming more attractive was a good reason to exercise; articles did not recommend exercise as a way to become healthier, just a way to become prettier. Yet another study found that most adolescent girls get the majority of their information about health from the media – which includes all those “attractiveness messages.”
Counteracting the Media Influence on Body Image
The Student Nutrition Action Committee at UCLA suggests the following as ways to counteract the negative media influence on body image:
- Spend money on things that are good for you and that make you feel good, like healthy food, fitness equipment, massages and flattering clothes instead of spending money on the diet industry (including things like diet pills, diet shakes and diet foods).
- Practice positive self talk. Give yourself compliments. Stop the negative self talk.
- Surround yourself with people that have healthy relationships with their bodies and healthy relationships with food.
- Stay off the scale. Focus on the state of your health, not the numbers that indicate how much you weigh.
- Move your body. Engage in physical activity, not in an effort to burn more calories and lose weight, but in order to feel strong and become comfortable in your body.
- Nurture your “inner self.” Cultivate a sense of spirituality and engage in activities that bring about feelings of contentment and peace. Watch a sunset, listen to uplifting music, etc.
Eating Disorders and Body Image
Many people with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, though maybe not all, have issues related to body image. Many believe they are overweight even when they are really dangerously underweight. In an effort to lose more weight, they eat an extremely low calorie diet. They may also exercise excessively, abuse diet pills and laxatives and/or vomit after eating. Eating disorders are extremely serious; as many as 20 percent of people with anorexia die from the condition.
Treating Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues
Eating disorders require extensive treatment and treatment should be multi-faceted, including counseling, nutritional education and medical care. Counseling generally addresses a number of factors, including stress management and coping skills, anxiety and depression, issues related to childhood trauma and eating disorders and body image.
The National Eating Disorders Association states that the media influence on body image is one contributing factor to the development of eating disorders. Counselors can address issues related to the media influence in counseling sessions with clients. They can educate clients about healthy body weight and help clients to differentiate between good health and extreme thinness. They can also help clients examine where their ideas about what they should weigh come from.
Counseling can help people with eating disorders improve self-esteem, which should lead to improved body image. It can also help people set realistic health and fitness goals.