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The Impact of Media on Body Image and Its Contribution to Eating Disorders

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With current media and the images portrayed wherever one looks, giving society a certain idea of what celebrities look like, and therefore shaping minds in regards to how one should look. Although this can affect both genders, it tends to mainly affect teenagers and young adults, because they long to be accepted and their minds are still malleable. The research question regarding this topic is whether the media’s effect on body image can lead to eating disorders.

Some studies and reviews, after looking into the impact of media on body and eating disorders, saw results that indicate that the thin-ideal portrayed in media can be linked to disordered eating. In “Do you ‘like’ my photo? Facebook use maintains eating disorder risk,” two experiments were used to see the effect social media sites, such as facebook, and their influences on eating disorders. The first study included 960 women who completed surveys on their own regarding Facebook use and eating disorders, while the second study comprised of 84 women who were randomly assigned whether or not they would be using Facebook or an alternate site for twenty minutes. The results of the studies showed that more frequent use was associated with concerns and anxiety regarding bodyweight and was associated to greater disordered eating. “ ‘Everybody knows that mass media are/are not [pick one] a cause of eating disorders’: a critical review of evidence for a causal link between media, negative body image, and disordered eating in females ” uses seven criteria to evaluate whether or not mass media can be a casual risk for negative body image or disordered eating. The criteria include content (what is portrayed), exposure (time spent seeing it), cross-sectional correlates of exposure to mass media, longitudinal correlates of exposure to mass media, laboratory research and its contrast effect, prevention studies, and the motives, pressures, and ideals in media. The review concludes that mass media can be a possible causal risk factor and that an increase in exposure increases the risk for negative body image and for eating disorders. In “The impact of exposure to the thin-ideal media image on women,” 145 college women were exposed to either thin-ideal images or neutral images. This study resulted in showing that the thin-ideal magazine images decreased body satisfaction, self-esteem, and increased eating disorder symptoms. “Research Directions in Social Media and Body Image” goes over the fact that enough studies have concluded that media and social media do affect body image and can lead to eating disorders, but the commentary also goes over the fact that social media can be used as a positive rather than a negative. Andsager talks about how on social media, followers see peers’ posts, and that therefore, celebrities, friends, and others can help diminish the thin-ideal images and thoughts by posting factual data, opinions, encouragements, and realistic photos. “Media Influence and Body Image in 8-11-Year-Old Boys and Girls” used 75 boys and 107 girls to assess five facets of media influence, which were previously hypothesized by scholars, in order to “develop a scale for the assessment of multiple components of a media-based influence on body image” (Cusumano, 1999). The results showed that the main concepts were internalization, awareness, and pressure, and that there was a significant correlation between subscales of Multidimensional Media Influence Scale and the Eating Disorder Inventory-Body Dissatisfaction subscale for both genders. “The Developmental Effects of Media-Ideal Internalization and Self-Objectification Processes on Adolescents’ negative body-feelings, dietary restraint, and binge eating” is a study which used data from 685 adolescents over a 3-year period to examine direct and indirect links between media-ideal internalization, shame, and anxiety, and dietary restraint. The results clearly showed that media-ideal internalization predicted shame and anxiety, which later caused negative emotional thoughts, which predicted dietary restraint and binge eating, which influence eating disorders. Although many seem that eating disorders and negative body image only thrives in western culture due to what is portrayed in the media, “Body image and eating disturbance in India: media and interpersonal influences” shows that it also affects eastern culture. By having 96 teenage females and 93 adult females from India complete tests to measure body dissatisfaction, restrictions, teasing history by peers and family, and their own internalization of media images, the study showed that teasing and internalizing lead to high body dissatisfaction, a drive for thinness, and could be a risk factor that may explain the increase in eating disorders.. Another study, “Face Consciousness Among South Korean Women: a Culture-Specific Extension of Objectification Theory,” uses a sample of 652 South Korean college women to show that media exposure has a positive indirect correlation with body shame and eating disorder symptoms. These studies focused on at-risk groups, such as adolescents and women, which is likely the reason why the correlation between media and body image, as well as with eating disorders. They often focused on the amount of time spent using social media or being around media in general, which shows its impact over time

However, other articles and studies have found that there is sometimes no correlation between media and body image, or that there can be no correlation between body image and disordered eating; possible reasons for the different results are the way studies are conducted and who the population for the studies is, since some are more at risk than others, such as teenagers, and since many are likely to lie to hide any possible eating disorders. “Concurrent and Prospective Analysis of Peer, Television and Social Media Influences on Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorder Symptoms and Life Satisfaction in Adolescent Girls” uses a study on 237 girls to see the degree to which media affects adolescent females compared to peer competition. The usage of television or social media did not predict any negative outcomes for eating disorders, but peer competition did, showing that peers can influence body image much more than the media can. “In the eye of the beholder: Thin-ideal media affects some, but not most, viewers in a meta-analytic review of body dissatisfaction in women and men,” although not touching upon peer competition, also came to the results that thin-ideal and muscularity ideal in the media has very little effect on viewers. In “Media influences on body disatisfaction in female students,” 42 participants were showed magazine images of thin-ideal models and overweight models, with body satisfaction being recorded before and after both. Results showed that body satisfaction decreased after seeing thin-ideals and increased after seeing overweight models, but that the drive for the thin-ideal physique after seeing the image did not increase eating disorder-like behaviors. Meanwhile, “Who Is the Fairest One of All? How Evolution Guides Peer and Media Influences on Female Body Dissatisfaction” uses evidence from multiple studies to show that there is not enough to provide convincing evidence that media exposure causes causal effects for body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, the women affected by thin-ideals were already at risk and had preexisting body dissatisfaction, the causal power of media is often over-emphasized, and that there simply is not a clear correlation between body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. “A Confound-Free Test of the Effects of Thin-Ideal Media Images on Body Satisfaction” only reinforces the previous statements by using an un-confounded design and obtaining similar results that show only very small effects of media upon body satisfaction, showing a lack of evidence to consider media a causal risk. Because most of these studies involved a comprehensive population and did not account for the different amounts of time spent on social media or around media, they neglect to focus on whether social media and media can shape adolescents’ minds.

Although there are studies which show that there is very little to no correlation between the media and eating disorders, most of those studies do not focus on at-risk groups, such as teenagers and young adults, and neglect to take into account the amount of time spent on social media and around the media. By focusing research on teenagers and young adolescents and how often they interact with the media, the research project would focus on at-risk groups and their own usage of the media.

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GradesFixer. "The Impact of Media on Body Image and Its Contribution to Eating Disorders." GradesFixer, 16 May. 2018,
GradesFixer, 2018. The Impact of Media on Body Image and Its Contribution to Eating Disorders. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 September 2020].
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