Media Influence On Body Image: How To Beat The Statistics

media influence on body imageIt’s hard to say when the media first started having a serious influence on body image, but if one thing is certain, it’s that the media’s influence on body image has been growing exponentially stronger and more widespread since it first began. Visual media, and the invention of television and film, have actually caused the majority of the American population to suffer from a negative body image.

This post explores the ways in which the media affects our body image, the extent of its influence and how we can resist succumbing to its onslaught of advertisements. Strengthen your mind and body against the media with this great yoga course for a total mind-body transformation.

The World We Live In

The world we live in is completely run by media. Advertisements are on everything we buy and everything we watch, newspapers and news channels promote their own agendas, Facebook has video ads, Google has sponsored ads, and we spend more time than ever in front of online media.

This article published by the Huffington Post reveals numbers that are nothing short of shocking. In fact, they’re down right embarrassing (at least, if you pride yourself on having a life outside the media). While I encourage you to check out the entire article (which is brief), let me touch upon some of its highlights:

  • The key table in the article shows how much time the average American (over the age of 18) spent with each type of media every day in the year 2013. The first section is digital media, which includes primarily phones, tablets and computers. The average American spends 5:09 per day on digital media. That’s five hours and nine minutes.
  • The average American spends four hours thirty-one minutes (4:31) watching TV (Netflix, Hulu, Comcast, etc.) and one hour twenty-six minutes (1:26) listening to modern radio (Pandora, Spotify, etc., all of which have advertisements).
  • The first sadly shocking number is that we only spend thirty-two minutes (0:32) with print media (offline newspapers, magazines, etc.).
  • The second sadly shocking number is the total number of hours we devote to media. Anyone added them up yet? The grand total comes to eleven hours fifty-two minutes (11:52) of media exposure per American, per day. That accounts for half the hours in a day and over two-thirds of our waking lives.

If you’ve been wondering whether or not you spend too much time online, check out this blog post on the advantages and disadvantages of social networking (should you spend more time online?).

The Media: Affects And Effects

The fact that advertisements actually work on the human mind seems like a fatal flaw. Are we really not impervious to a well-designed ad? Nope. No, not even close. Worse than that is the fact that media pays quite well and that some of the best and most creative minds of our country are devoted to creating the most convincing and highest-grossing advertisements and re-brandings and media campaigns.

To make matters even worse, there are more awards for media accomplishments than I could list in one-hundred blog posts, from the GLAAD awards to the IMAs to the Festival of Media Global Awards to the newly created Shorty Awards (which “honor” the best in social media). But how does this actually affect us?

One of the most heart-breaking problems primarily concerns women, although it’s a growing problem in men, as well. Images in the media portray “beautiful” women as dangerously thin. We know that pretty much every photo of a model is Photoshopped; there are many, many infamous instances in which this was leaked, the most notorious being the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit photo shoot in which three famous Victoria’s Secret and SI models were caught by a passerby. Granted, there is nothing “wrong” with their appearances in the photo, but it is very obvious that someone with a liberal Photoshop hand re-touched the photo when it later appeared in print.

Women are literally starving themselves to achieve these incredible aesthetics. The harsh reality is that vast populations of teenagers and adults alike suffer from eating disorders, which in extreme situations can lead to malnutrition and death. Sure, we’ve all heard this before, but just remember that people attend black-tie awards ceremonies for things like “Best Agency Of The Year” and “Best Campaign” (although, of course, not all media is as evil as I might try to make it seem). If you ever have to deal with the media personally, this top-rated course on media training can teach you how to speak to the news media effectively.

You not think the media is as powerful as I’m making it out to be, but let’s take a look at some of the diseases that result from it.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: People who truly suffer from anorexia actually suffer from a psychological disorder, and it’s quite disturbing. Their perception is actually altered by over-exposure; this is called dysmorphia. Dysmorphia is when someone looks in the mirror and sees something other than reality. A person who is 5’10” and weights 105lb. could, under dysmorphia, see themselves as over-weight or even disgustingly obese. They will eat less (if anything), exercise more and plummet into terrible health.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia results when someone loses control. It is characterized by binge-eating followed by excessive fasting, exercise, laxatives or vomiting. While people who suffer from bulimia are not typically as under-weight as those who suffer from anorexia, they can suffer to a similar degree of malnutrition.

If you’re worried that you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, you can find signs and symptoms of eating disorders from this post.

Men And The Media

Women tend to garner much of the attention when it comes to the media, but men are increasingly being negatively affected, too. There are a few interesting differences to note in how the media influences each gender. Women are most heavily influenced when they are teenagers, whereas male teenagers are more impervious to the media. However, as teenagers turn into young men, the media’s influence grows stronger.

As men start to become more interested in physique and fashion, their interests shift into the dangerous realms of health magazines and fashion advice. “Skinny jeans” are popular with men (which speaks for itself). Men on the cover of health magazines are just as unrealistic as female models (just check out the Men’s Health website, where the “Fitness” tab is right next to the “Sex & Women” tab, which in turn is next to the “Health” tab, which gives way to “Nutrition,” “Weight Loss,” and “Style”). They tend to be hairless (on their bodies, but full hair on their heads, of course), outrageously fit (1%-body-fat fit), attractive, relatively young, successful, etc. etc. etc.

Needless to say, the media could use more good guys and gals. If you think you could add a voice of reason to the melting pot, invest in this awesome journalism master class and learn how to write for the world’s top newspapers and magazines. 

How To Survive The Media

For starters, spending less than 12 hours a day with the media would be a wise decision. Using this time to develop hobbies that utilize your body is a great way to turn the tides on an over-bearing media; this will burn stress, pre-occupy your mind with developing a skill, reap all the rewards of physical activity, etc.

Critical Mindset: But even if your career or lifestyle subjects you to a lot of media exposure, you can still train your mind to be more impervious to its influences. To do this you need to develop a critical mindset of the media. You have to realize that what you are seeing is designed specifically for your eyes; it wants you to think a certain way, to buy a certain product, to feel a certain way about yourself, etc. It is only successful if we sit back and let it.

An Objective Viewer: It’s important not to fall into the subjectivity of the media. If you keep an objective eye, TV commercials change from trance-inducing segments to hilariously pathetic sales pitches. You can remember that images are photoshopped and designed to appeal to the very part of you that is struggling with your image; if that’s not enough to create distance between you and the media, I don’t know what is.

The Emotional Element: Often the media tries to touch us emotionally, and often it is successful. But whatever emotion you feel is the result of a construction; of forethought, planning, actors, scripts, etc. And what does media strive for? Why does it exist? There are only so many reasons: to sell products, to make money, to influence politics, to preach religion, to alter views, to provide entertainment, to inform, to sponsor and to share. Not all of it is bad, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think our current habits are anything short of extreme.

For a refreshing outlook on a healthy lifestyle, check out this course on the 5 pillars of optimal health (hint: no ridiculous expectations here!).