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facts on media

On this page you’ll find:

  • Media Effects on Young Women

  • Sexism and Stereotypes of Women

  • The Thin Ideal

  • Weight Bias


Media Effects on Young Women

Girls are major consumers of media, and they receive and engage with these messages every day. The average child or teen watches 3 hours of television per day, and the numbers are higher for African-American and Latino youth. When various media (chat rooms, email, websites, music, etc.) are combined, children use media 6 hours and 32 minutes per day. [Nielsen Media Research, 1998]. The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. There are serious cognitive and emotional effects, as well as consequences for mental and physical health. [APA, 2007]

  • The number of teen-focused magazines increased almost fourfold, from 5 in 1990 to 19 in 2000, and most teens regularly read magazines. [Mediamark Research, 2005]
  • Body dissatisfaction is common for teenage girls and is associated with dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors. The idealization and pursuit of thinness are seen as the main drivers of body dissatisfaction, with the media primarily setting thin body ideals. [Hill, 2006]
  • In a study of 112 female undergraduates, exposure to thin-ideal advertisements increased body dissatisfaction, negative mood, levels of depression, and lowered self-esteem. [Bessenoff, 2006]
  • In a longitudinal study of adolescents, frequent reading of magazine articles about dieting and/or weight loss was associated with weight-control behaviors and other psychological outcomes 5 years later. [Van den Berg et al., 2007]
    • For female adolescents, the frequency of healthy, unhealthy, and extreme weight-control behaviors increased with increasing magazine reading. [Van den Berg et al., 2007]
    • The odds of engaging in unhealthy weight-control behaviors (such as fasting, skipping meals, and smoking cigarettes) were twice as high for the most frequent readers compared with those who did not read magazine articles about dieting and weight loss. [Van den Berg et al., 2007]
    • The odds of using extreme weight-control behaviors (such as vomiting or using laxatives) were 3 times higher in the highest-frequency readers compared with those who did not read such magazines. [Van den Berg et al., 2007]

Sexism and Stereotypes of Women     

Throughout United States culture, and particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are depicted in a sexualized manner. We are surrounded by these media images and messages. Media content responds to demand and is a reflection of culture, but it also contributes to it. [APA, 2007]

  • Objectification of the female body teaches girls and women that they are valued primarily for their looks, reinforcing the need to pursue attractiveness. [Moradi et al., 2005]
  • Objectification also encourages girls to look at their bodies rather than attend to their feelings. It teaches them to treat their bodies as objects to be decorated and made desirable for others; as they mature into adolescence, such looking becomes sexualized. [Lamb, 2002; Lamb, 2006; Tolman, 2002]
  • Forty-nine articles were coded from current U.S. video-gaming magazines, resulting in 115 coded characters. This content analysis of video game magazine articles investigated how characters are portrayed, focusing on gender differences. Males were more likely to be heroes and main characters, use more weapons, have more abilities, and be more muscular and powerful. Females were more often supplemental characters, more attractive, sexy, and innocent, and also wore more revealing clothing. Understanding these video game messages is an important first step in understanding the effects games and magazines may have on behavior and attitudes. [Miller and Summers, 2007]

The Thin Ideal

  • Media-portrayed images, especially those presented in the context of advertisements for dieting and weight-altering products, promote the idea that body shape and size are flexible, and that achieving the thin ideal is relatively easy. [Brownell, 1991]

    • The average size of the idealized woman (as portrayed by models), has become progressively thinner and has stabilized at 13-19% below healthy weight. [Garner et al., 1980]
    • Appearance anxiety increased after viewing advertisements featuring idealized images. Participants’ body shame increased after exposure to idealized images, irrespective of advertisement type. [Monro and Huon, 2005]
    • When girls begin to view fashion models and celebrities as icons, it is called media internalization. This internalization refers to the extent to which an individual invests in societal ideals of size and appearance (thin ideal for girls and muscular for boys) to the point that they become rigid guiding principles. [Thompson et al., 2004]
    • Media internalization is a risk factor for body dissatisfaction, dieting, negative affect, binge eating, and increases in eating-disorder symptoms. [Vandereycken, 2006]

Weight Bias   

 Television characters are not representative of real bodies. Five episodes of each of the ten top-rated prime-time fictional programs on six broadcast networks during the 1999-2000 season were quantitatively analyzed [Greenberg et al., 2003]:

  • Of 1,018 major television characters, 14% of females and 24% of males were overweight or obese, less than half their percentages in the general population.
  • In this television study, overweight and obese females were less likely to be considered attractive, to interact with romantic partners, or to display physical affection.
  • Overweight and obese males were less likely to interact with romantic partners and friends or to talk about dating, and were more likely to be shown eating. Overweight and obese television characters are associated with specific negative characteristics such as lacking intelligence, strength, depth. They were seen as clumsy, dumb, etc. [Greenberg et al., 2003]

Also see the Facts on Health & Weight section for information on “obesity prevention” ad campaign that was protested by the Academy for Eating Disorders.