Media Portrayal of Girls Leaves Impact on Body Image


Allison Clark

There has been much debate over the influence of media and how it can affect young viewers. One big area of concern is it’s effect on body image. Media promotes an ideal body type which can shape the personal body image of young girls. However, the question remains as to if the media is a positive or negative influence on the minds of girls. The answer is that media can be both.

Stereotypically, media is seen as a negative influence in the lives of teens, and this is true. While there is no single cause for body dissatisfaction, research found by the National Eating Disorders Association has shown pressure from the media contributes to it. They found that when mass media pushes the “thin ideal” it can cause girls to want to change themselves to look like that. In fact, psychologists Shelly Grabe, Janet Hyde, and L. Monique Ward from University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan conducted a study looking at this same topic. Their research showed that when girls are exposed to media with an ideal body shape there is an increase in body dissatisfaction. This feeds the girls’ desire to make themselves more like those that they see on the television, social media, and in magazines. They found connects between media consumption and mental illnesses such as depression and bulimia.

Sometimes media is only looked at as a negative influence when, in fact, there are instances when can be positive. More and more campaigns are promoting body positive messages. For example, JCPenney stated the hashtag “Here I Am” which helps women accept their bodies as they are. JCPenney’s promotional videos show women who speak about their own personal stories of body dissatisfaction. They remind girls their physical appearance does not impact their quality of life. When young girls see these campaigns, they are inspired to accept themselves as they are. This is just one example of a company using mass media to promote a healthy body image.

The fact of the matter still remains that the consumption of the media does indeed influence body image, good and bad. It all really depends on how companies use their platforms and what girls are looking at online.