Eating Disorder and Social Media

Table of Content


Everyday various forms of media are inevitably viewed. The affect the media has on both men and women is profound. Media not only creates a general dissatisfaction with one’s body but also leads into emotional and physical health concerns. Some various types of media include advertisement, magazines, television, music videos, the internet, etc. Media surrounds an individual’s life, making it hard to escape the daily occurrence of the negative effects and unrealistic display of what defines attractiveness.

An immense amount of research is present on ways in which media influences individuals. Some of the research conducted shows a difference in the ways media targets and affects males and females, both in separate ways. The research also shows that the effects of media extends to ethnicity, and explains what exactly the media is saying.

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The media depicts “proper” body images differently for different groups of people, be it males, females, or different ethnicities. The research conducted on the types of media reveals the under-lying message being portrayed, provides critiques, and projects future research on the issue.

Differences with Gender

Males. Studies show that an influence is present between the impact of the media and male dissatisfaction with their bodies. (Hargreaves &Tiggemann, 2009; Hobza & Rochlen, 2009) According to Labre (2002) the idea of becoming fit and healthy has increased in male magazines. In varying types of media, men are presented as attractive and very fit with a sense of power.

The extent of fitness and muscle definition displayed stretches far from what the average male’s body type looks like. This ideal body type is a very unrealistic view and without extensive training and exercise it makes achieving this body type very difficult. Generally, it is said that men feel dissatisfied with their body and would prefer a leaner and more muscular body. (Tiggemann, Martins, & Kirkbride, 2007).

The displeasure with one’s own body can cause risks to the male population. According to Baird & Grieve (2006), evidence from research conducted showed that with the exposure to these unrealistic images of male models and actors it led to an increase in body dissatisfaction among men.

Furthermore, the study proposed drug abuse and eating disorders may be associated with the viewing of unrealistic images of men in media. A concerning finding according to Baghurst, Hollander, Nardella, and Haff (2006) found that the idealized body type not only reaches out to men but also to young boys. The muscle definition in action toy figures has increased. It tells individuals starting at a young age that the extremes of muscle definition is normal; when reality says it strays far from what a normal male’s body looks like.

Contrary to the results of the above studies, according to Sanne W. C. Nikkelen, Doeschka J. Anschutz, Thao Ha, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels (2012), found that when looking at images that stray from the average male’s physique, not all males may be affected negatively. The study looked into the link between media exposure and how body dissatisfaction has an influence. Typically, males will focus in on masculinity traits and muscle definition, in particular the abdomens and upper bodies of male images.

The study involved two images, an idealized media content and a neutral media content. The study tracked where the focus of participates eyes centered within the image. What the study concluded, with the idealized media content, was that when males focused more on the abdomen’s of the image of the male model, they felt better about their own bodies than when those males who did not focus on the abdomen. However, while viewing the neutral media content the results were the opposite. Men focusing on the abdomen felt worst about their body compared to those not focused on the abdomen.

The idealized media content gave the male’s motivation to change their own physical appearance, therefore affecting them positively by the idealized image. Females. Although both men and women are affected by the media in different ways, according to Chen and Jackson (2011), found that females are much more negatively affected than males. Anxiety, body shame, decreased intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, disordered eating, and depression were all found to be contributions of the negative effects with viewing media (Tiggemann & Kuring, 2004).

The media pushes to strive towards an image of beauty that is unattainable. The effect is noticed in girls from a very young age, such as the child’s smaller food intake. Typically girls eat less than boys do. The influence of media continues in early adolescences with concern for their body image and even continues further in life as college age woman, playing a role in their self-esteem and perception of self-objectification. (Anschutz & Engels, 2010)

Media, not only creates an overall dissatisfaction with the self and body but also puts emphasize for females that respect for one self is based on appearance. According to Stankiewicz and Rosselli (2008), women are also portrayed as sex objects, not only are woman sexualized in male magazines but also in magazines geared towards females. Women’s bodies are constantly viewed and displayed as an object. The message being portrayed to both men and women is that women are defined under their attractiveness and degree of sexuality, rather than being looked at as an individual.

When woman and girls are presented as objects of sex in the media, significant consequences precede. Some of the negative effects include low self-esteem, depression, negative feelings regarding sexuality and the development of eating disorders. According to Goodman (2005), it was concluded that what really determined how negative the degree of dissatisfaction and eating disorders depended on how much media the women had previously been exposed to.

The constant message sent to woman is that the ideal image of beauty is the represented by the thin models that are used and presented in media which develop into engraved messages. The women had this message accumulated over time in their psyches that exposing them to thin media no longer had an impact. However, it did remind woman you must be thin in order to be beautiful and socially desirable, a constant pressure to strive towards.

The study concluded that media is a factor in body image and eating disorders. According to Spitzer, Henderson, and Zivian (1999), the images of woman presented by the media is increasingly becoming thinner. What was once defined under beauty no longer fits the image of a beautiful woman today. It causes one to become prewired that thinness is associated with how beautiful a woman is.

The media distorts one’s body image. A study by Nichter and Nichter (1991) found that when adolescent girls recognized their ideal body size, it was described as 5’7”, 100 pounds and a size 5. For most girls this is not a healthy or achievable body size. Girls are striving towards an appearance that is unreachable. In order to obtain the extreme thinness that exist with most models and actors today, a woman must go beyond the alternative measures of just dieting and exercising.

The alternative measures lead to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which have dangerous and if not treated life threatening consequences. Tiggeman and Miller (2010), looked into the effects media has on body images in adolescent girls. The study controlled the media to just magazines and the internet, with more of a focus on the internet.

The study involved 156 Australian female high school students who were asked questions to measure their exposure to media and their body image satisfaction. It was conducted that both reading magazines and exposure to the internet had a significant correlation with a greater weight dissatisfaction and influence of media through the internet and magazines. Although the exact location could not be concluded exactly where on the internet this negative influence was taking place, a look into social networking sites proposed a negative effect to girls and dissatisfaction with their body image. Furthermore, television also can also affect women and their body image.

According to Stankiewicz and Rosselli (2008), 76 % of female characters on television were below the average weight of women. Various types of media exist that takes form to affect girls and woman. Media sets examples of what is beautiful, a beautiful woman that is unattainable. The models and actors displayed a rare population of a body type. Models and actors, who do already have a thinner body type than the average women, still require extensive training, dieting, and exercising. In addition the cosmetics, editing and air brushing makes a person appear to have no flaws and transition into an image of someone they are not.

Cross Culture

The effects that media has on body images is a cross cultural span. Not only is the issue of media affecting various cultures of the western world’s perception on body image, but it is also problematic to various other cultures. The definition of beauty varies across cultures and generations. Latin American women are petite with curves; Indian and African females see a beautiful woman as a woman with a healthier weight (Poorani, 2012). While these standards of what defines a beautiful woman still holds true, international media has had a profound influence on definitions of what is beautiful.

According to Swami (2012), there are minimal differences across twenty-six countries and the western countries, were measured on of the ideal female body and body dissatisfaction. This shows how international media is influencing not only western countries, but various others countries regardless of their culture’s view of how women’s and men’s bodies should look. According to Baker (2005), when looking at magazine advertisements, it was found that Caucasian women were more objectified than African American women. Magazines targeted towards a Caucasian audience are more likely to portray women more submissive than magazines targeted towards African American women.

What the Media says

The series “Killing Us Softly” by Jhally and Kilbaourne (2002), looks into what the media is portraying girls and women. The series also addresses some of the tactics and under-lying messages behind the media. The first implication the media tells viewers is the normality of it; what is being view is normal? In reality, it puts a separation between who you are as a person and who we should be.

The media surrounds observers with the idea of female beauty. Media shows this idea of beauty and by spending time and money this ideal can be achieved. When failure comes from not achieving this idea of beauty, a person feels ashamed and guilty with one’s self. It deters from one’s self-esteem and self-confidence. The failure however is inevitable.

The media shows that no imperfections exist. Editing photographs of women removes imperfections such as wrinkles, scars, blemishes, and pores. These imperfections cannot be achieved because they do not exist in a single individual. The media also displays women as objects. Advertisements, where women become a Budweiser can of beer, a video game, a car, etc., allow men to look at women in a sexual manner and to view woman as objects. Other tactics of advertisement will keen into one part of the women’s body or show her upper half but leave out her face.

This dehumanizes women by only showing viewers the model’s body and purposely leaving out her face. The magazines trick people into thinking what is advertised is okay because people are aware of the airbrushing and editing that takes place. However, whether an individual is aware of the truth behind the media editing process exists or not, it still does not justify it. If women are repeatedly being shown unrealistic images of models, surely a major effect will be present.


The large amount of research present in this frightening finding, of how the media so largely affect men and women, is very prevalent in individual’s lives. However, critiques can be offered to the research findings. One critique about the present research is the little education involved in how to resolve and prevent these negative effects from occurring. Little education is present for parents on how to offer education to avert their children from the negative consequences of viewing the media.

In addition, slight education is present to adolescences as they get older and media becomes more widespread in their lives. One major critique with the research is the lack of differences between ethnicities. In addition to various ethnicities, different types of media are used to target diverse audiences. Research does not provide a cross-culture stance to the problem. Another critique in the research is the age groups typically used. The studies looked into mostly the effects of college age students and adolescents, testing the measurement of media and dissatisfaction with their body.

The research does not suggest the varying affects with different age groups. The research seems to stay on a very surface level, rather than going deeper into the issue that is so concerning and does significantly affect individuals. Another critique across the various studies is the lack of knowledge on more of the under-lying messages, and what the media wants the viewers to think. Critiques of the study involve the lack of stance from a Christian world view.

The research did not incorporate a view of Christianity or how different beliefs in religion or a faith would hinder or help in their dissatisfaction with body image. The Bible says that the body is a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). The body is a temple of God and therefore will always be viewed as beautiful because God has created man kind and all works of God are beautiful. It is also important as individual’s to remember that the body is a temple of God’s and to take care of the body as the temple that it is.

When woman are represented as objects of sex and are dehumanized it is important for woman to not fall into this idea of gaining an accepted, valued view as an attractive woman with appeal by men but through finding contentment and happiness in God’s love and value for one’s self as a person.

Future Research

Although much research has been developed on the effects media has on body image some further research can be suggested. Future research could suggest more education on how exactly it would be beneficial for parents to install in their children not to intake the negative signs of what media is saying about one’s body. In addition with finding research that would be beneficial in education, also creating a longitude study on whether the education to parents and to child has proved to be a positive influence in their lives.

In regards to sexualization of women being viewed as objects in media, further research in how this is directly affecting men. The research suggests the self-objectification of sex is very negative for woman but how does it affect men? It would be interesting to see if violence and aggression is connected between the power men feel they have over women and women being degraded down to an object. In addition, looking at further research into whether an increase in the media portraying woman as objects within the last decade exists. Another aspect of future research would involve looking more into whether there is a difference in dissatisfaction from the media and ethnicities.

Alternative variable to future research would be using older populations of women and men to find age-related differences and looking into any variance between an older population, college and adolescent aged students. Further research in what the under-lying message the media is connecting to their viewers and some of the tactics in getting viewers into buying a certain product.

Another interesting point would be what certain magazines and companies personal views and methods behind their advertisement, and also within the research, looking into reasons behind choosing certain models. A final regards to future research on the arising and concerning issue would incorporate a Christian stand point into the research.


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