Body Image and the Media

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Why don't I look like the models I see in magazines and on TV?

It is a fact of life that most women cannot look like models or movie stars. The average model is taller and weighs 23 per cent, or almost a quarter, less than the average woman who is 5'4" and weighs 148 lbs.

Models spend a large percentage of their days engaged in activities that manipulate or shape their bodies, and photographs of models are almost always modified or enhanced in some way. Not even the models look like their fashion photographs.

Female models have been getting thinner and thinner over the past 100 years. A century ago, the ideal body shape for a woman was fleshy and full-figured. And while models are getting thinner, more women and younger girls are feeling unhappy about their own natural body shapes.

What does the media have to do with how I feel about my body?

Many things contribute to how a woman feels about her body. Peer pressure, family history, education, stage of life, and ethnic, cultural and social status all play important roles in how people feel about how they look. The media can also influence body image.

We often think that being thin or slender brings health, happiness and success. However this is not necessarily true. The media plays a role in this perception, as it almost always ties success, acceptance and happiness with being thin and white.

Studies show that exposure to images of the beauty ideal increases dissatisfaction, depression and anger and lowers self-esteem in both women as well as men. When women are dissatisfied with their own bodies, pictures of ultra-thin, mostly white models in magazines, TV, etc., can reinforce those negative feelings. These images can make them feel worse about their size, the colour of their skin, or other physical features.

How can this affect my health?

In Canada today, between 80 to 90 per cent of women and girls are unhappy with the way they look. This can lead to serious health problems such as:

  • Unhealthy dieting: Girls are starting to diet younger than ever before, sometimes starting as early as 5 or 6 years old.
  • Taking drugs to lose weight: Some women try to lose weight by smoking, or by taking diet pills and other kinds of drugs to suppress their appetite.
  • Depression and other mental illness: Some women can develop depression and other kinds of mental illness when they do not measure up to the media's image of beauty.
  • Disordered eating: One out of 10 girls and women develops disordered eating behaviours such as anorexia, or bulimia. These diseases can have serious long-term health consequences on women's health, leading, in some cases to death.
  • Unnecessary surgery: Any surgery brings about risk. More and more healthy women with normal body shapes are getting cosmetic surgery. This includes breast implants, collagen injections and liposuction ( surgical removal of local fat deposits especially for cosmetic purposes by applying suction through a small tube inserted into the body , or to remove body fat) to name a few.

What can I do to feel better about my body?

It is important to remember the unreal ways women are shown in the media. This can help you to accept yourself and feel better about your body. Other strategies include:

  • Recognizing how and when physical appearance is falsely linked to being healthy, happy and successful.
  • Joining a support group for women that celebrates the range of women's natural body shapes, and to stop unhealthy dieting.
  • Becoming involved in a group pressuring media to change the way they show women.

Several magazines have started recently which include larger women models. As these publications become more successful, they put pressure on the mainstream media to change the ways they show women.

However, we still have a long way to go. There are still very few black women, women of colour, aboriginal women and disabled women working as models, actors, reporters, television anchor people, and other major roles in mainstream media. This can have long-term impacts on girls and women who see women in the media as their role models.

Where can I go for more information?

Revised April 2013.