Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Introduction to Adolescent Influences

Over the next several days, I'm going to post sections of my thesis. I had a request to see it, and I figured I might as well post it here. It's about negative body images in the media and the programs that work to combat the negativity. Because the paper was long, each post will be one major section of the paper. Today's post is the opening section.

In 2009, American children and adolescents between the ages of eight and eighteen watched more than forty hours of television per week (Kaiser Family Foundation 2006). This information would suggest that television would have a significant influence on children, particularly when considering that children only spend around thirty hours a week in the classroom (assuming a six-hour instructional period for five days a week). As Tiggemann and Pickering (1996) state, “it is difficult to believe that a medium which gets so much exposure will not have an influence on the minds of young women” (202). The rest of the time outside of school, sleep, and television is spent with friends and family, two important peer groups in an adolescent’s life. Many television shows portray women who are unrealistic at best and air-brushed at worst. Female adolescents tend to internalize these messages and attempt to become like the unhealthy women. Although the media have played a major role in creating a deficit in the self-esteem of female adolescents, it is possible to rebuild positive self-esteem through workshops, programs, educational tools, and familial support to remind young girls that beauty can be redefined.

Definition of Terms: Self-Esteem and Body Image
The definition of “self-esteem” as used in this paper will incorporate two specific terms in a sociological context: self-esteem and body image. Random House Dictionary describes self-esteem as “a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself”; however, such a definition is too broad for the scope of this paper. Merriam Webster describes body image as “a subjective picture of one's own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others,” which is not quite broad enough. Because self-esteem is a measure of one’s entire self-worth, it encompasses body image, an important factor for determining how media and other groups affect the self-esteem of female adolescents. Therefore, the definition of “self-esteem” will refer to “a subjective interpretation of oneself (physically and cognitively), determined at least in part by noting the reactions of others and internalizing such outside influences.”

Introduction of Theory: Symbolic Interactionism
Two major concepts from symbolic interactionists heavily influence the research of this paper: the definition of the situation and significant symbols. William Isaac (better known as W.I.) and his wife Dorothy Thomas proposed the definition of the situation, or Thomas Theorem, that if a person perceives a situation to be real, it is real in its consequences. In Don Quixote, the lead character reads novels about heroics and chivalry, believing every fictional act to be true. Because he believes them to be true, he then believes that he, too, can achieve such feats and drives himself mad by completing various quests. George Herbert Mead conceived the idea of significant symbols, which are symbols that create a specific similar response from various people. Language is a critical significant symbol. For instance, if a person screams “Duck!” everyone in the area will cower and look around them for a flying object. If the screamer has saved a person, they will be thanked. If the screamer was simply yelling for no purpose, they will be admonished. Similarly, in this context, if female adolescents perceive that beauty (meaning thinness) will lead to happiness, popularity, and love, they will go to great lengths to attain the beauty.

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