Impact of the Media
While one must recognize that correlation does not necessarily or immediately prove causation, multiple studies have shown a link between media viewing and distorted body image and/or body dissatisfaction for young, female adolescents both within the United States and throughout much of the developed world (Cusumano and Thompson 2001; Thompson and Heinberg 1999; Tiggemann and Pickering 1999; Maltby, Giles, Barber, and McCutcheon 2005; McNicholas, Fiona, Alma Lydon, Ruth Lennon, and Barbara Dooley 2009). Most models and actresses on television are not representative of the population in terms of body size or weight; many are underweight (Anderson, Huston, Schmitt, Linebarger, and Wright 2001). Girls are bombarded with these distorted images and tend to take them as reality. Even if a child can distinguish that television shows are fiction, she may not realize that the body images projected are fiction, as well. In fact, 35% of adolescent girls named a person from entertainment media, sports, or public life as a role model in one study (Anderson, Daniel R., Aletha C. Huston, Kelly L. Schmitt, Deborah L. Linebarger, and John C. Wright 2001:115). It is apparent that negative body image is an epidemic. Therefore, helping women rebuild their battered body image is an essential part of strengthening society.
Moreover, one experiment showed that certain body types affect young women differently (Smeesters and Mandel 2006). Women who viewed extreme body types, either thin or obese, were more likely to suffer from negative feelings of self-esteem. However, women who viewed body types that were moderately thin or moderately overweight reported higher self-esteem because of upward comparison (Smeesters and Mandel 2006). Additionally, “exposure to moderately thin (but not extremely thin) model has a positive impact on one’s self-esteem” (Smeesters and Mandel 2006:581). One might make the suggestion from this evidence that the media should consider using moderately-sized women in their programming to avoid feelings of self dissatisfaction among young female viewers. This measure would help to extend the definition of beauty to at least healthy but thin women.
Impact of Parents and Peers
Of course, media are not the only proponents of negative body image in female adolescents (Dohnt and Tiggemann 2006; Clay, Vignoles, and Dittmar 2005). While the media may be the largest or most visible perpetuator of negative body images, a female adolescent’s family, friends, and peers often help to reinforce the negativity in her life (Lam, Lee, Fund, Ho, Lee, and Stewart 2009; Clark and Tiggemann 2007). McCabe, Ricciardelli, Stanford, Holt, Keegan, Miller studied the roles of mothers and teachers on children’s body appearance satisfaction (2007). While teacher’s reported minimizing discussion with students regarding the students’ appearance, mothers admitted to being more critical of their daughters than their sons and were vocal about the criticisms, both to the interview and to their children:
In fact, mothers promoted exercise as a means of weight control for girls. Even if this was not overtly stated to the girls, the consistent view of the mothers was that their daughters needed to exercise so that they would become ﬁt, and not become overweight. Even at this young age, mothers are already communicating different messages to boys and girls. (McCabe, Ricciardelli, Stanford, Holt, Keegan, Miller 2007:228)Whenever the mothers commented on exercise for the boys, they intended the boys to exercise to gain muscle rather than lose or maintain weight (McCabe, Ricciardelli, Stanford, Holt, Keegan, Miller 2007:228). One must note that the mothers of these girls were likely indoctrinated with the idea of thinness is beauty and are socializing their children in the same way that they would teach their children about any other aspect of their culture.