It is fairy typical for females to begin becoming body-conscious and unsatisfied with themselves between the ages of 9 and 11. This typically happens because of outside influences, not because the girl simply wants to be unhappy with her body. Within the past 25 years, there has been an increase in these outside influences, coming in the form of media and pop culture.
In this day and age, girls are exposed to music videos, TV shows, advertising, and magazine articles that all contain women with borderline anorexic body types more than anything else. Because of this, it is almost impossible to neglect the absolute possibility of media affecting the body image of young girls. Pop culture and media affect the way that girls see their bodies and, in turn, how they treat them.
The average American youth typically spends an average of 7 hours watching TV, and with that there is an average of 14 minutes of commercials per hour. This means that young girls are being exposed to at least 98 minutes of commercials per day, not including other traditional advertising outlets, such as magazines. In fashion magazines especially, a very specific type of message and persona is advertised: One’s appearance must be beautiful, and beauty is only attainable with qualities a, b, and c.
According to Working Sneddon and Pamela Spires — authors of Body Image: A Reality Check — the standard woman in advertisements is as follows: tall, thin, white, and having the weight criteria of anorexia — 15% below average body weight. This can cause major damage to a young girl’s body image since half of middle school girls read popular fashion magazines. Body image and self-worth plummet for young girls during puberty, and cultural influences such as advertisements with unrealistic body ideals can lead to eating disorders and other issues.
Body dissatisfaction isn’t strictly limited to teens and adults; it actually begins to occur at a very young age. By fourth grade, 80% of children have put themselves on diets. This is caused by a mixture of cultural influences — such as social media, advertising, music videos, and television shows. With the now almost-guaranteed access to such media, it is not surprising that children in the past 20 years have grown more and more displeased with themselves than ever before. After watching a popular television show with thin leading actresses, a group of 10-year-old girls said that they felt more dissatisfied with their bodies than before. When just one episode of a TV show can affect a 10-year-old in that way, something has got to change.
Models and actresses commonly broadcast across the media portray an unrealistic and unattainable body image for women across the country. Through the years, the average weight of models has gone down from 8% less than the average woman to 23% less. This leads to people being self-conscious and unhappy with their bodies. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders affect more than 5 million Americans each year.
Many women are blind to the fact that these models are airbrushed and dangerously underweight; all they see is the seemingly perfect quality of life that the actress or model obtained from being thin and beautiful. They will go to any length to make themselves look like those models — even if they hurt themselves in the process.
Women everywhere need to understand that no matter how happy that model or actress may appear, it’s an act. Unrealistic and unhealthy body types do not make someone happy or superior. “It is a genetic impossibility for 90% of American women to make their bodies look like the bodies of Miss Americas and fashion models — no matter how much they diet or exercise or how much plastic surgery they have.”¹ Media should not have the power to affect how women, or anyone, feel about themselves.
¹Sneddon, Working and Pamela Shires. Body Image: A Reality Check. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1999. Print.