Perceptions of Body Image – Is the Media to blame?

I have decided to write my Blog this week on something that I know to be a problem. Whether it’s a developing problem in the last few years, or if it’s always been around us; but not really noticed?

I’m going to explore the possible reasons why perceptions of body image has changed over the last ten years, and what impact this has had; if any on society. Why having the “perfect body” is being portrayed by the media, and at what lengths do people go to too achieve this? Also what pressures this creates to our younger generation; even children, and what impact this has.

Body Imaging has never been a problem, until now; or has it? Marilyn Monroe (1) and Bette Davis (2) were both glamorous movie stars back in the day, both were hugely successful and both had curvy figures; something that seems to be frowned on today.



It wasn’t about what dress size they were, as long as you were healthy, fit and happy. But it appears that even during the 20’s body image and airbrushing has played a huge part on the golden screen, and has deceived the public for decades; Hollywood’s biggest secret.

Beautiful people  are those who signal to have a high mate value. Youth, facial proportions and sexual maternity are all qualities that women should possess. (Cunningham et al, 1986). Where’s in men, woman look for strong features; such as a chiselled chin, dominant but friendly, and are able to provide for his off spring. (Cunningham et al, 1990) cited in Hassebrauck. M. (1998). The visual process method: A New Method to Study Physical Attractiveness, Evolution and human behaviour, 19, 111-123, doi: 10.1016/S1090-5138(98)00002-6.

Early Airbrushing (Betty Davis)

This study seems to focus more on visual attractiveness, rather than looking at what is attractive in people. Attractiveness cannot be measured just by looking at someone. I have known visually pretty people in my life time, but have hearts so cold you could freeze ice. What is attractive isn’t your appearance but your soul. “The best and most beautiful thing in life cannot be seen, not touched, but are felt in the heart” [Hellen Keller (1880-1968)].

Is the Media enforcing the perception of beauty to society, or are they products of our own expectations? Regardless of who should get a slap on the wrist, we all need to realise that this projection of perfection isn’t natural and believe me certainly isn’t Normal.

We are unknowingly creating a social normal that this is how you should look. No wonder why eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are on the increase.

Ex-model Frail Jeremy Gillitzer has suffered from anorexia for 25 years. (

In the US a survey was completed on 2,500 school girls aged between 13- 18 which found that over three quarters wanted to lose weight, and two thirds had dieted in the last year to lose weight. (Whitaker et al., 1989., cited by Wykes. M., Gunter. B., The media and Body image: if looks could kill.  Retrived from There is a misconception that only females are suffering from eating disorders. Between 10-25% of people who suffer from eating disorders are men, and the numbers are rising. (Retrieved from (20/10/2011).

The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) showed guidelines on eating disorders, that 1.6million people in the UK were affected by an eating disorders in 2004 and 180,000 (11 per cent) of them were men. (Retrieved from (20/10/2011)

David Beckham advertising Armani

I personally blame TV reality shows such as “The only way is Essex”, and glossy magazine’s which advertise beauty to sell their product. Young kids idealise these people. We should be inspiring our children to know individuality is unique and beauty is from within; not out of a bottle. It’s learning to love ourselves for who we are, not what we pretend to be. The media needs to be penalised for printing foggy perceptions, and as a nation we need to realise the truths and stop being so self obsessed with image.

To finish two quotes, sourced from:

Beauty?… To me it is a word without sense because I do not know where its meaning comes from nor where it leads to. ~Pablo Picasso.

Plain women know more about men than beautiful ones do. But beautiful women don’t need to know about men. It’s the men who have to know about beautiful women. ~Katharine Hepburn.


12 thoughts on “Perceptions of Body Image – Is the Media to blame?

  1. Eating disorders have long been recognised as an issue long before media involvement. As far back as the 1200s religious martyrs starved themselves to prove they were worthy of sacrifice, and later reports of anorexia sufferers included that it was a sign of witchcraft and they were burned at the stake. The first case of anorexia being documented as an illness was reported in the 1800s, where a doctor described a young girl’s heightened anxiety over food and how this lead to her refusal to eat. This he labelled ‘starving girl syndrome’, which would later be recognised as anorexia. However, it is true that as media rose, anorexia soon followed. The 1940s saw a steady rise in cases of this ‘without appetite’ disease (an = without, orexia = appetite/desire), until it reached a peak during the 1980s and was referred to as the ‘disorder of the 80s. Since the 8os, incidences of the illness have been slowly but surely rising, and the age of onset falling. It cannot be a coincidence that the mass media’s ideology of ‘thin ideal’ and the constantly changing definition of beauty seems to coincide with the rapidly decreasing waistlines of young women and models. The media is not to blame for anorexia, but neither is it blameless.

    If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? Well, she would have been the paintbrush.
    Dawn French

    Information on the history of eating disorders can be found at:

    Statistics and government reports on anorexia hospitalisations can be found at:

  2. This strive for unattainable ‘beauty/perfection’ that some people seek can certainly be attributed to the media influence. The media has drastically altered cultural idealisations by portraying false representations of body image in adverts, magazines and even on toys (e.g. Barbie), this could be the cause of fear of being unattractive/overweight.
    An example of a strong emphasis on the value of beauty and appearances (for women) comes from a multi-million pound beauty industry, which flourishes on the dependence of consumer’s reliance on quick-fix cosmetics which ‘promise’ to improve one’s appearance- for example Anti-Wrinkle creams (Kilbourne 1994).
    Evidence to support the negative effects of media comes from Hamilton and
    Waller (1993), they examined the influence of media by exposing a set of eating-disordered women and a set of non-eating-disordered women photos of idealised female bodies, which were represented within women’s fashion magazines. The non-eating-disordered participants were not affected by the photos but the eating-disordered participants were found to over estimate their body sizes more after the exposure.

    Hamilton, K., &Waller, G. (1993) Media influences on body size estimation in anorexia and bulimia An experimental study. doi:10.1192/bjp.162.6.837

    Kilbourne J. (1994) Still killing us softly: Advertising and the obsession with thinness. In: Fallon P, Katzman M, Wooley S, editors. Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders. 395–419. New York: The Guilford Press

  3. Women stereotypically associate thinness with positive attributes such as intelligence, perfectionism, and self-discipline, also it seems to promise attractiveness, health, and personal as well as professional power (Singh, 1993). Contrary to popular belief he also reported in his study that men don’t see thin female figures with low waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) as the most attractive. Evolutionary theorists explain it as female body shape, largely determined by fat distribution, reliably conveys information about normal hormonal profile, reproductive age and health, and is associated with proximate psysiological mechanisms regulating fecundity. As it was also mentioned in the blog that beautiful people are those who signal to have a high mate value. It is definitely true that media has a huge power on our vision of beauty but there is no point of penalising media for printing foggy perceptions. The only option is to trust our common sense and appreciate individuality.

    Singh, D. (1993). Is thin really beautiful and good? Relationship between waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and female attractiveness. Personality and Individual Differences 16(1). 123-132.

  4. In addition to your argument, a study conducted by Becker (1995) found when Fijian girls were exposed to more television, there was a rise in eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Looking at this correlation, we should be concerned about what is being portrayed in the media as, even though we know at our age that looks aren’t everything (although even now, it’s said they get 5 minutes ahead of everyone), young girls of ten and even younger are not aware of this, and the younger a person is when they develop a habit, the harder it is to break.

  5. Nowadays media has a huge impact in people’s lives. To think a bit more to past a normal woman, I mean not that 90/60/90 type, were held as fertility symbol. In these days if you are not in small size dress you are freak. All these eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia usually starts at the beginning of the maturation. At school it is hard, especially when now children are that harsh. Female adolescents think that to make an impression to a young men is to show their outside beauty, but as it was stated in blog you can not see beauty, you can only sense it.

  6. Thank you for all your comments.
    I would argue over exposure of the media is definitely influential, especially on our younger generation.
    Socially it has been more readily available, and perhaps it’s because we see it more now, rather than during the 1800s because it’s now accessible to all.

    Thankfully the government have launched a media awareness campaign, which is targeted at 10-11 years old, educating them on body imagine and self esteem. (My Body Beautiful. Copyright ©.(2003 – 2011)).
    Some of the areas they are focusing on are Speech and body confidence, Media literacy; how the media often alters images, Sports and fitness events and fashion graduates creating designs for more diverse body shapes. (Home-Office, 2011)

    I doubt it will work as a quick fix in clamping out the huge rise in eating disorders. But it is definitely a good start, and will at least get children talking more openly about these issues, rather than becoming victim to them.


    Home-Office. (2011). Body confidence campaign. Homes Office. Retrieved from http://

    My Body Beautiful. Copyright ©.(2003 – 2011). My Body beautiful, body image and self esteem workshop. Retrieved from http://

  7. The idea of the media being responsible for the rise in body image problems, or even the more serious condition of body dysmorphia, a key symptom in eating disorders such as Anorexia/Bulimia Nervosa, and an agent in making them more potent (Grant, Kim, & Eckert, 2002) is a largely circulated theory.
    However, one must look at both sides of the coin. Does the media really have to be ‘responsible’ for the frail self esteems of some readers, when they are not outright telling people to look a certain way, but merely express the views of individual journalists? Or fashion houses in advertising: are they not allowed to picture things the way they want to just because the image of a slim model may make someone out there feel fat? Indeed, our modern culture does view the slimmer woman as more attractive than her rotund counterparts than in Victorian Britain for example, for a number of significant cultural reasons. They viewed women with fuller busts, small waists and child bearing hips to be the most attractive, and even adjusted their clothing to create this illusion (corsets and bustles 1* ). This was because at the time, a woman’s ability to have many children was still seen as a highly attractive trait. This body image preference is still seen today within those of an African Heritage, where child bearing is still an important factor in partner choosing as men tend to prefer smaller hips and slimmer women less. (Malloy and Herzberger 1998). However, as with fashion, views on body attraction changed. From the First World War to the late 1930’s, fashion and by proxy women who suited the fashion, became cleaner, simpler and more importantly, slimmer. A perfect illustration would be of a typical flapper dress 2*. This was mainly due to a general distaste of flair and over the top wealth during a time of great poverty for many people, especially in America during the Great Depression.
    So for modern settings, what is the cultural reason for women being found attractive when slim? Due to increased knowledge of health and exercise, as well as the knock on effect this has specifically in ones sexual performance (one only needs to look in a magazine to see the link between exercise and sex 3*), slimmer women are considered attractive as is appears to have the least body fat and therefore closer to athletic. So should we really blame the media, or our knowledge and idolisation of health?


    Grant, J. E., Kim, S. W. and Eckert, E. D. (2002), Body dysmorphic disorder in patients with anorexia nervosa: Prevalence, clinical features, and delusionality of body image. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 32: 291–300. DOI: 10.1002/eat.10091

    Malloy, B. L., and Herzberger, S. D. (1998) Body Image and Self-Esteem: A Comparison of African-American and Caucasian Women. Sex Roles: a journal of research. 38: 631-643. DOI: 10.1023/A:1018782527302

    1*as found at on Oct 28, 2011
    2* as found at on Oct 28, 2011
    3* as found at on Oct 28, 2011

  8. People used to be attractive when they were bigger because it showed they had money and could afford to eat, but that was a very long time ago. The media influences people’s minds about everything, but body image is something it has a lot of control over.
    The idea of the glamorous girl or glamarous star is something young girls and even boys are exposed to from a young age, meaning every girl will long to be one and every guy will long to be one. It causes an obsession with image so people become obsessed with how they look and what they want. This also causes the judgement of people just for how they look or what the people they are with look like.

  9. When reading this blog, it fasinated me that you had not included the evolutionary factors of attractiveness. Yes media does promote the misconception of beauty and causes series illnesses and insecurities in people, but the fact that mating is found in all animals needs to be viewed. In the chimpanzee family, the alpha male in the group always gets his pick of females through displays of strength and dominance. As well as this, they have a patch of flesh which hangs off their behinds which is used as a way of attracting mates, the bigger being the better. Following up from this, when viewing humans, yes the media does have a huge role in promoting these factors, but why does this affect actually internally effect the decisions of us. A recently produced report from Harvard University shows that women who have low-set eyes in the face, promonent rounded chin and round cheeks actually have the same affect on the male brain as cocaine. This supports that not only the media is to blame, but human evolution in general.

  10. Preferred body image changes vastly over time and across cultures. Rudofsky states that historically most societies have associated plump women with fertility and wealth, especially where food is limited. In addition, a lot of research has shown that other cultures still prefer larger women, such as a study by El Sarag which shows that some African cultures send their women to fattening houses before they are married.
    However, Theander shows that in the last 2 decades the cases for anorexia has vastly increased and this is particularly shown in western cultures. In current Western culture food is mostly plentiful, removing a large contributer to the attractiveness of larger women. However, in his research, Marlowe shows that the preferred waist-to-hip ratio in women for American men is 0.7 which is a relatively curvy figure and signals fertility, so why do girls starve themselves in order to be as thin and flat as possible? I believe this is because of media influence. Bandura explained role models in terms of social learning theory: people see good role models as those who’re wealthy and successful as well as portrayed positively, which can easily fit many current celebrities and models. Bandura goes on to explain that people observe their chosen role models and see their behaviour as positive, and assume them as social norms, encouraging them to adopt that behaviour. For example, one of the arguably most famous models, Kate Moss, is 5’7” and weights 95 pounds, which is 30% below ideal body weight. As an additional point, the influence of the media has increased fastly in the last few decades along with the progression of technology, so that a larger amount of people are subjected to media constantly via television and internet, coinciding with the increase in anorexia rates.

    Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
    El Sarag, M. E. (1968) Psychiatry in Northern Sudan: a study in
    comparative psychiatry. Br J Psychiatry 114:946-948
    Marlowe, F. (2005) Men’s preferences for women’s profile waist-to-hip ratio
    in two societies
    Rudofsky, B. (1972) The unfashionable human body. Doubleday,
    New York
    Theander, S. (1970) Anorexia Nervosa, a psychiatric investigation
    of 94 female patients. Acta Psychiatr Scand

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