Media Influences on Adolescent Body Image

It stands to reason that the media influences our worldview and self-perception. Some of these influences are more subtle and work on one's sense of self-worth, while others are more obvious, with the media often providing explicit directions on how to achieve the thin ideal shown. Fictional and real-world stories are selectively edited, cast, and reported in ways that impact our reactions. The seamless and idealized worlds depicted in print and cinematic media, in general, but not always, provide an unrealistic but enticing benchmark against which to compare oneself. This norm gets ingrained in our everyday lives through repeated exposure and is eventually taken for granted.

What are Media Influences on Adolescent Body Image?

The use of all forms of media, but especially television and the Internet, among children and teenagers has skyrocketed in recent decades. This has prompted worry, as recent studies have linked excessive media usage for enjoyment (i.e., non-educational material) to lower psychological functioning in children and adolescents. However, low to moderate media use may have good implications for kids. Body image, or a young person's perception of their physical attractiveness, is one sign that has been thought to be negatively affected by media use, even though there is some evidence for this being a bidirectional link. This chapter reviews the theoretical frameworks that help explain this connection and the empirical research investigating the links between media use and self-perception in young people.

The Media and its Importance to Adolescent Girls

Several publications written for the general public have come out in the past two decades with the central thesis that adolescent girls have internalized harmful media portrayals of women. It has been stated that young women's self-perception and body image are negatively impacted because of the prevalence of media depictions of excessively slim women.

Adolescents are especially susceptible to the media's influence since they still develop their sense of self. Adolescents often go to their peers, rather than their parents, for guidance and support. Most people strive to conform to what they consider the "norm" among their peers and the larger culture. Adolescents tend to think more abstractly and rely on deductive reasoning rather than direct observation. Adolescents may believe that social acceptance depends on their ability to achieve a certain idealized behavior or appearance. Teenagers often have the "imaginary audience" feeling, where they feel as though they are always being watched. They may feel pressured by this idea to maintain a particular appearance, which is often determined by the media.

Body Image, the Media, and Adolescent Boys

The media's damaging effect on young people's body image and self-esteem was previously thought to be limited to young women. However, several studies on adolescent boys' body image and self-esteem over the previous decade show that young men today are more likely to be unhappy with their physical appearance. One-third of the men who responded to a 1997 survey by Psychology Today indicated that looking at muscular male magazine models made them anxious. Recent research found that college-aged men who examined images of ideal male bodies were less positive about their bodies. The media's influences on teenage boys may be the same as those on teenage girls.

Ethnic, Racial, and Cultural Differences and the Media

One's body image determines how much of an impression the media makes on them. Research shows that people of different races and ethnicities have different perspectives on what constitutes an attractive physique. According to studies, African-American women show less desire to lose weight and less unhappiness with their bodies than white women. The correlations between risk variables and symptoms of eating disorders were similar for African-American and white college women

However, an endorsement of risk factors and symptoms was significantly lower for African-American women. Black adolescent girls with the same weight as white girls were more likely to report that their peers and loved ones saw them as slim. Anxiety about one's appearance appears to peak at a different age for different races. It has been claimed that the peak for white teen females begins in adolescence and continues into young adulthood, but for black teen girls, it peaks in early adolescence and then declines.

Unfortunately, the racial makeup of the white participants in these investigations was not reported. A study found that non-Latina white girls experienced a higher decline in self-esteem from eighth grade forward compared to black girls. More research is needed to identify the protective elements (such as family, culture, or community norms for an ideal female form) that protect African-American adolescent girls from the slim images they see.

The media and prevention of body image problems in adolescents

As a result of the difficulties adolescents face with their body image and self-esteem, several studies have attempted to develop educational programs to combat these issues. The "media literacy" component of these programs is intended to protect its participants against the potentially harmful effects of excessive exposure to the media. Students are taught in these courses that media images are often airbrushed and digitally manipulated to provide the impression of perfection and that claims made in advertising are often untrue.

By including such a piece in the school curriculum, students may develop immunity to the harmful effects of media exposure by learning to approach it with confidence and awareness. So that they might become informed consumers in the future, students are typically given homework assignments to watch ads and read magazines as part of this component.


In order to counteract the well-documented negative effects of media on children (including teen risk behaviors like substance use, sexual activity, and violence), it will likely be necessary to intervene on a societal level in order to influence the entertainment industry's portrayals of adolescents and embed pro-social messages about the diversity of body sizes and shapes. The remedies proposed for the negative effects of television, which range from family and school-based interventions (such as parental supervision and media literacy training) to consumer pressure on the entertainment industry to social policy (such as more rigid constraints on programming), appear insufficient in substantively resolving the problem despite their theoretical appeal and promise

Updated on: 15-May-2023


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