Problems associated with women being subjected to images of the ideal body as portrayed by the mass media are quite vast. Every woman wants to feel beautiful in her own skin and comfortable the way that she is. Community support and a diet rich in healthy foods and moderate exercise are the keys to a healthy and happy life. Sometimes, both women and men find it difficult to get the right amount of exercise necessary and to eat foods rich in the vitamins we need for optimum health because of the hectic lifestyle most people live. Constantly being exposed to images of what society views are “beautiful” can have quite a toll on women.
Issues with self-esteem can amount to various types of mental disorders that can have not only an impact on the individual experiencing the issue but also on the society as a whole. Some of the mental disorders that stem from low self-esteem include eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and also body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)”.
One of the “most common mental health problems” is eating disorders (Shipton 2004: 2). Both men and women can develop an eating disorder, but “heterosexual women” are more frequently diagnosed with the disease (4). Although there are varying reasons for why people develop eating disorders, one of the main aspects of the disease is the desire of the individual to be thin. The media portrays thin women as the most desirable and beautiful women, and therefore people want to strive to fit into that role. There are ways to become thin in a very healthy matter, but people with this disease seem to fixate on the food aspect of weight gain or loss.
To shine more light on why our organization feels that eating disorders are linked with the ways that women are portrayed through the media, the following excerpt states:
“With the rapid industrialization and urbanization of large area of the world, previously isolated from Euro-American influence, and with the general globalization of culture, associated with the ever-increasing influence of the mass media, a number of reports of an increasing prevalence of anorexia nervosa have appeared from area previously considered relatively immune to such conditions” (Shipton 2004: 19).
This excerpt proves that exposure to the mass media and, in turn, their take on the ideal body image, has an effect on people all over the world. With the constant globalization of our world, cultures that traditionally never had any problems with body image issues are experiencing the detrimental effects of the mass media’s portrayal of thinness in a positive light. Although changing the way the media portrays women will be a difficult task, it would definitely curb the increase of eating disorders in our society and others around the world who are exposed to the mass media.
There are two main types of the disorder that people with this disease develop if they are concerned about weight loss. The first, anorexia nervosa, is “described as deliberate weight loss, induced and/or sustained by the patient." Anorexia nervosa deals with the “avoiding of fattening foods” and the patients will have body weight that is “maintained at least 15 percent below that expected either because it has been lost or never achieved." Symptoms of this disease include a “body-image distortion with a dread of fatness experiences as an intrusive overvalued idea with resulting self-imposed low weight”. Along with limited intake on food, to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa “one of more of the following should be present: vomiting; purging; excessive exercise; use of appetite suppressant and/or diuretics” (Shipton 2004: 25).
The other type of eating disorder that may be influenced by the mass media’s portrayal of the ideal body image is bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are “closely related, with only the overeating bout as a clear distinguishing factor in bulimia” (Shipton 2004: 26). “Bulimia nervosa has been described as a ‘syndrome characterized by repeated bouts of overeating and an excessive preoccupation with the control of body weight, leading to a pattern of overeating followed by vomiting or use of purgatives'." Symptoms of this disease include a “morbid fear of fatness with a low target weight set." Because the victim of this disease has a goal of being thin, overeating does not seem to fit in well with their plan of action. Therefore, “behavior designed to counteract the effects of [overeating include]: self-induced vomiting, purging, alternating periods of starvation, use of appetite suppressants, thyroid preparation or diuretics” (47).
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Media affects people in different way. Someone may buy that product or someone may diet to look like that model (Shipton 2004: 10). Mental health problems linked to body image issues are not simply limited to eating disorders. Another type of disorder that could be increased by the constant exposure to media’s version of the perfect woman is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is defined in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition) with three criteria. The first is “preoccupation with some imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person’s concern is markedly excessive.” The second criteria is “the preoccupation causes clinical distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” The final criterion for BDD is that “the preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., dissatisfaction with body shape and size as in anorexia nervosa)” (Phillips 2005: 27).
People with BDD feel that there is constantly something wrong with their physical appearance. Being exposed to the media’s portrayal of the perfect woman could have a very strong effect on the way that they view themselves. The image that they see in the mirror can become more and more distorted as the disease progresses, and the media will always have an influence on the progression of this disorder. For instance, someone with BDD who is preoccupied with having the perfect breast size will take their cues on what the “perfect” breast size is from images they see through the media. Unfortunately, people with this disorder may take drastic measures to correct what they feel is a problem, and this could have severe consequences. Thousands of dollars could be spent on plastic surgery to fix a problem that was never really a problem in the first place. Other issues with this disorder could be caused by the constant preoccupation of the individual and an inability to concentrate on other aspects of life that could improve their happiness and self-esteem.
Phillips, Katharine. The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic
Disorder. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Shipton, Geraldine. Working With Eating Disorders: A Psychoanalytic Approach. London:
Palgrave Macmillion, 2004.