The Media And Body Image - How It Impacts Your Self-Esteem
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated December 18, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Whether we want to believe it or not, the media plays a big role in our body image and how we feel about ourselves. We consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to the "perfect" images of people we see in magazines, commercials, films, and social media. If you struggle with your body image, you aren't alone – negative feelings toward our body image is common and pervasive in our current society.
However, with understanding and help you can learn to improve your self-esteem and body image, and start feeling good about who you are, the way you are. This article will cover the connection between body image and the media, as well as tools to promote a healthy, positive body image.
Body Image And The Media Are Closely Related
Our attention is often focused on the connection between the media and body image for women, but the relationship exists for men as well. Women in the media always look polished and together. They have perfect hair and perfect makeup with stunning features. They have a thin waistline and curves "in all the right places." Their legs are long, and they never look frumpy. Men, likewise, are shown as tall, muscular, and masculine. They have toned physiques you rarely see elsewhere. The overall message is that women should look like Barbies and men like superheroes.
The way men and women look in the media creates an unrealistic image of what we think we should look like. Only around 5 percent of society resembles the images portrayed in the media. That leaves 95 percent of people subject to feeling as though they don't measure up.
Many studies have been conducted that show the more time we spend viewing media, the higher the chance we'll experience low self-esteem. One study found that boys who felt pressure about their weight were more likely to have depression and engage in drug use and binge drinking.
Something important to remember, though, is that society’s portrayal of the “ideal” body is continually shifting. For example, in Ancient Greece the ideal body type for women was “full-bodied;” during the Italian renaissance, the “ideal” woman had a rounded stomach and plenty of curves; the American 1990s often featured women who were very thin and lacked substantial curves, with more androgynous features. The point is: don't put so much stock in what the media portrays. You’re beautiful as you are, and only you have the power to tell yourself that you are or aren’t good enough (and you are!).
The Lie That Media Tells
The media shows us images we can't possibly live up to. Models, actors, and actresses not only have access to professional makeup artists, hair stylists, fashion designers, and personal trainers, but their appearances are heavily altered with Photoshop and other digital manipulation tools. Their skin is airbrushed to remove blemishes, their bodies thinned, their chests enlarged, muscles augmented.
Many people don't realize they're trying to look like something that might not even exist. The media is lying to us about the way the average person looks, and it can make us feel like we should look far different from what we do. This only serves to view an unrealistic and negative perception of body types and image.
The Impact Of Social Media
The use of social media has grown dramatically over the last decade, making it easier than ever to compare ourselves to others. Social media tends to be a highlight reel of an individual's life. People rarely post pictures of themselves after they wake up in the morning, or what their body looks like after having children. But we don't often perceive the posts as selective edits. We see the pictures of our social media friends when they're at their best and think it's their normal life. Then we begin to compare our everyday life to the highlights of theirs. This lowers our self-esteem, if we’re not careful and mindful of it.
Studies show that people with low self-esteem spend the most time on social media. It was also found that social media causes people to have lower self-esteem. That means that people already living with low self-esteem are indulging in an activity that causes lower self-esteem. It's a vicious cycle.
How To Avoid Low Self-Esteem From Issues With Body Image And The Media
There's good news and bad news. The bad news is we aren't going to fix the problems with body image in the media overnight. However, the good news is that there are changes we can make today to improve our body image and self-esteem. We’ll cover these below.
Limit Exposure To The Media
At this point, after all of the studies that have been conducted, there's no doubt that body image and the media can negatively impact your self-esteem. Therefore, you should limit your exposure. Take breaks from social media. Give yourself time away, so you aren't constantly exposed to the message the media is conveying regarding body image. If you have to, uninstall social media apps for a while so that it’s not as easy for you to access them. You can also set app limits on your phone, so that after 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or whatever time limit you choose, the app will automatically close once you’ve reached that limit.
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others, Especially In The Media
If you're always comparing yourself to others, you'll generally be disappointed because your self-esteem is going to become dependent on the lives of others, rather than just being dependent on yourself. It's time to stop so you can improve your self-esteem. The majority of the people in the media have been touched up – don't compare yourself to something that isn't real. And social media is full of people's best images, often they’re happiest ones, and it’s rather uncommon to find an image that hasn’t somehow been filtered.
Physical activity and exercise are good for your physical and mental health. When you exercise, endorphins are released in your brain that make you feel happier. When you're happier, your self-esteem will be better. And as your exercise, you'll improve your cardiovascular health, increase your overall energy level, build muscle tone, and increase your strength. All of these things will likely help you feel better about yourself without comparing yourself to others. Just be sure to exercise in healthy ways, and not fixate on it!
Let It Go And Forgive
Sometimes the reason that media and body image hurt our self-esteem so much is because someone in our past made a negative comment about our looks. Despite the old "sticks and stones" rhyme, words do hurt, and your feelings are perfectly valid. But they don't have to hurt forever. They'll continue to hurt as long as you continue to let them. If you decide to forgive and let it go, you can move past the hurt and learn how to accept and love yourself.
Take Self-Esteem Issues Seriously
Negative body image and low self-esteem can lead to other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. The matter should not be taken lightly. Fortunately, some groups are acting to try to change the way the media unrealistically portrays people, and more and more people are embracing their natural selves and sharing their natural selves on social media. If you're struggling with low self-esteem and body issues, get the help you need. The media is providing us with lies, and it's time we stop letting it negatively impact our lives.
Get Help From A Professional
If you feel that you have detrimental self-esteem and body image issues, there’s nothing wrong with asking for some help! Psychologists can help you pinpoint the underlying issues, see the impact the media may be having on your body image, and help you in your recovery. If you struggle with getting to therapy appointments, online therapy can help.
Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy, with internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and many others being particularly effective. In fact, over 300 studies have found that ICBT is more effective in the long-term than in-person therapy, with more clients continuing to experience notable symptom and mental health improvement even three months after therapy ends.
It could be that you're just too busy to squeeze in a commute across the city to see a therapist, or it could be that you're uncomfortable with going to a therapist's office. Whatever your reason is, BetterHelp has online counselors that can assist you with building your body image and overcoming body image issues from the comfort of your own home for a lower cost than traditional therapy. You can find an online professional to get the help you need. Read below for some reviews on our counselors, from people experiencing issues with body image and self-esteem.
"This past year was one of the hardest times of my life and Douglas has been a major part of helping me recover and grow from those difficulties. He has helped me improve my self-image, guide me through issues dealing with work, increase my self-confidence, learn to trust myself more, stand up for myself, and so many other things."
"Shawna is an insightful and caring counsellor, an attentive listener with a focus on practical strategies and techniques. In just a few sessions I feel confident I have the toolkit to manage stress and the negative thoughts that took up so much of my day before. Wish I'd done this sooner!"
It's an amazing feeling when you learn to accept yourself exactly as you are. You're a person of great worth and value. Don't let a poor body image hold you back. Therapists are waiting to help you discover the self-love and fulfilling relationships you deserve- take the first step today.
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