The Media And Body Image - How It Impacts Your Self-Esteem
Updated July 29, 2019
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Whether we want to believe it or not the media plays a big role in our lives. It includes magazines, commercials, newspaper, and now social media as well. Even if you manage to avoid all of these things you are still likely to see a billboard or sign along the road as you drive. While media is focused on selling your products, services, and ideas, there is a hidden danger that lurks behind it all. Media is a big factor in helping us form our body image, and with the tactics that they use, it has a negative impact on society. Self-esteem is largely affected by body image and the media.
What Is Body Image?
Put simply; body image is the way that you see yourself. Psychology Today defines it as, " the mental representation one creates [about their looks], but it may or may not bear a close relation to how others see you." But, even though we think that people view us the same way we view ourselves it doesn't mean it's true. Many people that have a bad body image focus on all of their "imperfections" or the things they feel are wrong with themselves. Then, they think that other people are doing the focusing on their imperfections as well. It creates a problem when they think others are constantly focused on their "flaws," even though it isn't true.
Body image in itself is not a problem. Everyone has a way they think they look. The problem comes in when we have a distorted body image, meaning we see imperfections and problems that are not there. This can lead to many complicated problems. For example, many people that suffer from eating disorders believe that they are fat even though they may be underweight in reality.
Body Image And The Media Are Closely Related
Most attention is focused on the connection between body image and the media for women, but the same is true for men. The media usually portrays the same type of men and women. Women in 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, on the other hand, are shown as tall, muscular, and masculine. They have toned physiques that the majority of men do not have. The overall message is that women should look like barbies and men like superheroes.
Why This Hurts Our Self-Esteem
The way that men and women look in the media creates an unrealistic image of what we think we should look like. The problem is that only around 5 percent of society looks like the images that are portrayed in the media. That leaves anyone from the 95 percent that suffers from low self-esteem and low confidence feeling like they don't measure up. The media provides us with the men and women that we compare our bodies with. Are we tall enough? Thin enough? Is our hair the right length, color, and style? The questions go on and on.
As a society, we place too much emphasis on our appearance. The dictionary describes self-esteem as, "confidence in one's worth or abilities." When you see the definition it's easy to see that our looks should not impact our self-esteem, but for the majority of people they do. We want to be the pretty girl or the handsome guy. We want to stand out from the crowd. And, we want to look like the actors and actresses do on TV. When we focus on this and compare ourselves to these unrealistic images, we feel bad about ourselves, and our sense of self-worth drops.
Many studies have been conducted that show the more time we spend viewing the media, the higher the chance that we will experience low self-esteem. One study found that boys that felt pressure and were concerned about their weight were more likely to struggle with depression, drug use, and drinking.
The Lie That The Media Is Telling
The media is showing us images that we cannot possibly live up to. Models, actors, and actresses not only have access to professional makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion designers, and personal trainers, but they are also touched up. Before their images are put out for the public to see their faces are airbrushed to remove any blemishes, flaws, or imperfections. They are photoshopped to look thinner, have a smaller waist, and a larger chest.
Many people do not realize they are trying to look like something that might not even exist in reality. Then, they feel bad about themselves and spend time focusing on something that they will not achieve. The media is lying to us about the way the average person looks. And, it makes us feel like we should look far different from what we do.
The Impact Of Social Media
The use of social media has grown drastically over the last decade. This additional exposure to the media has made body image and the media an even bigger problem. Social media tends to be a highlight reel or an individual's life. People are not posting pictures of themselves after they wake up in the morning. Or, what their body looks like after they have had multiple babies. But, we don't perceive the posts this way. We see the pictures of our "friends and family" when they are at their best and think this is what their life is always like. Then we begin to compare our everyday life to the highlights of their life. This lowers our self-esteem. '
People with low self-esteem spend the most time on social media studies show. It was also found that social media causes people to have lower self-esteem. That means that people already suffering from low self-esteem are indulging in an activity that causes lower self-esteem. It is a vicious cycle.
How To Avoid Low Self-Esteem From Issues With Body Image And The Media
There is good news and bad news. The bad news is we aren't going to turn around the problems with body image in the media overnight. However, there are changes we can make today to improve our body image and self-esteem.
Limit Exposure To The Media
At this point, after all the studies, there is no doubt that body image and the media can negatively impact our self-esteem. Therefore, you should limit the amount of time that you expose yourself to it. Take breaks from social media.Give yourself time away, so you aren't constantly exposed to the message that the media is conveying regarding body image.
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others, Especially In The Media
You will always be unhappy if you are always comparing yourself to others. It's time to stop so you can improve your self-esteem. The majority of the people in the media have been touched up so you cannot compare yourself to something that is not real. And, social media is full of people's best images. So, don't compare yourself to those people.
Physical activity and exercise are good for your physical health and mental health. When you exercise, there are endorphins released in your brain that make you feel happier. When you are happier your self-esteem will be better. And, as your exercise, you will lose weight, build muscle tone, and increase your strength. All of these things will help you to feel better about yourself without comparing yourself to others.
Let It Go And Forgive
Sometimes the reason the 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. But, they don't have to have power over you forever. They will continue to hurt you as long as you continue to give them power over you. But, if you decide to forgive the person that said them and let it go you can move past the hurt.
Get Help From A Professional
Body image and the media can be a serious problem, and it can be hard to overcome. If you are struggling with low-esteem due to body image issues, seek professional help. Psychologists can help you pinpoint the underlying issues, see the impact that the media has on your body image, and help you in your recovery. Find a professional online today to get the help you need.
Take Self-Esteem Issues Seriously
There are a lot of problems in the world today. If you think that low self-esteem is not one of them, you are wrong. A 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. Some groups are acting to try to change the way the media unrealistically portrays people. However, there is no telling when we see a large difference in this happening. But, if you are struggling right now do not suffer in silence, get the help you need. The media is providing us with lies, and it's time we stop letting it negatively impact our lives.