Media Monday: A Critical Comparison

Snow Xiaochun Wang, TEFP Dietetic Intern

Body image refers to how an individual perceives his or her own body and appearance. It is a well-established fact that mass media provides attitudes of beauty and beliefs about weight, which has a significant influence on society’s aesthetics of body image. Mass media’s portrayal of body image is often unrealistic, resulting in individual dissatisfaction, and it is related to an increasing rate of eating disorders and weight-control behaviors, especially among women and adolescents. The ideal body image conveyed by mass media has a larger influence on younger adolescents, who are easily influenced and more vulnerable than adults, therefore resulting in anorexia and/or bulimia. For example, the clothing store Victoria Secret, displays all their products with sexy slim models targeting teens and adults. The ad tries to associate beauty and confidence feelings with the product.

Television is a major type of mass media, which has a powerful impact on society’s adopted attitudes and behaviors. The majority of “ideal” body images are conveyed during adult drama time allocations. For example, in Desperate Housewives, each female character was assessed as a beautiful, sexy and slim figure (  The strong emphasis of thinness in this show will have a impact on the women who watched it. For male characters that are husbands of the women in this episode, most of them are muscular, fit and attractive. This series will affect male viewers by causing them to think that this type of body image will attract women; therefore they will increase their effort to build body shape and stay lean. Another TV series The Middle is a family-oriented adult comedy. The characters in the series are parents with three kids at different age groups, from pre-school to teen. The story is suitable for both teens and parents to watch. In this show, the body images of parents are an average-sized, typical middle-aged man and woman, and the children are neither too fat nor too skinny. In addition, they have lots of scenes to encourage exercise, e.g. marathon prize-giving event, bicycling and playing basketball. Compared with two series, The Middle depicts more realistic, encouraging, and appropriate body images. During adult drama, a high frequency of advertisements (90%) involved slim, sexy, and attractive body image. Age groups influenced include teens,youngadolescents and adults,especiallyfemales who are more susceptible to feel the pressure to be thin. The type of television program determines the type of commercials aired during the allocated time slot.
Mass media has a powerful influence on food consumption and the ideals of body image adopted by society.The likelihood that television audiences will model the behaviors exhibited by televised media streams is high, as a result, it is important to sustain and support beneficial information about healthy eating and exercise. All the viewers from different age groups should increase their awareness through accurate and effective judgments on the televised body images of unrealistic physical beauty. In addition, parents should also pay attention to the types of television programs are exposed to their children, especially teens, as well as become fully aware of all the eating behavior information presented through the television.