Media Image Effects on the Self

Authored by: Daniele Mathras , Katherine E. Loveland , Naomi Mandel

The Routledge Companion to Identity and Consumption

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  January  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415783064
eBook ISBN: 9780203105337
Adobe ISBN: 9781136253522


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This chapter explores some of the inherent complexities of how exposure to media images, such as advertisements using thin, attractive models, affects self-esteem. While conventional wisdom suggests that the prevalent use of thin models makes women feel badly about themselves, this chapter calls this idea into question by exploring how factors such as the extremity of the size of the model and the viewer’s own body size can help determine whether such media effects are positive or negative. Media images define consumers’ worlds by sketching societal ideals (Lippmann 1922) of physical attractiveness (Wertheim et al. 1997) as well as wealth (Shrum et al. 2005). Frequent exposure to such images creates unrealistic perceptions about the prevalence of these norms in society. At present, when more than 60% of women in America are considered overweight (26.9%) or obese (33.7%) (US National Center for Health Statistics 2003–6), while the majority of media images project a thin ideal, it is no surprise that 50% of young women report dissatisfaction with their bodies (Bearman et al. 2006). The resulting dieting behavior can lead to further lowered self-esteem, weight fluctuations, and eating disorders (Polivy and Herman 1995).

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