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To what Extent does the Media Affect Body Image in Teens and Their Perception of Beauty?

There is no question that the Media has a massive impact on how we perceive ourselves, particularly when it comes to our beauty. From my own experience, I have questioned my own body due to articles in magazines promoting a slimmer body type to various audiences. We shape our opinions through what the media tells us is right and wrong. For instance, women and young girls are judged highly on their weight and appearance, whereas men are judged more on masculinity and muscularity.[1] As the Media is a massive topic, I will focus on looking at magazines, in particular adverts, and how they portray beauty and observe the Medias idea of ‘perfection’. I will also be looking at the effects of exposure to these magazines and adverts to teenagers; one particular focus will be the influences of the Media on Anorexia.

“Low self-esteem contributes to a distorted body image, and the distorted body image can’t be fully corrected until self-esteem issues are reconciled.”[2] If we don’t address the problem (the problem being the Media labelling a certain body type as perfect), then the issue of low self-esteem in women will never stop. Over 90% of people diagnosed with eating disorders are adolescents or young women,[3] so why do young women and adolescents feel the need to go to these drastic measures to stay skinny? While the Media is not the only factor contributing to the rise in Anorexia, it is a significant aspect. It’s no surprise that teenagers are obsessed with thinness and weight loss because the media promotes a skinny figure to women[4] through the constant images of celebrities’ bodies and articles that talk about bettering our lives through our appearance.[5]

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The Media promotes a skinny figure through constant magazines on celebrities’ figures; for example, Star magazine has shown the same front cover advertising “45 best & worst beach bodies”[6] seven times.[7] I believe that this will contribute to women having a negative body image as they constantly compare themselves to the celebrities in these magazines and decide whether they have an “acceptable figure” due to the ones advertised as the “best”. Personally, I think it’s the mix of women’s obsession with celebrities and low self-esteem that creates a negative body image. Approximately one in every one hundred teenage girls may develop an Eating Disorder.[8] Body dissatisfaction is a reoccurring motif, especially in women, as they are constantly exposed to celebrities and advertisements from such a young age.

I had to create a presentation for my peers based on my topic question earlier this year. I decided that I wanted to get real opinions on whether the content of these magazines was suitable for the magazine’s target audience. I gave them four popular girl magazines (Bliss, Mizz, Shout and Look), which girls from 10-17+ were reading. I asked them to order the magazines from the lowest target audience to the highest, basing the order solely on the content of the magazines. Surprisingly, my peers put the magazines in the right order. However, they were still shocked by the audiences that these magazines were targeted at because their content was not appropriate for children of that age.

Bliss magazine,[9] is initially targeted at girls aged 13-17;[10] the class all said that “It was targeted at 16+ because of the ‘Stone’s style solutions’[11] that promote platform heels which aren’t appropriate for girls of 13 years.” Furthermore, Bliss magazine shows an article on ‘Pamper perfect’[12] showing young girls how to get the A-list look ‘without the A-list price tag.’ My peers decided that Bliss magazine is subtlety influencing young girls on how they can better themselves whereas Look magazine[13], which is targeted at girls from 16-34;[14] manipulate girls into changing their body to better themselves. This shows the diversity between magazines targeted at girls below 16 and those targeted at girls above 16. In both Bliss and Look magazine, they use a very slim model to advertise their clothes. Even though Bliss uses a teenage model and Look uses an adult, they both use a particular frame of a woman.[15]

Mizz magazines’[16] target audience is from 10-14 years. Mizz’ articles, in my opinion, are suitable for the target audience because they don’t focus on celebrity lifestyle and focusing on a negative body image. Shout magazines’ seems to focus on females between 10-15 years.[17] However, Shout magazine, targeted at females between the ages of 11-14,[18] shows few articles involving models and looks more at celebrities and real-life stories. As we live in a society, which is more obsessed with how we look rather than what we do, it’s no wonder that women are both mentally and physically abused by the Media. This is a gut feeling of mine based on the content of magazines. In my own opinion, I see more articles congratulating celebrities on losing weight rather than their success in their career.

How the Media advertises products and articles in magazines have a bigger affect on us than we initially think. On average whilst watching television, women come across around 400 to 600 adverts a day.[19] In light of this, if in only 50% of the adverts we see thin models, then even this could negatively affect how we perceive our own body and compare it to what the Media label as “perfect”, which is usually undernourished models. By repetitively using the same figure of the model, this will also stay in the audience’s subconscious mind. This technique of advertising is called subliminal messaging. When subliminal messages are first seen or heard, we are unable to identify what it is. In fact, they may be ignored by the conscious brain and be beyond the level of conscious perception[20].

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As cited in CBS News, a new study by Prof. Naomi Mandel has shown companies that feature normal size women, better known as “plus-size”, are less effective than those that use thin models. It also found that overweight and normal-weight females have lower self-esteem after seeing “plus-size” models in advertisements.[21] I found these results quite interesting as I presumed that women who saw “plus-size” models would have higher self-esteem because they have a similar body to the models in the advertisement. Additionally, Jeremy Kees, a professor at Villanova University, believes that women expect to see beautiful women in advertisements, even if it makes them feel worse about themselves. In one of his studies, Kees found that even though the women felt bad about themselves after looking at the adverts, they evaluated that the brands were selling higher, and those ads which used average size models, their brand’s sales have decreased.[22]

Although, another source reported that women have lower weight concerns after exposure to average and overweight models than after exposure to ultra-thin and even no models.[23] This could be because society would accept women for their body size. After all, the Media believes it’s okay. In my eyes, the Media always promote a very slim figure. Furthermore, a social psychologist’s research has suggested that average-sized models are just as effective as thin models.[24] But what does the public really want to see? Karl Lagerfeld, Head Designer of the Fashion house Chanel[25], said that: “the world of fashion was all to do “with dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women.”[26]

After reading both these studies, I decided to create an experiment heavily influenced by the experiments that the University of Sussex had conducted on self-discrepancy. One of these experiments was to see if advertisements that use models are more effective than those that don’t use any model. Also, I wanted to see if Prof. Naomi Mandel has the correct theory that advertisements are less effective than those that use “plus-size” or ultra-thin models. Additionally, the experiment that claims women have lower levels of weight concern after exposure to average models weren’t conducted on teenagers. I wanted to see if teenagers find adverts with “plus-size” models more or less effective than ultra-thin models. The other experiment conducted on children between 5 and 6 years was to see if a specific body image does affect how we perceive ourselves.

They had three separate groups of girls who were all told the same story; however, one group had images of Barbie, the ultra-thin doll; one group had images of Emme, the average-size doll, and one group had no dolls included. Each girl was then told to fill out a self-discrepancy chart[27] and highlighted the body they thought they had compared to the body they would like to have.[28] This showed that the discrepancy was higher in those that saw Barbie compared to the other doll. This shows a link to what heavily influences girls between what they see and their subconscious minds. The main objective for my experiment was to see whether adverts that use skinny models are more effective on us as public than those that don’t use any model and explore the world of subliminal messaging and how it plays on the subconscious mind.

I wanted to see if this type of advertising really does work. I carried out this experiment twice because I wanted to make sure I had clear and thorough results. I used a group of twenty students between the ages of 14 and 16, of which ten boys and ten were girls. The boys were given adverts targeted at males, and the girls were given adverts targeted at females. Half of each gender was given adverts that feature models of the same sex, and the other half were given adverts that featured only the products and no models. Each person that had the same booklet was all sat on a table, and they would discuss the adverts. As I was walking around, I was listening to what they were asking each other about the adverts shown to them: “What is your opinion of the advert? What is the focal point of the advert? Whom is this advert targeted at?”

I was surprised by the results I got from also the comments I got from both genders. All the girls that had models advertising the perfume in their adverts wanted to lose weight, and out of the 20 girls that took part, 90% overall wanted to lose weight. Many of the girls described the models as “plain” and that “the majority of the models were skinny and blonde.” This was a popular opinion with all the girls, and I wondered why, even though they thought the models looked plain and weren’t envious of them, why did all the girls want to lose weight? One girl gave an interesting point that even though Emporio Armani used Beyoncé Knowles, who is African-American, to advertise their products; they thought that it was unclear of her skin colour and that they might have used a black and white image so that it would open up to a wider audience. This links back to a previous point that companies always advertise a certain model frame to women because they believe it is “perfect.”

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Even though all the girls who didn’t have the models in their adverts had a lower discrepancy, this could be because they might have recognized the adverts from seeing them before, or they could genuinely have low self-esteem. However, the University of Sussex discovered that average size models had no negative effect on body image with women.[29] Even though I had done this experiment on boys, too, I decided not to use their results as I felt they didn’t contribute to any of my products. Also, I wanted to focus on teenage girls and their perceptions of beauty. I was please with how the experiment was carried out and found it was a success with all the participants and the results I received were clear and reliable. However, if I were to carry this experiment out again, then I would do it with adults and also primary school children so then I could compare each set of results with one another and also I would show how our opinions differ as we mature and also, to show who is more affected by the Media’s constant advertise of celebrities and particularly the “size-0” figure.

Also, I wish that I had shown them adverts that used “plus-size” models to see which one gave them a lower self-discrepancy as this would have been more relevant to the objective of my product. When I first started this topic, I realised how much pressure young girls are under to look good through the articles in magazines and the constant need to look at celebrities. After this, I decided to find out if young girls and boys are actually affected by this pressure or if it is just my opinion. So I created a questionnaire[30] and gave it to secondary pupils between 11-16. I wanted to keep the questionnaires anonymous because I know these people, which could have influenced how I interpret their answers.

I don’t regret making these questionnaires; however, I was hoping for more detailed answers. I printed out 100 questionnaires and gave 10 to 10 tutors in my college. I wanted to give them out in tutor because they would have at least half an hour to fill out my questionnaires so they could go into great detail and really think about their answers. However, I had difficulty with my questionnaires and the public doing them. Firstly, I had to print them in black and white to save ink at school; however, the images I used were not clear enough in black and white, which could have affected my results. Secondly, when I received the questionnaires, there was minimal detail. Also, most of the participants were pretending to be funny in their questionnaires and didn’t provide the evidence I needed, so they were invalid. On the other hand, there were questionnaires that I could use that gave detailed answers.

21% of all the results think the Media are the main cause of having a certain figure; however, 27% thought their friends pressured them to fit in with everyone else. However, their friends must get this idea of what is acceptable from somewhere. Could this be from the Media? In my appendix, I have included some tables, including the results from the questionnaires I made.[31] I found the graphs difficult to make, as I wasn’t sure how to break down the categories. Did I do it by year or by gender? The graphs were done on a trial and error basis. However, I felt like they were done correctly in the end. Another study found that 27% of the girls they carried an experiment on felt the Media pressure them to have a perfect body.[32] Even though this shows that other girls in other studies are affected by the Media, it’s not so reliable in my essay as I’m not sure how many girls were asked, how old they were, or where this experiment was carried out in the world.

Eating disorders like Anorexia are caused by a physiological disorder within a person and how they view their own body.[33] The sufferer believes that they are overweight, so they take extreme actions like dieting, fasting and even starving themselves just so they feel what they believe to be ‘beautiful.’ There are many reports; mostly around the time of London Fashion Week, that fashion models have used this technique. However, it’s not only women in the fashion world who suffer from this disorder; other professions like ballet dancers and athletes show a high number of people who have/had Anorexia.[34] Personality plays a big part in eating disorders. People who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa usually are perfectionists[35] and overachievers’. People who suffer from Anorexia work relentlessly towards a thinner body because they feel that this will promise them beauty, success and happiness.[36]

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The victims usually want to feel accepted by society; however, they do not feel valued. Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa are most common in white people in western societies.[37] This shows a direct link to how our society looks at behaviours and expectations of the public compared to eating disorders. In the Western hemisphere, there is a link towards the ethnicity of people with eating disorders; a study in Fiji showed a sudden increase in eating disorders among young women since the arrival of television in 1995 (Fearn, 1999).[38] This also shows a strong link between social and cultural factors. I have seen several ways that the Media can alter teenage girls’ perception of beauty. As I have found, magazines use the same frame of the model to promote clothing and will openly slate people’s bodies if they feel they are not “good enough.”

Also, magazines will always show articles on how girls and women can change or correct themselves to be up to a standard that the Media thinks is acceptable. As humans, it has been known that we always want what we can’t have. Still, is this just a part of our human nature? this will make girls doubt their bodies; even though I found from my own research that girls are not envious of the models in advertisements, they still wanted to lose weight and illustrated they were unhappy with themselves. This was proven through my questionnaires, as 79% of the girls were unhappy with their bodies. Although we as the public may claim to want to see women of normal size modelling products aimed at us, fashion designers in charge decide what we are shown, which could be where the problem is. Referring back to the point that Karl Langerfield claims that “the world of fashion was all to do ‘with dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women’”.

Even though we may openly say that we want to see designers use curvier bodies to promote their range of clothing, or do we as a public secretly see want to see a skinnier frame of model? This links in with a point made earlier about my experiments. Even though all the girls admitted they weren’t jealous of the girl’s frame, they still wanted a lower discrepancy. So are fashion designers, after all, giving the public what they can’t admit to wanting? Also, Diane Von Furstenberg claimed that “To be a model, you have to be skinny.”[39] In conclusion, I have found that it’s clear that there are so many different opinions and that it’s hard to identify the general overview to this question without finding exceptions. I feel positive that I have found that the Media can affect teenagers and their perception of beauty but varies from person to person, as my questionnaires have shown. However, if we are aware of the potential effects, then, in theory, we can find solutions to these issues; surely that is the most important lesson we can take away from this?

  1. as accessed 13/01/2012
  2. as accessed 28/02/2012
  3. as accessed 3/11/2011
  4. as accessed 24/11/2011
  5. See figures 1 and 2 in the appendix
  6. as accessed 15/03/2012
  7. Refer to figures 3 – 9 in the appendix
  8. as accessed 28/11/2011
  9. Refer to figure 10 in the appendix
  10. as accessed 11/11/2011
  11. Refer to figure11 in the appendix
  12. Refer to figure 12 in the appendix
  13. Refer to figure 13 in the appendix
  14. as accessed 29/03/2012
  15. Refer to figures 14 and 15 in the appendix
  16. Refer to figure 16 in the appendix
  17. as accessed 27/03/2012
  18. as accessed 27/03/2012
  19. Dittrich, L. “About-Face facts on the MEDIA” as sited in: accessed 20/02/2012
  20. as assessed 13/03/2012
  21. as accessed 13/02/2012
  22. as accessed 24/03/2012
  23. as accessed 17/11/2011
  24. as accessed 12/12/2011
  25. as accessed 29/03/2012
  26. as accessed 11/03/2012
  27. Refer to figure 17 in the appendix
  28. as accessed 11/03/2012
  29. Ibid as accessed 17/11/2011
  30. Refer to figure 18-20 in the appendix
  31. Refer to figures 21 and 22 in the appendix
  32. “How to love the way you look,” Teen People, October 1999 as cited in: as accessed 12/02/2012
  33. as accessed 3/11/2011
  34. as accessed 3/11/2011
  35. Ibid as accessed 3/11/2011
  36. as accessed 22/03/2012
  37. Ibid as accessed 3/11/2011
  38. Ibid as accessed 3/11/2011
  39.,,20062689,00.html as accessed 13/03/2012

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To what Extent does the Media Affect Body Image in Teens and Their Perception of Beauty?. (2021, Aug 16). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from