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We all know that television and the advertisements they depict mislead us. However, only about 12 percent of Americans interviewed acknowledged that the media actually has any influence in their lives. We constantly succumb to deceptions time and time again without being able to stop ourselves. The media sets standards for us because it is a powerful conveyor of socio-cultural ideals that appeal to us (Donht and Tiggeman, 2006).
What we dream about love, lifestyle among many others largely come from the media and the other, albeit small percentage comes from our family, friends and our self-conceived expectations. Some People who work behind the scenes on this addictive commercials or programs are very witty and crafty, usually with knowledge of the human psychology and are able to project their own notions in our mind, towing with our imagination and ultimately driving their points’ home, usually creating a desire in us to emulate or to purchase.
They spend most of their time selecting images, words and even songs that they associate with their products stirring predetermined emotions in us with optimum outcomes. The messages are plastered in our subconscious mind and their repetition leads to brainwashing.
The media, undoubtedly, is a very strong tool with a lot of potential for good or bad. Media advertises and promotes a wide range of information that is received by the subconscious mind. Most images portrayed are of blemish free, skinny women who have become the center of all adverts.
These images drive ordinary women into spending big in a bid to match the standards set on the advertisements. As the media appeals to the subconscious, it is hard for the person to know that she has been brainwashed to desire what she sees rather than be content with the natural beauty characterized by flaws. It is in the nature of human beings to desire to be better in order to be appealing to their peers who they are in constant comparison with.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) approximates that 7 million girls and women in the United States struggle with an eating disorder compared to 1 million boys and men. She further puts the average weight of the American woman as 140 pounds and the average height as 5’4″. In sharp contrast, the average weight of the American model is 117 pounds and the height is 5’11”. Fashion houses prefer thin models (Hesse-Biber, 1996) hence 98 percent of American models are thinner than the average American woman.
Even children under 10 years of age say that they feel better about themselves when they are on a diet whereas, 91 percent of college students have attempted to diet at one point. Dieticians say that almost all people on a diet will eventually regain their weight within 1 to 5 years and will attempt to diet again in future. These statistics are alarming and point towards a systematic brainwash in effect in the society.
Researchers argue that what women perceive of their body has no bearing whatsoever with what it actually is. Cash (1990), states that the body image is whatever women perceive of themselves and what they imagine others perceive of them. Only one fifth of women in the United States are comfortable with their outlook and nearly half of the women population overestimates their actual weight and the rest think they are too skinny.
The thin ideal has been projected extensively to the point that stars who are larger than the set ideal have their images contorted using computer programs to depict them as ’ more beautiful’. For example, actress Kate Winslet was made to look much thinner and shapelier for a recent cover appearance on GQ magazine.
The thin concept (Wilcox and Laird 2000) has led to the increase in magazine articles touching on dieting and weight loss issues promoted for the aesthetic beauty rather than for health benefits. There are a number of scales nowadays that measure body image in comparison to self-esteem. All the scales e.g., The Shape and Weight Based Self-Esteem Inventory depict a growing dissatisfaction in women regarding the way they look and this has affected their self-esteem outcome.
Societal and internal pressures, stemming from the internalization of ‘the thin ideal’ are the leading causes of women insecurity. This occurs due to people comparing themselves and their partners to the images on the media advertisements. The society has been systematically brainwashed into thinking that people can only be judged by their physical outlook. This has put enormous pressure on women in particular as they are the ones that are judged harshest.
They have been the object of beauty in society from time in memorial but a shift has occurred that nullified the parameters of inner beauty that were being used traditionally and has put emphasis on the physical beauty. In Fiji, the installation of satellites led to a drastic change in values and body image among girls with an average age of 17 barely years later. They abandoned their traditional societal norms or modified them to reflect those of the western world.
The trend was only starting to take root in Iran before the government placed a ban on western television reversing the trend. They required women depicted in public media to be fully covered and this explains why there is more satisfaction about body image among Iranian women in comparison to their American counterparts (Dorian, 2002).
A study conducted in Missouri Sate University involving 36 college females between the ages of 18 to 25 (2009), using the Franzoi Body-Esteem Scale and two sets of thin models and those of normal body size, came to the conclusion that women were not affected by the images they saw in the slides that were shown. They concluded that women whose self esteem was negatively affected already had the notion and that the media images did not in any way influence the change.
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However, Lin and Kulik (2002) found out that the proliferation of the thin ideal had a very negative impact on body image satisfaction among many other studies conducted with the same conclusion: that there was a correlation between media images of slender women and the self-worth of women.
As a control study, a sample of college students was exposed to images of models that had features of an average woman, as compared to their counterparts who were exposed to thin models. The study concluded positively that self esteem of women who viewed models of average build were not as negatively affected as did those of the sample that viewed thin women.
Having this misconception, largely proliferated by the media, has led to destructive behavior in women striving to match the ‘standards’ set in their subconscious. Some of the behaviors lead to dieting and eating disorders that affect the anatomy of women some with serious often detrimental consequences.
It is stated that only one tenth of the Australian women population has never resulted to dieting at any one point in their lives. This statistic is very alarming as the dieting practiced does not reflect the scientifically accepted optimum required for the normal operation of the human body. The psychological damage resulting from failure of such diets is enormous, let alone the physical ones.
The media focus on women beauty nowadays is distorting as it is depicted as comprising skinny features that are unnatural in look. These images are plastered in a myriad of magazines, movies, television and others mostly purchased by insecure women often leading to self pity.
These women are projected by the subconscious as being role models that they should aspire to match, hence unorthodox methods are applied. In a bid to conform, women result to eating less and other unhealthy eating habits. Statistically, the average model twenty years ago weighed 8 percent less the normal woman; however, a difference in trends has further forced this figure to 23 per cent less. The pressure is therefore more today in comparison to some years back.
Women have no control over the brainwash they are subjected to by the media. This is simply because the projection of standards hard to match is essential for the growth in profits of the cosmetics and beauty industry. Consequently, these insecure women are most likely to purchase beauty products, designer clothing and dieting supplies, usually pills.
This is further compounded by the entry of the diet product industrial players who capitalize on the self-pity attitude already instigated by the cosmetic industry on insecure women. The media is the tool used to further these notions innocently or otherwise in a bid to capitalize on the massive advertisement budgets set by those industries. The diet industry that is smaller than the cosmetics industry is estimated to be worth over $100 billion a year in the US alone.
The growth in this trend, argued by researchers, also reflect depression, low self-esteem and unhealthy eating habits already existing among the women population and hence they result to looking at these models further compounding their misery.
The media is a part of our daily lives and although it has a negative effect on the lives of many, we cannot live without it as it is a source of recreation and important lessons. The proliferation of the thin ideal among women can largely be attributed to a declining standard of societal influence on the young people thus creating a vacuum that the cosmetic and diets industries prey on. The society in general and parents in particular have taken a back seat in the responsibility of shaping the younger generations.
The adverse effect of this negligence is witnessed in declining self-esteem, depression, hopelessness among others. Psychologists advocate that parents be involved in shaping the lives of their children from an early age sheltering them from the adverse effects of the media and teaching them to hold themselves in high-esteem.
Cash, T. F. and Pruzinsky, T. (1990). Body Images Development, Deviance, and Change. New York: The Guilford Press
Donht, H.K. & Tiggemann, M. (2006). The contribution of peer and media influences to the development of body satisfaction and self-esteem in young girls: A Prospective study. Developmental Psychology, 42, 929-936.
Dorian, L. and Garfinkel, P. (2002). Culture and body image in western culture. Eating and Weight Disorders, 7(1), 1-19.
Hesse-Biber, S. (1996). Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity. New York. : Oxford University Press
Lin, L and Kulik, J. (2002). Social comparison and womens body satisfaction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 24(3), 115-123.
Wilcox, K. and Laird, J. (2000). The impact of media images on womens self-esteem: identification, social comparison, and self-perception. Journal of Research in Personality, 34(2), 278- 286.