The media’s influence on eating disorders (EDs) is not a new topic for debate. Google “media effects on eating disorders” and you find 3,700,000 results. To argue a glossy fashion magazine or a television show causes an eating disorder is unfair. No one knows the actual cause (s) of them — healthcare professionals can’t even agree on that.
However, we know enough about the media to understand its effects act as an influence in creating a negative body image, which in turn, contributes to the development and continuation of EDs.
Why? About 4,000 reasons but let me give a shout-out (she writes mockingly) to a couple of the biggest offenders:
1. America’s Ideology: Our thin-is-better ideology imbeds itself in almost all of our media. Think about it. When was the last time you saw an article applauding a celebrity’s weight gain? The authors of Media and Culture tell us,
We can often be unaware of the ideological position of contemporary media because it reflects our own taken-for-granted views of the world. It is not an even [media] battlefield. Some ideas will have the advantage – because for example, they are perceived as popular, or build on familiar media images.
I ask you, what is more familiar then a popular actress featured on the cover of a beauty magazine who recently lost weight? This dovetails into the second influencing media effect — repetition.
2. Repetition breeds reality: The more times we see a message (or versions of it) the more likely we become to accept it as “truth.” Media scholars refer to it as the cultivation theory, also known as the “drip, drip” effect. In essence, this media effect is described not so much as an immediate impetus to do (or not do) something, but rather it serves as a reinforcement of a particular belief, value, or attitude.
Originally, the cultivation theory linked itself to television, but as we know, our modern media comes in numerous forms and is available 24/7. To level set, according to the video, Cause and Effect: How the Media You Consume Can Change Your Life,
The average teenager’s media consumption totals 10 hours and 45 minutes EVERY day. By the time an average American girl turns 12, she will see up to 77,546 advertisements.
Of course, not all 80+ hours of a teenager’s weekly media consumption delivers a ‘thin’ message. But, even if half of them communicate it, that’s still 40 hours a week of the same repetitive message. Hence, the message becomes familiar and accepted. You see our dilemma. The thin-is-better ideology flourishes as we continue to accept it as ‘normal’ because that’s what we know.
The media messages we receive imbed themselves in our psyches more that any of us care to admit. The moral of the story: QUESTION YOUR ASSUMPTIONS EVERY DAY. In the words of Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund,
You can’t be what you can’t see.