A common saying notes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are certain factors that affect how the beholder sees beauty. When it comes to the beauty of others and oneself, one's perception is often influenced by outside sources such as the media. Magazines, commercials, movies, and even toys have manipulated the visual associations of beauty over time. This manipulation has created a definition of "beauty" that has become widespread, increasingly controversial and, in many cases, destructive to the self-esteem and body images of teens and young adults. Far too often this definition is an unhealthy one and represents ideals that are unattainable for a majority of people. For females, the unrealistic ideals of beauty typically include being thin, tall, and having larger breasts. The popular Barbie doll is an example of the unattainable. Barbie is thin, has a tiny waist and large breasts. Proportionally, the doll's figure is unrealistic and unhealthy when re-imagined on a life-sized woman. Even women seen on magazine covers are not true representations of how they actually look or how a normal woman can look. Thanks to photo manipulation software, magazine publishers are able to make models fit a certain "ideal" by making all or parts of their bodies thinner, giving them flawless skin, and even making their hair fuller. Males are also affected by the media's portrayal of body images. Although the problem may not be as severe, a man's view of his body in terms of muscle, hair, etc. can also be skewed by images of toned or muscular, smooth men in film. Like Barbie for girls, G.I. Joe dolls may also shape a certain unattainable image ideal for young boys.
Another "ideal" is in the form of race. Many of the images of beauty portrayed by the media are of Caucasian women. For people of other races, this unattainable portrayal can feed into a negative sense of self-esteem and body image. People of different races may naturally have different body shapes, such as fuller hips for example. One of the ways to eliminate poor body image is to accept and embrace diversity. People and beauty come in many different colors and with many different body shapes, heights and sizes. By accepting diversity, people will naturally begin to see the beauty of it.
In addition to accepting the differences that make up the human race, it is important that young men and women look inward and define what beauty is to them. Beauty is more than just a skinny body or being a certain height. Some people may see beauty in the way that a person smiles or in their eyes. Personality traits may also make someone beautiful. A sense of humor, kindness, and confidence are all attractive traits. Once beauty has been defined it's time to apply it to oneself. This can be difficult, but with a little vigilance it is something that can successfully be achieved. How a person sees oneself and the inner dialogue that he or she holds can diminish or boost his or her self-esteem. The first step that a person can take is to stop comparing his or herself against unrealistic standards and to begin accepting themselves for who they are. A person with low self-esteem or poor body image often seeks out flaws and magnifies them with negative thoughts. A person who routinely puts themselves down should instead make an effort to compliment themselves for their positive attributes. This means instead of saying "I'm so fat," a person should say "I look good in this outfit," or "my skin looks so healthy." Making changes in behavior is also important. Confidence and good posture can make a person feel better about themselves and may also make people respond differently as well. The behavior of others can also be toxic to one's sense of self. If a person's friends or social network are negative and/or promote unhealthy stereotypes, associating with new friends is an important remedy.
Once a person begins to change how they perceive beauty in terms of themselves and others, they can safely make other changes in their lifestyle for the right reasons. A person who is overweight, for example, may make the decision to join a gym, take walks, and alter their eating habits. He or she may do this not in the hopes of reaching an impossible ideal or fitting in, but for positive reasons such as good health and their own satisfaction. As teens and young adults recognize the unrealistic imagery that the media and other sources have placed on society, they can more easily break free of the imposition that it creates. As a result they can achieve a healthier body, have a higher sense of self-esteem, and be more confident in life.
- Body Image & Nutrition - Fast Facts: A list of facts on various beauty and image topics. The topics include "Media's Effect on Body Image," "A Focus on Appearance," and "Eating Disorders."
- Effects of the Media on Body Image: A paper on the Health Psychology page at Vanderbilt University that discusses how the media affects body image. The article addresses what body image is and explains body dissatisfaction. Studies are also reviewed.
- Helping Girls with Body Image: WebMD offers this article on the power of the media in terms of body image. It provides advice on how parents can help reduce the effects of the media. The three-page article also discusses how sports influence body image as well.
- Female Body Image and the Mass Media: Perspectives on How Women Internalize the Ideal Beauty Standard: An article on the Westminster College website that focuses on women and body image. Mass media's contribution to body image is discussed as are several different theories.
- Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders: On this page readers are given statistics regarding media consumption and facts on the effects of the media. The article appears on the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website.
- How Do the Media Affect a Teen's Body Image?: An article on the TLC network website that discusses the way that the media's portrayal of body image impacts teens. The page includes a video on the study of the teenage brain.
- Eating Disorders - The Media's Influence: Eating disorders are often a consequence of poor or unrealistic body image. This PBS article explores the media's influence on poor body image and self-esteem and what people can do about it.
- Guys Have Body Issues, Too: The NBC News website features this article that addresses the ways that media imagery affects men.
- Minority Women, Media, and Body Image: The document reviews how the media affects how African-American, Latino-American, and Asian-American women view their bodies.
- What Can We Do to Boost Body Image?: A bullet pointed list of ways that people can improve their body image. The first tip discusses the media.
- The Media's Role in Body Image: A Fox News article that briefly explores how the media influences how young women and teens see their bodies.
- Body Image: This Center on Media and Child Health article discusses various facts about body image and the media. Readers will learn about the downside of media and body image, what parents can do, and information about research.
- Body-Image Pressure Inundates Teen Girls: A CNN article about teen girls and problems with body image. The article touches on magazine images, Barbie dolls, and how parents can be supportive and help their daughters improve self-image.
- Do Thin Models Warp Girls' Body Image? A USA Today Health and Behavior article that discusses how thin models on fashion runways and in magazines can negatively impact how girls and young women see their own bodies.
- Perfectionism and Self-Esteem: Read this article for information on how to improve self-esteem. The article explains what it is, how to get it, and common traits of people who already have good self-esteem.