What would you do?

By BRIE SHELLY
Published: July 25, 2013

Earlier this year, I attended a presentation on body image by Dr. Cristin Runfola, who is a post-doc with the CEED program.  The presentation was at a local high school and Dr. Runfola’s take home message has stuck with me ever since.

Dr. Runfola raised student awareness of the different types of eating disorders and informed them about biological, psychological, and environmental factors that influence eating disorders.  The most memorable environmental factor discussed was how the media promote unrealistic standards of beauty and physical appearance. Since we are in the heart of summer, a time that often allows for extra TV, magazine, and internet exposure, I thought a quick reminder of how the media change our body image perceptions might be helpful.

Abundant evidence exists revealing that magazines, television ads, and social media sites, like Facebook, influence how an individual perceives his or her body. Body image is a multidimensional concept that includes thoughts, feelings, and attitudes related to one’s own body. Repeated exposure to advertisements that endorse images of slim and perfect bodies may lead to unrealistic body image ideals and individuals may even start to consider these false ideals as normal. Magazines often publish stories meant to promote eating disorder awareness while simultaneously publishing the images that induce social comparison and result in body dissatisfaction.  These mixed messages can be confusing for audiences to process.

During the presentation, a popular video from The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty was shown.  The video does an excellent job of reminding us of just how much of what we see in the media is not reality. I encourage others to watch the video and to process your feelings afterwards with friends, family members, or your support network. I think the video can be a great conversation starter for a question that Dr. Runfola proposed to students at the end of the presentation, namely, “What would you do, say, or wear if you forgot about body image for a day?”

I encourage you to watch the video, answer Dr. Runfola’s question for yourself, and remember the next time you read a magazine, watch TV, or go online that the images you see are rarely reality.

References

Benowitz-Fredericks, C., Garcia, K., Massey, M., Vassagar, Brintha, & Borzekowski, D. (2012). Children, adolescents, and the media body image, eating disorders, and the relationship to adolescent media use. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 59(3), 693-704.

Botta, Renee. (2003). For your health? The relationship between magazine reading and adolescents’ body image and eating disturbances. Sex Roles, 48(9), 389-399.

Markula, P. (2001). Beyond the perfect body: Women’s body image distortion in fitness magazine discourse. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 25, 158-179.