Images of female bodies are everywhere, with women and girls – and their body parts – selling everything from food to cars. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller and thinner. Women’s magazines are full of articles urging that if you can just lose those last twenty pounds, you will have it all: the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex and a rewarding career. The age of Snapchat and Instagram has perpetuated the notion that to have the ideal life you must have the ideal body type.
There’s significant evidence that media education can counter unrealistic media representations of men’s and women’s bodies. For example, a 2015 study found that girls as young as Grade 5 who had received media literacy education in school had higher self-esteem and body satisfaction.
Photo manipulation, once the preserve of a small number of airbrush-equipped artists, has become commonplace in the fashion, publishing and advertising industries thanks to the introduction of photo-editing software such as Photoshop and filters on social media such as Instagram. Photoshop, first introduced in 1990, has become so widely used that “photoshopping” is often used as a synonym for photo manipulation. As a result, heavily retouched photos – of men as well as women – have become almost universal, with industry figures claiming that nearly all photos in magazines are edited.
There are few media to which youth are exposed to as early as toys, which make up an important part of their media consumption throughout childhood: despite competition from electronics, the Canadian toy industry saw an increase in sales of 6.5% in the start of 2020 compared to the same time last year. As a result, the messages about body image that children get from toys that they’re buying or being given may come at a time when they are still forming ideas about gender identity.
Digital media such as the internet and video games have become increasingly important in the lives of children and youth. Even when young people are consuming other media, such as TV, music and movies, they are likely to be doing it through the internet. As well, nearly all the media they consume, from TV shows to toys, have Web pages, virtual worlds, video games or other digital spinoffs associated with them.
Music is a significant medium in a young person’s life, particularly during the teenage years. While other media may occupy a greater number of hours, it is most often from music that teenagers define their identities and draw cues about how to dress and to behave.
Advertising, particularly for fashion and cosmetics, has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves and how we think we should look. They also have a large influence on body image and dissatisfaction: 50% of ads found in teen magazines use “sexualized beauty” to sell products, creating a mindset from a young age that beauty is defined by looking and acting a certain way.
Despite the popularity of the internet, movies and TV still dominate young people’s media use (though they are increasingly watching both online). Given this widespread appeal, these media may have an indirect effect by influencing how groups or cultures view body image.
Traditionally, most of the concerns about media and body image have revolved around girls, but more and more, researchers and health professionals are turning their attention to boys, as well. A growing body of research indicates that although boys are less likely to talk about their insecurities, they too experience anxiety about their bodies.