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Extent of the Media’s Influence

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The research question of this Psychology Extended Essay is “What is the Extent of the Media’s Influence Regarding Eating Disorders?” To further investigate this question, I researched what the media is and what it does, how people are affected by the media and many different studies and experiments. Through the use of several sources, mostly online and experiments, I was able to learn exactly what the media does to possibly be considered an influence on the development of eating disorders. I was able to find a multitude of experiments and studies deciding whether or not women are actually influenced by what the media has to say about body image. While typing this paper, I realized that, of course, the media was not the only contributing factor because not everyone was affected by what it says. By investigating each of the experiments and online resources, I was able to reach a conclusion. The conclusion for this essay is that “not every man and woman develops an eating disorder but the ones that do can be influenced by many different factors, not only the media.” I, also, found that peers, family and personal body dissatisfaction are all major contributing factors as well as the media. Word Count: 203

Table of Contents


The Media Influences Eating Disorders, Fact or Fiction?……………………….5

Experiments and Studies…………………………………………………..7

A Personal Interview with an Eating Disorder Victim……………………10


Works Cited………………………………………………………………..14

In this generation, television, reality television and magazines are one of the main focuses of many men and women in this country. All of these are examples of the media, which is this generations mean of communication. Since this generation is drastically immersed in the media, it influences practically every person in this country. The media mainly presents actors, actresses and models from all over. Models are usually extremely thin men and women; thinner than your average men and women. Since models are constantly discussed in the media about how beautiful they are and how everyone can only pray to look like them, eating disorders throughout many men and women have become an issue. There are an estimated 10 million females and 1 million males that are struggling in their own bodies due to an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia (The National Eating Disorder Association). What is their reason for having this eating disorder? What made them feel so uncomfortable in their body that made them develop these eating disorders?

The focus question of this extended essay will be:
What Is the Extent of the Media’s Influence Regarding Eating Disorders? There are two main types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa is “a psychiatric disorder characterized by an unrealistic fear of weight gain, self-starvation, and conspicuous distortion of body image” (Medical-Dictionary, The Free Dictionary). Bulimia Nervosa is a psychiatric disorder in which the person “consumes large amounts of food (binge) and then try to rid themselves of the food and calories (purge) by fasting, excessive exercise, vomiting, or using laxatives” (Medical-Dictionary, The Free Dictionary). Women are more likely to develop an eating disorder than men but men still do develop them.

When someone gets an eating disorder it is hard not to blame the media for causing this person to become so uncomfortable with their body that they feel the need to lose weight in an unhealthy way because the media has made the ideal body image for women thinner and thinner since World War II (Teen Health and the Media). Ask any woman and she will tell you that the ideal body image in this generation is extremely thin. Although everyone is exposed to the media, not everyone develops an eating disorder. There has been an excessive amount of debates about whether or not the media influences men and women to develop an eating disorder. With that being said, does the media actually play a role in eating disorders? Some say yes, some say no, it depends.

The Media Influences Eating Disorders, Fact or Fiction?
The media has become an essential part of men and women’s lives for years, dating all the way back to before World War II in the late 1930’s. It was said to be that the media during this time injected “values and morals into society” (Jade). In today’s society, there are several different types of social groups. Some of the social groups may be effected by the media and how they portray the perfect woman and some may not be effected because they may “reject the messages that are not consistent with the values of that group” (Jade). There are also several different types of people in this world, some of whom have very low self-esteem or confidence and are therefore affected more by what the media says than others with a higher self-esteem. The media “contributes to a toxic environment in which eating disorders may be more likely to occur. This is because of the “Damaging Paradox” of modern society in which the media promotes,” (Jade). While this is happening, the environment is also providing people with an array of food that is high in calories and in fat and the media is pressuring men and women to eat the products and as a result, they are becoming heavier and heavier (Jade).

Once they become heavier, their anxiety level peeks and this is where eating disorders begin to develop. A toy, made in 1959 by an American toy company named Mattel, Inc., known as the Barbie doll became a very popular toy for young girls. Still do this day it is a popular toy for young girls between the ages of 5-15. Barbie dolls are mainly advertised on television which can be considered as the media. Young girls around 11 or 12 begin to realize what the ideal image is for a woman. It is believed that “Barbie encourages girls to be materialistic and image obsessed” (Bee). Not all young girls become this way, but some do and that is when eating disorders may develop and become a problem. The average ages where eating disorders began to develop are between 11-24 and girls whom are between 11 and 18 are highly exposed to the media, including fashion or beauty related magazines and reality television shows. During this time, “the exposure to ideal images coincides with a period in their life where self-regard and self-efficacy is in decline” (Jade).

Between these ages is when girls hit puberty which makes their body image fragile because they begin to compare themselves to society. A girl starts to diet because of the messages from the media and sometimes leads to eating disorders. It is said to be that “eighty-three percent of adolescent girls read fashion magazines for an average of 4.3 hours per week” (Spettigue and Henderson). In magazines today and before there is a multitude of ads for new dieting products, diet foods and other things in that category; all of which causes an increase of wanting to be thinner like all the beautiful women in that specific magazine or the actresses on the television show they are watching. Also, on television shows, whether it be a cartoon or an original show, the “overweight characters are typically portrayed as lazy,… or the “bad guy”, while thin women and pumped-up men are the successful, popular, sexy and powerful ones” (The Media). How is one supposed to know that it is not always about appearance when the media constantly seems to say otherwise?

There is a second viewpoint on this argument of whether or not the media influences men and women to develop eating disorders and that is “although the media does pose several risk factors, they do not directly cause eating disorders” (Television Link to Eating Disorders). The media, on television, advertises a multitude of commercials for fast food restaurants and in these commercials, famous skinny celebrities are promoting these restaurants and telling the people to eat there because they enjoy it so much. In reality though, these celebrities do not actually eat there because they want to maintain their skinny shape; therefore the media is being blamed with false advertisements. Although there is a second viewpoint on this argument of whether or not the media influences men and women to develop eating disorders and that is “although the media does pose several risk factors, they do not directly cause eating disorders” (Television Link to Eating Disorders).

Also, because the media advertises diet plans and fast food restaurants, the media “may both steer and reflect our cultural obsession with how we look and what we put into our mouths,” but this does not say that the media is the direct cause of disordered eating (Television Link to Eating Disorders). In addition to this, some men and women may be having a difficult time in their life and the media may contribute a small amount. Although at the same time one might be dealing with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression and abuse from family members or a spouse this “leaves them open to an eating disorder and they will still end up in the same place regardless of television or magazines” (The Media). The question is, does the media influence people to develop an eating disorder? Experiments and Studies

One of the first studies by Garner, Garfinkel, Shwartz and Thompson conducted in 1980, focused on Playboy centerfolds, Miss America Contestants and fashion models documenting the increasing thinness of all of them between the fifties and nineties (Spettigue and Henderson). Another study was done in 1980 by Garner et al. around the same time that demonstrated that although the ideal beauty people are decreasing their weight, the weight of the general population of women in America has substantially increased (Spettigue and Henderson). This, of course created a discrepancy between body images from the media and the typical American women. As said before, there has been an increase in the amount of advertisements in magazines for diet products, diet foods and other things in that nature but a study in 1992 by Anderson AE and DFomenico L presented that “women’s magazines contained 10.5 times as many diet promotions as men’s magazines” (Spettigue and Henderson). This puts pressure on women more than it does men and that is why more women develop eating disorders because they feel like they aren’t “good enough” for society. In 1994 Kilbourne conducted a survey; and it asked adolescent girls between 11 and 17 if they could have 3 magic wishes granted to them what they would be.

The number one wish out of all the girls was “to lose weight and keep it off” (Spettigue and Henderson). Another survey documented by Kilbourne was asking middle aged women what they wanted to change about their lives and a majority of them said “their weight” (Spettigue and Henderson). The media is not the only factor that influences men and women to develop eating disorders, family and peers are also a small contributor to a development of disordered eating. Studies show that the way peers see each other and what they say is very important to the one being affected with an eating disorder. Throughout the adolescent years, girls are sometimes teased by their peers or family for their weight, which of course, might lead to body dissatisfaction, a study conducted by Stormer and Thompson in1996 said (Spettigue and Henderson). Also, in 1994 a study was conducted by Cattarin and Thompson and “found that teasing predicted time 2 levels of body image disturbance and account for six percent of the overall variance in appearance dissatisfaction” (Spettigue and Henderson). Another study conducted in 1986 by Mitchell found that pressure to lose weight by a peer sometimes occurred before that person developed an eating disorder (Spettigue and Henderson). Along with many experiments, limitations happen.

One limitation of Mitchell’s experiment was “that the evidence for these relationships is correlational, thus preventing casual statements from being made” (The Effects of Social Pressure to be Thin on Body Dissatisfaction and Negative Affect). Some women develop eating disorders due to their own body dissatisfaction and the media is a tiny contributor but once women develop this disorder, a study by Thomsen et al. in 2001 presented that women become almost dependent to everything the media says and become “addicted” to fashion magazines and other things of that nature (Spettigue and Henderson). A multitude of men and women start dieting when they feel as if they have gained too much weight and they have to lose it but dieting is sometimes the first step that can lead to an eating disorder. Dieting over a nine-month period tends to lead to body dissatisfaction and pressure to become thin, which then can lead to disordered eating (Spettigue and Henderson).

The media is not only television and magazines; it is also activists and media literacy. Media literacy is the ability to create the media in a variety of forms. Through this, young girls learn that what they see may not actually be reality, they learn that a majority of the images are constructed to make everything look more desirable (Spettigue and Henderson). An experiment conducted in 2001 by Posovac et al. tested college women who had body dissatisfaction. Some women were told to watch a psychoeducational presentation that incorporated the use of media literacy and the results were that the women who watched the presentation were less likely to be affected by media images displaying thin models than the women who did not watch the presentation (Spettigue and Henderson). Also, activists groups and support groups are considered a part of the media. There is a mass number of support groups that help men and women who struggle with an eating disorder. There are associations that help people who have eating disorders receive help and people donate to these associations so that the unfortunate men and women are still able to receive help for this problem.

Most of these groups or associations are advertised on the internet, in stores who donate to that group and, sometimes, even on television. Although the media does influence men and women of all ages to develop an eating disorder because their body does not meet society’s standards, the media also helps to prevent and treat people who have or show signs of having an eating disorder.

A Personal Interview with an Eating Disorder Victim
Most people do not realize the amount of people they see on a daily basis that are struggling with an eating disorder and even when they do notice, sometimes those people do not seek help for their peers. I have a friend, named Brittany, who had a severe case of anorexia nervosa. I did not notice it until two months after it had begun. Every time I tried to talk to her about it she would become violent and did not want to speak of it. Finally, I went to a guidance counselor to seek help and ask her what I should do about this problem. Brittany was my friend; I could not imagine seeing her struggle like this anymore. I was able to persuade Brittany to come talk to the guidance counselor with me to talk about the issue she has been struggling with. The guidance counselors told Brittany that she should first sit down and have a one-on-one discussion with me about how and why this struggle came about. We talked about it and I told her she needed to go see a psychiatrist about this problem and she did. Now 2 years later, she is maintaining a healthy weight for her height and eating regularly. After I chose this topic on eating disorders, I asked to interview her for a reference; to see why she was not satisfied with her body at the time. Me: Hello Brittany, today I will be discussing your past experience with your eating disorder, known as anorexia nervosa. I will not be releasing your last name in this paper, only your first name and are you sure you are okay with discussing this topic with me today? Brittany: Yes, I’ll be happy to discuss my eating disorder with you today.

Me: Great. Not only will we be discussing your eating disorder but also your reasoning as to why you thought you needed to lose that amount of weight and what pressured you in to developing anorexia nervosa. My first question is, how and when did you develop this eating disorder? Brittany: It was two years ago and I was sixteen years old. I never was a skinny girl; I was always a little heavier than all the other girls in my class. I would wish every night to be skinny like the other pretty girls in my class. I started with a simple diet and exercised every day for at least an hour. Next thing I knew, I was barely eating and practically starving myself. I increased my amount of exercise to 3 hours a day. I was extremely thin before I knew it and although it was bad, I couldn’t have been happier with myself. My eating habits became terrible; there would be a day where I would not eat at all because I was not hungry. Me: I see, and how tall are you, how much did you weigh before this began and after it was over? Brittany: I am five foot seven and weighed 185 pounds and after all of it was over I was at 115 pounds, which is about 45 pounds under a healthy weight for my height. Me: What made you decide to lose all this weight?

Brittany: I noticed the other girls in my class were skinny and all the boys liked them and not me. So, I thought maybe if I look like them I will get more attention. Also, I love watching reality television to know what’s hot and what’s not and it seemed to be, that being skinny was hot. At that point, I knew I had to change my appearance. Me: Was that the only reasons you felt compelled to lose all of that weight? Brittany: Well, I’ve always been teased about my weight throughout middle and high school. It made me feel horrible, like I wasn’t good enough. Everywhere I looked, there was a new ad for a diet product or a new workout system. I realized everyone was trying to become skinny, so I figured I HAD to be skinny, too. Plus, I’ve never really been satisfied with my weight and I was finally ready to do something about it. Me: Would you consider yourself addicted to losing weight at the time? Brittany: Yes, I hated my body and once I started losing weight, I couldn’t stop. It was a horrible addiction but I didn’t care. Every time I got on the scale and saw that I lost 5 pounds in the course of 6 days, I was angry; I thought I know I can do better than that and soon enough I was losing 10 pounds in 6 days. Me: Wow.

Do you think the media influenced you the most or was it your peers or yourself? Brittany: Although I hated my body so much, I knew that it wasn’t just me who was pressuring me to lose weight. The media played a huge role in my eating disorder. Every time I saw models on television or in magazines, I noticed how tiny their waist was. I thought to myself, that’s what is popular and that’s what will get you noticed, so I had to lose weight if I wanted to be noticed by everyone. Also, after being teased all those years, I couldn’t bear it one more year, it was my senior year and I had to look hot. Me: So, would you say that the media influenced you the most? Brittany: No, I believe myself and my peers influenced me a little bit more than the media did. Me: Well, then that is all I have to ask. Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you, it really helped a lot. According to Brittany, the media was the least influential element but that does not mean that it is not the most influential element to someone else. Conclusion

The media is a main part of our society and influences a lot of different people in different ways. People are affected by eating disorders every day and the media plays a large role in the development. Although the media is not the only influence, there are other contributors that influence certain people into developing an eating disorder. With all the research that has been done, it is safe to say that the media is not the main influence in the development of disordered eating. Peers and family and what other people think about them is very important to most people, therefore when being teased about one’s weight, that person may take it to heart and develop an eating disorder. Also, when one is unsatisfied with one’s body, one, generally wants to do something about it, whether it be dieting, exercising or not eating at all. Usually dieting starts and has a chance that it will get too serious and lead to an eating disorder. Therefore, not every man and woman develops an eating disorder, but the ones that do can be influenced by many different factors, not only the media.

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