Female Body Image in the Media – The Pressure to Be Thin in Society

Dieting How thin is too thin? If you think childhood obesity statistics are shocking, there is increasing concern about how the pressure to be thin in society is affecting girls and boys through the media, and how girls in particular are more obsessed with dieting than in previous generations. The obsession to be thin has lead to an increase in eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia in girls as young as 5-years-old, according to recent studies and surveys.

Girls whose moms are on a diet are almost twice as likely to suffer from an eating disorder, according to a recent survey of over 500 teenage girls between the ages of 12 to 18, conducted by teen magazine Sugar. Most of the teenage girls surveyed said they felt damaged by their mother’s dieting obsession and views on food and considered their mothers to be the biggest influence on their own self-image.

Got boys, rather than girls? You’re still not out of the woods moms and dads. Boys struggle with body image too, even though boys may not be as vocal about it, but unrealistic, unhealthy body image standards for boys are very common. Media and peer pressure to be thin and not “heavy”, build big biceps, and create those hard, toned bodies and six-pack abs has become society’s idea of the ideal body for boys and men.

“Thinheritance” is the new modern term describing females who have “inherited” their mothers views and opinions about her own body image, which is then projected onto the daughters by way of comments about body weight issues and concerns about being “fat”. Moms, ask yourself, do you have poor body image? When you look in the mirror or put your clothes on in the morning, do you tell yourself that you are too fat, too thin, ugly, old and tired? The things you tell yourself about how you feel about your own body, shape, size, weight and measurements may very well be affecting your daughter’s perception and beliefs about her body image.

Girls and Dieting

The results of the survey of the teen girls by Sugar shows the dieting obsession for girls in particular and the serious dangers associated with extreme dieting should be a wake-up call for both moms and dads.

  • Two-thirds (66%) said they had heard their mom complain about her own weight and 56% of the girls have mothers who are on a diet, despite the fact that 68% of the girls described their mother‘s body size as perfectly normal.
  • More than half of teenage girls surveyed (51%) have dieted, which becomes 59% among girls whose mothers diet.
  • Almost eight out of 10 (78%) girls worry about their weight, and 20% say they worry about their looks all the time.
  • One in five girls said they are criticized by family members for being “too big” and 51% of the girls have been hurt by their parents talking about their size.
  • Almost one in three girls surveyed have been called names like ‘elephant’ or ‘beast’ or ‘heifer’ by their relatives.
  • Amongst the girls who get comments about their weight from their families, 58% worry about their looks all the time.
  • 9% of teenage girls say they are ‘constantly’ on a diet. Among girls whose families comment on their weight, this number tripled to 24%.

Psychologist Amanda Hills commented on the survey results saying:

“Children learn how to behave by watching their parents.

‘Food becomes an issue when mum isn’t sitting down to dinner with everyone else or is off preparing a separate meal for herself.

‘And a dieting parent will label certain foods as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, which can lead to an unhealthy approach to food.

‘The ‘drip-drip’ effect of constant self-criticism in front of easily-influenced teens teaches them to do likewise.

‘If mum’s calling herself fat, it won’t be long before her daughter is too.

‘I would say at least half of the people I see with an eating disorder admit that there are problems with eating in the family.”

Body Image in the Media

Marilyn Monroe The pressure to be thin and “perfect” in society today brings dangerous consequences for our young people, but it seems this twit doesn’t understand that girls don’t need to be a walking, talking, skeleton-like toothpick. There was a time when the “ideal” body weight, size and measurements women wanted to emulate and aspire to look like (and men drooled over) was that of famous celebrities like Raquel Welch, Marilyn Monroe, Gina Lollobrigida, Jayne Mansfield and Sophia Loren with their voluptuous, hourglass figures and curvy shapes.

Nowadays, the media bombards us and our children with airbrushed pictures and images of models and celebrities who are waif-like thin, too skinny for their own good and look more like wire hangers than human beings. Counter that with a junk celebrity news article by the New York Post listing “50 Fat Celebrities”, which included “Daisy Duke”-wearing Jessica Simpson dubbed “Jumbo Jessica”; Jennifer Love Hewitt; Eva Longoria Parker; Mischa Barton and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and Dancing with the Stars alum Rachel Hunter.

In 1986, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco showed that 80% of fourth-grade girls were dieting. According to the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, children as young as five are starting to show signs of poor body image and are dieting. Very young children going on diets has been found to be very dangerous because it can stunt a child’s growth and brain development. Research from Harris Interactive Surveys of 1,059 girls found that between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of girls who believe that they must be thin to be popular rose from 48% to 60%.

All it takes to understand the difference between girls and dieting years ago and the extreme measures now being taken to become the supposed beauty ideal of thin and skinny vs. fat and ugly is by seeing pictures and images of the history and timeline of when the media and society went nuts about being thin. Another study reveals that girls as young as seven would like to change something about their appearance and half of 16 to 21-year-olds would consider cosmetic surgery to achieve what they believe to be the ideal, perfect, sexy body.

The research, carried out by Girlguiding UK, shows that 95% of 16 to 21-year-olds would change their bodies, with 33 percent saying they wanted to be thinner and around a quarter of 16 to 21-year-olds said they would consider resorting to cosmetic surgery and botox. The constant barrage of media messages in society about thinness, dieting and beauty tells “ordinary” girls and women that they are always in need of adjustment and fine-tuning, and that the female body is an object to be perfected.

Moms and dads, protect and safeguard your body image and that of your sons and daughters by educating yourself about the difference between body image vs. self image and living a healthy lifestyle. Do not go on a diet and do not put your son or daughter on a diet, even if they are overweight or “morbidly obese”. Diets are temporary and the diet industry is a $55 billion dollar industry with a 95% failure rate. Living a healthy lifestyle requires raising your standards, making healthy food choices, changing your perception and focusing on what is your personal best rather than what the media and society would have you believe is the “ideal” body.

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11 Responses to “Female Body Image in the Media – The Pressure to Be Thin in Society”

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  1. Janet Fox says:

    Lin,

    I have done a short stint with the fashion industry and you cannot imagine the pressure on models to maintain their size 0 figures there. It like a replay of the era when women used to wear tight corsets to crush their organs and flaunt a super thin waist. To think about it… even after all this time we haven’t matured a bit!

    • Lin says:

      Janet,

      Seeing pictures of models and female celebrities who are too skinny being shown as the “ideal” size and weight for girls to be like makes me so angry. When I saw the headlines about Jessica Simpson being called names because she put on a few pounds, or Kelly Clarkson being called names for the same reasons, is infuriating. The world has gone nuts!

  2. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Lin – this is scary – especially when kids as young as five are affected.

    My twelve year old has been wearing some jeans of mine that I’m too fat for. They’re really tiny jeans but she’s got it into her head that she’s too fat because she can fit into her mother’s jeans. I wouldn’t have let her wear them if I’d known they’d make her feel like that.

    It’s really worrying. She’s a perfectly normal size but she keeps going on about wanting to lose weight. So many of her friends are on diets and regularly skip breakfast and lunch.

    • Lin says:

      Hi Cath,

      It’s so sad when I hear about little kids as young as 5 years old calling themselves “fat” and how they supposedly need to go on a diet etc. I’ve lost track of the number of articles I’ve read online where kids describe the bullying and name calling they’ve received from their classmates and peers because of their size. The way the fashion industry makes models look with the ridiculous photo shopping of pictures to make models look skinnier than in real life is sickening. Maybe if every female on the planet boycotted fashion mag’s and didn’t buy anything from clothing designers who try to portray the normal, average size female body as being “fat” – maybe these fashion idiots would get a clue and stop this madness.

  3. It’s really sad how magazines deliver the message to impressionable children that skinny is glamorous. On top of that, with the pressures of high school and discovering one’s own identity this just adds to the list of things that make it hard for a teenager to grow up. Further to this, most don’t even know that the pictures and photos in magazines are most often photoshopped. It’s unrealistic to strive to look the way the models do in magazines, and we really have to deliver that message to our kids, especially in this day and age. Bring back the beautiful curvy, healthy pinup models of the 50s. And bring forth the message that you can be beautiful even if you’re not a size 0!

  4. Hannah Jones says:

    I’ve got a daughter that’s this age. I have a lot of bigger brothers that played football. So as you can imagine my daughter has grown fast for her age and is slightly insecure about her physique. I try to be very tactful about how I talk with her.

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