National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Does the media influence our ideas about body image?


By LaReeca Rucker
Adjunct Journalism Instructor
University of Mississippi
Meek School of Journalism and New Media

This week, through March 4, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. University of Mississippi mass communication students who are part of The Media Rewind class studied a chapter on magazines this week, and one of the topics included in the book was the role magazines and the media play in influencing body image standards.

Students were asked to share their thoughts about criticisms the magazine industry has faced regarding body image. They were also asked to discuss whether or not they believe magazines that feature photographs of unrealistically thin women have impacted society, and if they believe the media’s depiction of women has changed in the last 10 years.

“Criticisms directed toward the magazine industry about body image are not only justified, but necessary in order for there to be change in the unrealistic representation of women. Photos of ultra thin models set an unattainable standard for women that is both unhealthy and unrealistic. Over the last 10 years, women have consistently been portrayed unrealistically, and this has set a standard for how society thinks women should be in order to be considered attractive.” – Margaret Wallace

original“In my personal experience with an eating disorder, I believe the industry portrays women in an unrealistic way. Even though we all know ‘normal’ people cannot be that thin, we have an image of ‘perfection’ embedded into our brains. For some, it makes them realize just how skewed people expect women to be. For others, it may be the motivation a female needs to deprive herself of nourishment. And what good does that do? No one can be that thin. Photoshop has completely warped the way society believes women should look. However, when Marilyn Monroe was featured, that is what a healthy woman should look like – happy, curvy and smiling. You see all these stick thin models now looking depressed and malnourished. These unrealistic images have greatly affected the way women should look. Eating disorders were rare 20 years ago. Now, the statistics have greatly increased. It’s time for us to shine a light and show that true beauty comes from the inside.” – Abby Vance

“Thin models have impacted the way we see beauty in the past. Although, in today’s culture, we embrace our ‘plus size’ women much more, so much that I don’t think the shape of models really matters as much anymore.” – Chauncey Taylor

“Magazines and other news mediums have done a great job in the past decade of getting that whole ‘heroin chic’ look off the covers of magazines. Today, women are loved and praised no matter what they look like. As a model, I know that the heroin chic look is not what casting directors are looking for anymore. Models who walk in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show are fit, and have muscular and shapely bodies they work for, not starve for. For this reason. I do not frown upon magazines who put models like Candice Swanepoel or Adriana Lima on the covers (and nowadays, they’re the two everyone wants) because they look the same on Instagram as they do in Vogue. Women in the modeling world have increasingly become healthier and better looking because of it. So yes, there has been a lot of criticism, but honestly, that has gone down a lot considering models like Kate Upton, who does not have a stick thin silhouette, are gracing the covers of major headlines and magazines and are called ‘beautiful.'” – Cat Sanders

“In the past 10 years, society has seen quite a drastic change in magazines and what they promote and distribute. But within the past few years, I’ve noticed such a backlash from society, relating to body image. Society feels that having unrealistic models on the front pages can cause some conflicting viewpoints. Overly skinny models is the trend and style, and it’s rare to see a plus size model featured. Magazines promote what they know sells because a magazine’s main goal is to make money, so even though society’s magazines go against some of our norms, they’re only focused on what sells and not the public’s opinion. These magazine covers have created an unrealistic body image for readers. It’s hard for some people to differentiate between what’s real/normal and what’s Photoshop/presented. Such ideologies presented can create certain standards for readers and create a high/unrealistic image in reader’s minds.” – Emily Reynolds

“Magazine ‘body image’ is pretty unrealistic and has changed over time. Women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes, and that’s something we should have accepted by now, but really haven’t. The most beautiful/most famous models in the world are all very tall and very thin. Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner come to mind when I think of models in 2017. Whereas years ago, Marilyn Monroe was on the cover of everything and was a size 8. I don’t see criticism of women’s bodies going away anytime soon. This has impacted society because young women look up to these models and want to look like them. This develops unrealistic ideas about what our bodies should look like and leads to things, such as eating disorders.” – Ashton Rawls

“Criticisms directed toward the magazine industry regarding body image is a very talked about topic because there are too many opinions out there about the ‘perfect’ body image. Showing unrealistically thin women on magazine covers is awful. It shows young girls that is what makes you famous. These media images impact society more than we know. The body image has changed from curvy to being unrealistically thin.” – Madison Rettig

“The so-called ‘ideal’ body image that magazines portray today is sickening. Women used to idolize women like Marilyn Monroe, who was not a size 00, 0 or even a size 2. In the last 10 years, women’s waists have become smaller and their hips thicker in the most painful and unnatural ways.” – Madison McGrath

“As a male, I don’t really understand the obsession over these thin models for girls. They have convinced themselves that body is best when it really isn’t. Thankfully, media depiction of women has changed in the last 10 years. Plus-sized models are now highly popular, and curvy is the new thin. It’s a good change because it’s a healthy one.” – Thomas Mooney

“Within the last 10 years, media has become a little more accepting of all body types, and there are even magazines that feature curvy girls. That shows society it’s OK not to have a perfect, slim body, and who’s to say what’s perfect anyways?” – Lexi McCoy

“The idea of body image has drastically changed for the female population as a result of the modern day magazine industry. The industry almost romanticizes being unhealthy skinny by featuring models like Kate Moss, who is extremely underweight. While there has been some progress made by certain celebrities, like Amy Schumer, who released a revealing spread of untouched nude photos, our society is still constantly surrounded by bodies in mass media that are unrealistic and unhealthy. This directly correlates with the rise in eating disorders in young women today. By filling magazines that millions of young girls are reading with models who are underweight, this can impact the mental and physical health of many.” – Eliza McDow

models-too-thin“Even when I was born 21 years ago, the media wasn’t this deliberate in trying to make women change their body types. They will put these anorexic women on magazine covers to try to make other women look at it and want to mirror. Instead, it degrades them, because not everyone has the (same) makeup, and I honestly do not know who would want to look like they haven’t eaten in six months.” Seth Mohundro

“These magazine depictions of women’s bodies has impacted society. They are the cause of body image issues, eating disorders, insecurity, unrealistic and warped perceptions of beauty and self, and a society that began to value thinness as a beauty standard, as opposed to normally-weighted and healthy women. There have been studies on eating disorders involving the correlation between media and beauty standards and mental health of American girls. I have personally known people affected by these images.” Brantley Meaders

“Coming from American media in the 1950s, mainstream ideas of body image have changed dramatically. Magazines have largely contributed to this, as today women see size 0 or 1 women on covers, and they feel they must change themselves. Although it isn’t a healthy or moral practice, the First Amendment guarantees a magazine’s right to publish images as they see fit. Over the past 10 years, a resurgence of plus-sized models has taken place and has once again placed an achievable beauty standard into the limelight.” – Christian Johnson

“In earlier times, there was a trend showing women completely Photoshopped. In this sense, the magazine industry’s role seems to give very unrealistic body views. However, who is to say this isn’t what the majority wants to see? Many times women use those photos as inspiration. Others, of course, don’t. Lately, a few clothing industries that have an underwear or intimates line, are showing unfiltered models. For example, Aerie, American Eagle’s line, is showing models untouched, attempting to show women are beautiful with whatever imperfections. These photos, particularly, have changed society and has put modeling in perspective of realism. The media has changed in the past 10 years.” – Hannah Humphreys

“In the late ’90s and early 2000s, magazines featured models who were way too thin, and what we see in the media is what we believe to be the public standard. Over the last few years, there has been a healthy change in the size of women who are featured in magazines. Healthy and toned bodies seem to be more attractive than skin and bones. What I don’t agree with is some companies have taken it a step too far and feature almost overweight women. That sends a message that it’s OK to let yourself become overweight instead of encouraging girls to live a healthy lifestyle.” – Grayson Baird

“Being a naturally thin person who has heard ‘You need to eat more’ most of her life, I think people look at the covers of thin women in the wrong way. Granted, some of these women may have diseases that make them abnormally thin …These media images are looked down upon because they cause other people internal conflicts regarding body image because, naturally, we compare ourselves. Media has become more critical of thin people and more understanding of larger people in the last 10 years.” – Amanda Haley

“On one hand, these magazines are a business, and they definitely want to make the most profit they can. Consumerism has proven that people want to be sold a dream. They want to envision themselves like the fit, beautiful model, not as they may be. It’s almost like a fairytale for adults. Also, models all the same size can fit the impossibly small sample sizes that designers provide. If models were more real-sized it would take time and money to provide the clothing to accommodate every different model. On the other hand, it is imperative to show diversity, whether it is size, ethnicity, color, etc. Everyone is different and deserves to be represented. It gives many young people unrealistic and often unattainable expectations to constantly see only one image. Representation is important. The media’s depiction of women has changed greatly within the past 10 years. Previously, supermodels like Giselle, Adriana Lima, Linda Evangelista were the prime representation. Now we have plus-sized models like Ashley Graham who represent beauty at any size. There is also transgender representation on the rise.” – Kimberleigh Forbes

“We are doing much better as a society in the media teaching women to love your body the way it is. In the past, we have had photos of women that are unrealistic and cause many to have body image issues. This is still a huge problem today, but there are advocates in the world now who focus on loving your body the way it is. Melissa McCarthy is an advocate for having a good self image. She knows she’s not perfect, but loves herself regardless. It makes me sad that magazines have caused everyday women to question their bodies. In 2017, we are doing better about this, but I still see so many magazines with photos of women who don’t look ‘real’ or look a little unhealthy. The media should support healthy living rather than skinny living.” – Hannah Gambrell

“The criticisms are justified, as they portray women as products, not people. The industry tells women to buy this, to look like that, and wear this, so you don’t look like that. Women are, unfortunately, nothing but pawns in the game of capitalism chess. There is a preconceived notion of what they’re supposed to be, rather than who they can be. Women are portrayed as thin, gorgeous models. If all women were to follow this ‘agenda,’ there wouldn’t be diversity or uniqueness to life. Media tells women what and who to be rather than to embrace themselves.” – Patrick Chacone

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