The media is a very powerful and influential part of Western society. It is so influential, it has been referred to in political as “Fourth Branch of Government.” But in the view of the world of body image, it has taught our generation, the Millennials, that being curvy is abnormal. But what if we used the medium that is harming the self-concept of our generation to heal the wounds and empower today’s youth? Educating the populace through the media to shatter the misconceptions of body image has in fact, proven very effective. If people’s perception of what a male or female body should look like can be distorted through the media, perhaps we can fix that?
A study conducted in 2010 has shown support for the notion that media education can counter misrepresentations of body image, (Rens, 2010). In this study, the video Evolution, (a video created by the company Dove, to show how images of women are doctored and enhanced), was used to show that young girls who looked at pictures of “ultra-thin” models had a significantly lower negative effect on their body satisfaction and confidence, (Rens, 2010). With this in mind, perhaps greater numbers of people could be educated about the concept of body image.
In order to be effective however, media education should make the target audience think critically and ask questions. Above all, it should encourage active involvement in both education campaigns and daily life. With regards to other campaigns, even on unrelated issues, part of what has made them unsuccessful is that they do not encourage people to become actively involved, especially social media activism that simply encourages passing along a simple article that will most likely be forgotten later on.
One particular group of college students, a demographic that can be susceptible to negative body image perceptions, at Standford University has created a program known as The Body Positive, (Steakley, 2014). Established in 1996 by students, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott the group hopes to establish healthy eating and positive body image as the norm, (Steakley, 2014). One advantage of this groups approach is that it addresses the criticism raised by some, that body image programs do not encourage healthy exercise and eating habits and only focus on acceptance of one’s physical traits. Much of the programs events and activities revolve around the establishment of strategies and habits that combat self-destructive eating and unhealthy patterns of exercise. Starting with Stanford University, the group hopes to create a culture of positive body image and healthy lifestyle. One example of their events, held June 1st, 2014, featured a festival involving art, music and literary arts that promoted positive body image, shared stories of struggles that people faced and celebrated their personal beauty, (Steakley, 2014). Other projects include educational campaigns that reach out to parents, family members and friends of people with a negative perception of their bodies or something as extreme as an eating disorder, (Steakley, 2014). From leadership workshops to the development of core competencies, The Body Positive has become a successful organization on the Stanford University campus. Another important factor in this organization is that they conduct research on the effectiveness of their efforts, (Steakley, 2014).
The co-founder, Elizabeth Scott talks deeply about her reasons for starting her organization. She writes that her dear friend and co-founder of The Body Positive had survived and eating disorder and had lost a sister to malnutrition. All of this, in part, stemming from a negative perception of body image. Scott notes, “She was motivated to change the world so her daughter, and all children, could grow up loving themselves and seeing beauty in their unique bodies. I was overwhelmed by the suffering of the people I was seeing as a new therapist in my practice in Marin County.” All in all, the pair sought to change the culture of body image in their area, and hopefully influence others to do the same.
Rens, D. V. (2010). Media Education and Body Image. In Media Smarts. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
Steakley, L. (2014, May 29). Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses. Stanford Journal of Medicine: Scope. Retrieved November 13, 2014.