This may seem like a bit of a strange topic to tackle on the blog about a dietetic internship. However, this past week I was able to sit in on some counseling sessions of clients with eating disorders, and one of the themes that surfaced frequently was that of self esteem, particularly related to body image. The dietitian I am working with referenced the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, and so I decided to check it out.
I came across this startling quote on their website:
In 2011, Dove® released the findings of its largest global study to date on women’s relationship with beauty—The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited. The study revealed that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and that anxiety about looks begins at an early age. In a study of over 1,200 10-to-17-year-olds, a majority of girls, 72%, said they felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful. The study also found that only 11% of girls around the world feel comfortable using the word beautiful to describe their looks, showing that there is a universal increase in beauty pressure and a decrease in girls’ confidence as they grow older. Though Dove®efforts have moved the needle in a positive direction, there is more to be done.
Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. Wow. Media has a huge influence on our society’s perception of beauty. Although I don’t think of myself as someone who consumes a lot of media (i.e. I don’t watch TV, and only a few movies a month), I know that I am still bombarded by media messages every day- through internet, magazine advertisements, billboards, and even simply those repeated by my friends. When we hear these things: are we critical consumers of the information? Do we blindly accept what we hear, or do we think about the truth of what is being conveyed.
The National Eating Disorders Association Media Watchdog program organizes volunteers to report TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and internet ads or programs that are “worthy of praise or protest”, in order to bring concerned citizens together with companies and advertisers in order to send healthy media messages regarding body size and shape.
Here are some tips from the Media Education Foundation that can help us to deconstruct the messages being sent in a print ad.
- Make observations: List 5 adjectives, and evaluate the aesthetics of the ad- camera angles, lighting, gender and age of subjects, etc.
- Determine the purpose of the ad: The definition of an advertisement is that it’s out to sell a product. But what is being sold? Who is the target audience? What emotional appeal is used?
- Determine the assumptions the ad makes, and the messages it sends: What assumptions are made about gender, race, and class?
- Consider the possible consequences of these messages: Do the messages create unrealistic expectations for people? Is this ad socially responsible?
Source: The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness
Media messages may not directly cause eating disorders, but they certainly help to create a context in which people place value on the size and shape of their body.
If you suspect that someone you know has an eating disorder, I suggest that you take a look at this handout. Learn about eating disorders, know the facts and myths about weight, nutrition and exercise, be honest, be caring but firm, compliment their personality, successes or accomplishments, be a good role model, and tell someone!