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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Body Image


The Real Media Message

Linda S. Rellergert, MS, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

Everyday we are surrounded with messages about how we should look. They come at us from the TV set, radio, computer, billboards, magazines, newspapers, spouses, friends and others. Many messages show unrealistic and even altered bodies held up to us as symbols of success and happiness. We have become so accustomed to this steady stream of images that most of us are not aware that it is happening, let alone conscious of the effect on self esteem.

The currently held ideal image for both men and women is one that fits almost no one. Even the models pictured in ads do not look like the photos or images we see. The “perfect” pictures are achieved by using computer technology to digitally alter the originals.

The purpose of these unattainable images is to make us feel insecure and anxious. Advertisers hope to convince us that buying a product will make us feel better. Larry Kirkwood, an artist and body acceptance advocate observes, “Anxiety is the basis of the beauty industry and body hatred is an extremely lucrative business.” In fact, this tactic is not simply confined to clothes, make up and so on, but rather is an ingrained part of most advertising.

However, we don’t have to succumb to these tactics. We can break free from these media messages by becoming a critical viewer. Consider the messages coming from advertisers like the ones below. Think about the attitudes being subtly (and sometimes not so subtly!) promoted. Are these the values you hold? Are these the attitudes and beliefs you want for yourself and your children?

1. Products can make you look instantly attractive and perfect.

  • Who defines what is “perfect” or attractive?
  • What other things in the world are attractive or beautiful?
  • Do we all see attractiveness, perfection or beauty the same way?

2. Happiness and wealth are a result of how you look.

  • What does it mean to be famous?
  • What makes a person successful?
  • Are all successful people happy?
  • Do all rich people look the same?

3. Using the right product makes you popular.

  • What do you look for in a friend?
  • What qualities make you a good friend to others?

4. Everyone should look like society’s ideal.

  • What would the world be like if everyone looked the same?
  • What is unique about you?
  • If we all looked “perfect,” would that look become boring?

5. You can judge people by the way they look.

  • How can you tell if a person is honest?
  • What does a person do that makes them trustworthy or untrustworthy?
  • Does changing your outside appearance change who you are inside?






Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009



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