TV exposure and the ideal body
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Harriet Frew
4th April, 20160 Comments
It is pretty much accepted that people on television are usually thinner, are more likely to have had ‘work’ done, and are better groomed and more aesthetically good looking than the average Joe or Joanna Blogs. Teeth are stunningly white and sparkling. Hair is beautifully styled and frizz free. Skin is smooth and taut as people don’t seem to age on the screen as they do in real life.
The media is often regularly blamed for the casualties of poor body image but how much does it really impact on how you feel about your body today?
As a therapist, I tend to think that poor body image is generally more deep-rooted than simple media exposure. Commonly someone feeling unhappy about their body might have experienced significant events that contributed to this in earlier life. They may have been bullied. They may have been unhappy with their size or some aspect of appearance from school days. They might have low self-esteem issues rooted in early life. They may have lived through loss or trauma or something else.
I have always seen the exposure to the thin or fit or skinny ideals as an added contributor to an already existing problem – so my view was that media exposure definitely doesn’t help, but rather than being a cause, is more an added fuel to an already burning fire.
Recent research published online in the British Journal of Psychology has made me rethink some of this. The study shows clearly that the amount of exposure to television has a direct link on someone’s perceived female body image ideal (i.e. thinner).
The study took place in Nicaragua, Central America. Scientists explored men and women’s body size preference in relation to how much television they watched. They questioned people from:
- an urban area – ample television access
- a village with some television access
- a village with little television access.
The research showed that those living in urban areas with the higher media access had a definite preference for thinner female bodies. This contrasted to people’s body preferences when living more rurally with less television access.
In our western culture, these media images have almost become the ‘norm’ and an accepted ideal that we don’t question anymore. It is no surprise that a Parliamentary report on body image in 2012 estimated that a whopping two thirds of adults suffer from negative body image. There are a lot of people experiencing body dissatisfaction – this undoubtedly affects women’s and men’s mental health and also the potential for contributing towards eating disorders.
There is a ‘positive body image movement’ edging forward through the media, trying to challenge stereotypes and to promote body acceptance, although it has some way to go yet. To improve your own body image, you cannot control the media overwhelm, but you can take a few steps to protect yourself and to create a healthier body image.
Five suggestions for dealing with media ideals:
1. Be mindful and aware of the impact of media. Notice, if you compare yourself to others. Do you place pressure on yourself to look like people on your screens? Start to question your judgements. Are they really fair?
2. If media is impacting you, reduce your screen time. Choose wisely the material you expose yourself to. You have some power and control over this. This is of course not just limited to television; Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites are also potential influences.
3. Remember, that people on your screens are not truly representative of the population as a whole. They are under intense pressure to look a certain way and to portray an ‘ideal’ – they might have stylists, make-up artists, personal chefs and a whole entourage who are supporting them to look a certain way. Take a look at people on your local high street to see real bodies and a fairer representation.
4. Appreciate your own body for all it can do for you today. Value the health, strength and movement that your body provides.
5. Try not to judge you self-worth so much by your body size or shape. Regularly, celebrate your personal qualities and character traits. If you want to focus on your body, centre on your personal strengths and don’t waste time scrutinising your perceived imperfections.
If you are struggling with poor body image and are finding it hard to find any self-acceptance, this could be the time to get further support through counselling.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and London.
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