Is emphasis on body image in the media harmful to females only?  

I have mentioned to my fans at Eating to Live, Not the Alternative on Facebook that I am currently enrolled in an exceptionally interesting and personally meaningful course this summer. If you don’t know, I am in graduate school at the University of South Florida in the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Program. I am taking a course that hits pretty close to home. It is called: Obesity and Eating Disorders.


Well, weekly assignments include discussion posts to a particular, possibly controversial topic in the world of body image, obesity and eating disorders. This weeks discussion topic: 


Is emphasis on body image in the media harmful to females only?

There is a significant body of knowledge out there that addresses the impact of the media on body image on adolescent girls. Social comparison significantly influences girl’s attitude about themselves. However in the last few decades males are exposed to imagers of their idealized body type and these images have an impact on the male psych as well. Adolescent boys as well as girls are pressured to engage in potentially unhealthy behaviors to achieve these idealized body sizes and shapes. Is this just another “catastrophizing “ of a situation that affects just a very small minority or is it an alarming trend in our culture that has ongoing and exacerbating psychological implications for boys. Discuss.


Hmm… Here is my two cents worth of a response:


I have done tons of research on the effects of media on body image. It is absolutely true that there is a significantly larger amount of research dedicated to the effects of media on female body image rather than male. However, the amount of research studies does not take away from the data that IS available. That data shows that the emphasis on body image has an impact on both genders. 

Although data shows that a larger percentage of females develop eating disorders, males are not immune to the effects of images in media. Media is a multi-billion dollar business for a reason. It works. And, its not going anywhere. Photoshop and digital enhancements will only become more digitally enhanced. Fashion will only continue to evolve and create trends “to die for”…or, to diet for… or, to bulk muscle up for… or, to slim down for… or, in the case of ED’s, to starve or purge for. What happens when a male or female “fails” at achieving the body type or image they see in digitally enhanced mass media? They either become obsessed with it or, they lose hope. Hence, the cycle of eating disorders and obesity for BOTH males and females.
So, “is this just another “catastrophizing “ of a situation that affects just a very small minority or is it an alarming trend in our culture?”
 
First of all, disordered eaters and obese Americans are NOT a small minority. MILLIONS of people suffer from ED’s.
From the National Eating Disorder Association:
“Did you know…

Nearly 10 million females and 1 million males in the U.S. are battling an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, while millions more suffer from binge eating disorder?”

 
How can you consciously label 1 million males seriously suffering from an eating disorder as a “small minority”? And, allow me to point out that these statistics are based on the DIAGNOSED eating disordered population. Trust me, there is surely a sadly large amount of people who suffer from ED’s that never get diagnosed. I know this to be true because I was one of them and I know more that fall into that same undiagnosed category.
–Secondly, how could the internalization of mostly-impossible-to-achieve and wildly unrealistic digitally enhanced FAKE images in media which have empirically been shown time and time again to be a huge causal factor in eating disorder development not be considered something with an alarming trend? Did you know eating disorders are the #1 psychiatric KILLER? Is that NOT alarming?

I am alarmed…