Peer Influence On Female Body Image Media Essay

This chapter will focus on factors and influence that online media have on body image and eating disorder. It will also take into consideration, the problematic dispositional feature that may help explain why individuals especially females are influenced by internalised media messages.


The mass media such as TV, movies, magazines, newspapers, including the new forms of media such as Facebook, twitter, is a means of communication, and has turn out to be a part of individual daily life within the Western societies and other part of the world. The most common possessions of these media saturation in the postmodern era are the prevailing portrayal of societal beauty ideals to its audience (Tiggemann, 2006, Para. 2). The reason being that media producers can easily share their works to different people across the world, either in thousand or in millions, through these media platforms especially “Facebook”(Gauntlett 2008:1). current research conducted by (Gauntlett 2008), found that females, especially young females make use of the media every day for different purposes, either to interact with other friends, family, for leisure e.g playing Games or for academic purpose (Gauntlett 2008:2). The relationship between the media and its audience is characterised by the role of ‘user’ or ‘participant’ than ‘audience member,’ in that, there is a level of interactivity in the media particularly in the new media platforms, for instance fcebook chat, yahoo messenger, skype, blackberry chat, whatsApp, TV, than just being a receiver (Gauntlett 2008: 2). The level of interactivity in the media possesses a risk factor for a change in behaviour, beliefs, attitude especially among female viewers.

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A research by Bignell (2001) indicates, the new media produces and mix the old media in a new way, for example, in past decades, the media focused on disseminating information without getting feedback. In the twenty first century the invention of the new media platforms has integrated the old media and allows the postmodern attribute of the computer based media to function as a mode of interaction equivalent to the old media (Bignell 2001:16). That is, media producers can now receive feedback from its users about a particular advertisement published on blogs, websites, facebook, twitter. As a result, the media has become a reference point against which unfavourable body shapes comparisons among females in particular are made (Grogan 1999:100).

According to (Gauntlett 2008) explanation, in western societies in particular, individuals spent more hours watching television advertisement, fashion shows, reality TV, reading newspapers and gossip magazine and other forms of publication each week. Similarly, the surf internets, watches movies, play games and find it hard to avoid the popular culture and advertisement, which is a risk factor for media influence to develop. The reason being that, media producers have various ways of catching viewers attention to a particular advertisement base on what people like to watch (Laughey 2009:33). In the Nigerian setting for instance, current Statistic shows that about 238,000,000 people watch television each day (answer 2012). Frequent exposure of female viewers to images of attractive people in the media is a step to the development of body dissatisfaction and the change in eating habits of individual and low self-esteem (Gauntlett 2008:3).


A number of influences have been highlighted as formative in the development and maintenance of shape and weight related disorder (Fairburn, Welch, Dolls, Davies, & O’ Connor 1997). These factors include, teasing and critical comments on someone’s appearance either from parents, peers, or social comparison tendencies (Frankos & Orosan- Weine, in press; & Hessen 1994). Yet, sociocultural factors, such as the role that the media including online media, have recently been pointed out as an important donor to body image dysfunction (Fallon 1990 & Heinberg 1996).


For over a century, eating disorders theorists, feminists scholars and researchers have accused fashion magazines, movies, television, advertising and the social media platforms for the promotion of disordered eating habits among individuals (Levine & Smolak 1998). The current societal standard of body shape (thinness) and other societally acceptable standard of beauty for females are considered high and impossible to acquire by an average woman, leading to low self-esteem (Fallon 1990 & Heinberg 1996). Although sociocultural factor can come from different sources, (e.g peers, parents, and partners) (Heinberg 1996 and Mazur 1986) found that the mass media are the most influential and persuasive communicator of sociocultural standard of thinness (Thompson & Heinberg 1999:340).

According to (Freedmen 1986) explanation, the impact of today’s visual media is different from the effect of the visual arts of the past. The reason being that the introduction of digitalization in the media field has enhanced the visual content of the media messages, making it more attractive and convincing enough to influence itz viewer’s sense of belief, In contrast, print and electronic media images have made it difficult to differentiate reality from fantasy (Thompson & Heinberg 1999: 340). Similarly, (Hargreaves 2002) supports that digital editing has created a false world that is impossible to achieve. Through editing and filtering the realistic nature of media images before distribution, making consumers believe that what the see in the media are realistic representations of the real people, other than carefully manipulated, artificially developed images (Stormer & Thompson 1995, 1998, in Thompson & Heinberg 1999:341).


Discovering the relationship between body image and media images appears to be the starting point to finding a successful intervention to body image dysfunction and eating disorder among females. According to Strigel-Moore & Smolak (2000) suggestion, beauty is an essential feature of femininity as represented in the media as well as an essential factor in the attractiveness stereotype of women, this factors promotes risk factor to body dissatisfaction.

Popular website, magazines, TV, usually advice females to focus on their physical appearance e.g body shape, as well as their outward attributes like hair, face, with rare mention of the need to be smart, sophisticated, and other good attribute that has no relationship with physical appearance (Sparhwark 2003:2). In that case the relationship between the body image and the media lies in the meaning that media users create from the message that the media disseminates and how the create their own identity from the messages.


For some years now, several scholars and researchers have defined body image in different from different angels. (Fisher 1990) defined body image as the perception of one’s body attractiveness, body size distortion, the perception of body boundaries and the perception of accuracy of body sensation. (Cash & Pruzinsky 1990) defined body image as the feeling of one’s thought and perception about their body image as well as age, race, function and sexuality. Furthermore, Schilder (1950) defined body image as a reflection of attitude and interaction with others. (Grogan 1999) refers to body image as a picture of one’s body originated from the mind (Grogan 199:2).

Body image is multidimensional; it is a symbol of a multifaceted construction of ideas that pertains to individual perceptions, attitude as well as associate behaviours (Stewart & Williamson 2004). Psychologically, body image is seen as a salient factor of interpersonal development especially with females (Levine & Smolak 2002). According to Grogan (1999) one is likely to develop body dissatisfaction when he or she starts nurse negative thoughts or feeling towards his or her body shape.

“They debated body image as being multidimensional, comprises of a cognitive and an emotional dimension. Cognitive body image consists of beliefs and self-statements about the body. Emotional body image is consists of experiences of appearance, whether the experiences are comfortable or uncomfortable and if there is satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the body. Body image is a subjective experience; it depends on how the individual interprets himself or herself. How a person sees their body is how they see themselves. Banfield and McCabe (2002) coincided that body image is multidimensional, however they identified three aspects: cognitions and affect regarding body, body importance and dieting behavior, and perceptual body image. Firstly, cognitive dimension relates to thoughts and beliefs about body shape and the affective dimension includes the feelings that a person has towards their bodies’ appearance (Sparhwak 2003:7). Secondly, body importance and dieting behavior, can be described as behaviors associated with grooming and dieting. Therefore Women who pay more attention on their body shape tend to engage in more grooming and dieting behaviors than women who pay less attention on body shape. In The final dimension, perceptual body image is described as the accuracy that an individual has when judging their shape, size and weight. Although researchers agree that body image is multidimensional in construct they do not agree on the amount or nature of the dimensions (Sparhwak 2003:8).

Body image is not stationary; meaning that body image is open to change at any point in time (Sparhwak 2003:8). For instance, Cash & Pruzinsky (1990) ed found that constant watching of television is likely to influence a person’s sense of reasoning, that is, by persuading them to focus on their body weight, appearance and how attractive they look. Similarly, Grogan (1999) after several studies concluded that body is influenced by numerous factors such as friends, family, teachers, peers and even the society. The reason being that the more a person grows and become mature in age, the influences on body image becomes either stronger or weaker, creating room for body image change over the life span (Sparhwak 2003:8).

Furthermore, women with negative feelings or thought about their body are those with negative body image experiences, either from peers, family, friends, and the society.

A negative body image may leads to several health disorder, including anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa, anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, dysfunction.

A psychology, (Walter 2006), proposed that sociocultural females at risk of developing their own identity, because of their constant exposure to western media. According to findings, young girls between the ages of 14 and 17 years, tend to show concern to a particular celebrity figure of their admiration. By so doing, it could be argued that the worship of this celebrity who is identified with this idealised body shape may lead young girls to poor body images and low self-esteem (Walter 2006:5). This psychology believes that the media strongly influences how young girls see themselves and others. But how meaning is constructed to create different identity depends on individuals, and when that anxiety for appearance and the feeling of body dissatisfaction sets in, the effects of the media on body image is seen. This means that when young girls start feeling insecure with their body shape as a result of their constant exposure to the attractive but realistic average weight models, or some form of advert from some kind of weight loss doctors, there is the possibility for the young girls to have a bad perception of themselves, and as a result of this, a disorder in the eating habit of this audience sets in, which could result to sickness and even death (Walter 2006:5).

The body image concept involves feelings, attitude, and perception the people have about their own body; these feelings could be influenced by the adoption of social standard, several study by scholars claim, the undeniable portion of media contents consumed by young girls is filled with an unhealthy messages about beauty, body size, food, weight control and gender roles of women and girls, including other substance like sexuality, alcohol, etc (Guimera 2010:388), it is important to check especially children and adolescents the process of media selection, media use and kind of media effects that is being exhibited by the children especially girls because of how powerful and market driven the media has become (Guimera 2010: 388).

Researchers (Gibbons 2003) “explain that the effect toward eating disorders is minimized, as a result of the notion that television encourages the consumption of high-fat foods. Recent magazines on the other hand, offer more instruction on dieting and therefore seem to be more significantly correlated to eating disorders (Teen 2011, 2003).


Peer is seen as a social factor responsible for body image discontent in females. Free online dictionary defines peers as persons with equal standard who share a mutual life experience in common (Google 2012). Peer is categorised in two routes “active” and “passive. In the active sense, peer influences female body image actively through verbal comments, attributions of personal value based on beauty, communication of beauty norms, and explicit verbal comparisons. Peer also influences females passively by provoking internal or unconscious body comparison (Winegard 2011:15). These socialization processes is driven by competition for mating resources (Geary 2010).

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Current Research shows that both active and passive peer effect commands stronger influence on female body image than the media (Winegard 2011:15) categorically, active peer influence is seen as the strongest influences on body image discontent (Jones,Vigfusdottir,& Lee, 2004; Lindberg, Grabe &Hyde 2007; Paxton, Schutz Wertheim,& Muir 1999; Shroff & Thompson 2004; Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2005; Taylor et al., 1998). For instance, Jones et all, (2004) indicates that media influences had no direct relationship on body image rather, it has only weak indirect relationship on the body through the internalisation of thin ideals.

On the other hand, Clark & Tiggeman (2008) added that media exposure of thin models has little direct influence on body image, especially in preadolescent girls. Meaning that peer have more direct effect on female body image through active critism and a stronger indirect effects for appearance conversations through internalisation of thin ideals. Similarly, McCabe and Ricciardelli (2005) recently discovered that female’s body images are not only influenced by the media and peer; rather, female body image can also be influenced by their parents, mothers in particular, as well as their female friends through teasing. For instance, Menzel et al; (2010) recently conducted a meta-analysis and founded 37% effect size of weight-related teasing and dissatisfaction in females, 33% effect size of appearance related teasing and 17% media effect size, meaning that mothers and female friends also command influence on female body image through teasing (Winegard 2011:15).


The shift in ‘fasting’ from the soul to body in the past forty years compared to the explosion of the mass media influence in female body image. In his study, Orbach (1978) highlighted the relationships between the media and body image, noting that the media tendency was to produce a picture of ideal femininity as ‘thin’, free of unwanted hair, deodorised, perfumed and clothed, before the new media production of pictures that is far removed from the reality of everyday life with the use of digital tools (Gunter, B. & Wykes, M. 2005 p.2).

The hunger for slender shape and a successful social life has caused many young females to deprive themselves of nutrition to the extent that they risk illness. An epidemiological research indicates that women are more obsess with their body shape, as a result, eating disorders (e.g. anorexia and bulimia) is now on the increase. In the united states of America for instance, a survey of over 2,500 young females conducted by Whitaker et al, (1989) found that more than three quarter of young females are anxious for weight loss, and two- thirds had already dieted for weight loss (Gunter, B. & Wykes, M. 2005 p.1).

Replicating, and commending representations of unrealistic female body shapes that can influence young women and persuading them to starve themselves is about to become a popular cliché (Gunter, 2005 p.3). The media is currently bombarded with critism for persuading young women to acquire ‘thin’ body image by continually portraying ‘thin’ image of female models as beautiful (Gunter, 2005 p.3)

Feminist thinker Susie Orbach, argued, female bodies are used to “humanize” and sell product, particularly in the western consumer culture (Grogan, 2008 p.74). In a consumer society where women’s body perform the crucial function of humanising other products and at the same time presented as the ultimate commodity, the increase in the way women think about their body image shouldn’t be a thing of surprise both at the level of distortion or creating a disjuncture from their bodies, especially now that the world is going more digital (Orbach, 1993 p.17).

Similarly, Brownmither (1984) stated that the development of the female concern with their body begins from childhood, the reason being that what a child learnt at the early staged is what the child will grow up with and find it hard to leave those things behind (Brownmitter 1984:13). In the postmodern environment femininity is linked with “small and weak, at this point, it could also be argued further that being slim and small is driven by the dominant desire of the opposite sex (Brownmitte 1984:14).even though women are pressurised by the media to acquire an “ideal” body shape, women are also embedded with consciousness which leads to discomfort, especially when the body image challenge and the expectation extends to fleshiness (Brownmitter, 1984:33). When this happen, women find it hard to be satisfied with their body and develop the feeling of insecurity and the desperation for a perfect physical appearance.

In years past, the BBC news published a report on the survey of about 3,000 women that was carried out on women in relation to body images dysfunction. The survey found that some females have tried losing weight through different means including: 32% of women who used fasting as a means of losing weight, 18% women used de-tox diet, 15% women used slimming pills, and 14% women used Laxative (BBC online, 2012). Therefore, as a result of this, 9% of the women had suffered bulimia out of one ten who suffered from anorexia, 21% admitted that they had splurged on food and 13% had eating disorder. Apart from the above listed measures, the survey further revealed that about 26% of these women admitted to have undergone series of plastic surgeries (breast in particular), due to some believes that their beauty, marriage, sex life, career, lies in acquiring bigger breast(BBC news 2012). On the other hand, about 78% of women thought that acquiring this body shape would present them more attractive to the opposite sex, but despite all this procedures and measure applied, disappointment still set as some outcome didn’t still appear perfect (BBC news online, 2012).

Furthermore, the Guardian Observer published an article stating that in the past, women with low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction found cosmetic surgery as the best means of body image creation, but in modern society the reverse is the case as eating disorder, dieting, slimming pills etc. have doubled (Guardian Observer 2012). Reasons being that the new forms of media has brought the world closer to the people with easy access to the media (e.g internet, phones, cinema, laptop, television, etc) and frequent advertisement on body image and weight loss, portraying beauty from a different perspective (Guardian Observer 2012).

Social construction of identity Body image in females: psychological perspective

Form a psychological perspective (Walter 2006), asserts that sociocultural influence is putting young females at risk of developing their own identity based on constant exposure to new media, in that young girls in adolescent age tend to show concern to a particular celebrity figure of their admiration. The worship of this celebrity who is identified with this idealised body shape leads to poor body images and low self-esteem in females from childhood to adulthood (Walter 2006:5). Psychologist believes that the media has influence the way females see themselves and others, based on how meaning is constructed to create different identity depending on individuals. The effects of the media on body image is seen when the anxiety for appearance and the feeling of body dissatisfaction becomes pronounce, this is more serious when young girls at their earlier stage of life start feeling insecure with their body shape as a result of their constant exposure to the attractive but realistic average weight models, or some form of advert from some kind of weight loss doctors, there is the possibility for the young girls to have a bad perception of themselves as they grow older, as a result, a disorder in the eating habit begins which may result to sickness and even death (Walter 2006:5).

The body image concept involves feelings, attitude, and perception that people have about their own body; these feelings could be influenced by the adoption of social standard, and the notion that, the undeniable portion of media contents consumed by young girls is filled with an unhealthy messages about beauty, body size, food, weight control and gender roles of women and girls, including other substance like sexuality, alcohol, and violence (Guimera 2010:388), it is important to check the process of media selection that a child consume, because of how powerful and market driven the media has become (Guimera 2010: 388).

In both Britain and in the United State, newspapers and magazines has large publications of stories on plastic surgery, ‘eating disorders’, reducing diets and the dangers of dieting, and critiques of the use of skinny models to advertise products, it is believed that the end of the twentieth century is a time of enhance concern with body image, due to the constant exposure of female viewers to pictures of skinny models in advertisement (Grogan, 1999:2). Following the idea of conceptualisation, body image could be subjective and open to change through social influence. Although there seems to be no link between a person’s subjective experience of their body and what is perceived by outside observers, the distortion of the body size still makes it obvious (Grogan, 1999 p.2).

Nonetheless, the image that one carries about his or her body is largely determined by social experience. Because the body image is open to change through new information due to its elasticity (Grogan, 1999 p.3). In subsequent cases, media imageries may sometimes be produced to change viewer’s perception, evaluation of their body image depending on the importance of the cues, and it could be argued that some viewers are likely to be more sensitive to such cues than others, for instance, it has been suggested that adolescents are more vulnerable because their body image in particular is elastic while they undergo both physical and psychological changes of puberty, also people with eating disorder, body builders are also sensitive to media cue (Grogan, 1999 p.3).

Chapter four

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