Body Image & the Importance of Media Representation

Disclaimer: This article discusses topics relating to body image, eating disorders, mental illness, and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.

Body image is ‘the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thought and feelings that result from that perception, these feelings can be negative, positive, or a mix both of which are influenced by individual and environmental factors.


The negative perspective of body image

For individuals of all ages, the media can cause individuals to have a negative body image and even an eating disorder. A study carried out by Florida House Experience Health, found that 87% of women and 65% of men compare themselves to others on social media.

The constant exposure to images posted online creates a link of how individuals within society tend to perceive themselves and compare their own bodies to the displayed social content. Within the present day, social media is, unfortunately, shaping the concept of beauty, as studies have found a correlation between the time spent on social media and negative body image; the correlation between the two factors is significantly high especially when individuals scroll through the amount of body-image focused content across social media platforms.


A negative perspective of body image can create unrealistic expectations within an individual's mind of how a person’s body should look, which can lead to unhealthy and disordered eating. Social media is flooded with images posted by people presenting the best version of themselves. The constant exposure to images of the ”ideal body type” on social media can lead to constant comparison to unrealistic standards. Social media can certainly damage a person’s perception of beauty and hurt their body image. The fact that such a high level of appearance-related content is displayed across social media causes these digital platforms in becoming extremely toxic.


Damaging effects the media can have on young minds

When it comes to beauty and body image, the media is criticised for creating a distorted reality. Celebrities, models, and actors alongside other “influencers” often portray societal beauty ideals, which tend to idolize thinness, muscularity, youth, and being able-bodied.

Within a recent report exploring children’s television programmes, it was found that the large majority of females were portrayed as very thin, in addition, female characters were twice as likely to be sexualised through various factors such as being styled in flattering clothing, alongside having long eyelashes and sensual lips.


For young and impressionable minds, being constantly exposed to this whenever watching tv series and programmes, can create many struggles, which could lead to affecting individuals children’s levels of confidence, self-worth, and doubtfulness. Furthermore, youth groups continuously facing exposure to the high levels of unrealistic and inaccurate body images create a message that they are common and normal amongst society and due to this further negative impact can take place by causing issues relating to individuals' self-esteem, and body satisfaction, depression, and eating disorders.

The importance of #bodypositivity

In recent years, the body-positive movement has become increasingly visible across social media. Generally speaking, ‘body positivity involves overall respect and appreciation for one’s body', regardless of whether an individual meets societal beauty ideals for how a body should look and function.

Body-positive content across social media platforms usually portrays non-sexualised and “enhancement-free” images of people with diverse bodies in terms of characteristics such as body shape, size, physical ability, skin colour, and gender identity. The collection imagery is usually accompanied by captions promoting body positivity using wording such as “All bodies are worthy”, alongside captions focused on facets of social justice “reducing stigma towards transgender individuals’ and some caption messaging may revolve around stories of resilience i.e “recovery from an eating disorder”.

This social movement helps drive positive motion towards increasing body satisfaction, appreciation, and acceptance amongst social audiences and these individuals will experience the benefits of body-positive media regardless of their pre-existing ideas about beauty.


How marketing campaigns impact our sense of self-worth

If brands worked towards creating a more inclusive and realistic portrayal of body image within their marketing campaigns; levels of self-esteem would be boosted and body acceptance would eventually become more normalised in society.


In the effort of working toward this, brands should alter their marketing strategies to prioritise ‘wellness over ratings’. There are a handful of film and tv shows within the media, that are making an effort toward portraying “body positivity” by including a variety of body types and characters, however, they are few and far between. If more brands would simply take a moment to redirect their focus and brand marketing strategies, it would significantly help decrease the current levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide present within society. Alongside this, it would help formulate a culture shift and open the door to a new era of creative, representative content, which viewers would relate to, embrace and appreciate.