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Oct 26 2012

The Body Shaming and Media Rant

I’ve had midterms all week. This is what happens when I want to blog more than I want to look at yet another flashcard or set of notes. Incoming snark and citations. 

I post fairly regularly on my facebook about media trends, and the damaging idea that ‘pretty’ is some sort of acceptable value judgement. There’s a lot of material, too. There are the new Minnie Mouse ads. Literally anything on the Escher Girls tumblr.  That one time (oh, you mean last week?) when Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough were treated as equals in their profession on the cover of Vanity Fair…. OH WAIT.  The fact that Oprah has a little theme called “Have You Lost Weight?” (And the URL says “How to Dress Slimmer and Avoid Looking Fat”, because that’s just spectacular.) with all the ‘slimming dresses‘ and ‘slimming makeovers‘ and strategies.

So I post about this. And I grouch about it. And I’ve recently noticed an odd reaction: a denial that media is a factor at all.

“Media doesn’t make people go out and self harm!”

“Aren’t you just blaming the media for what women do to each other?”

“It’s not that young girls are dieting more because of societal pressure–it’s because America/society is obese, and there’s more focus on health at early ages!”

So we’re going to talk about that.

While media doesn’t have a ton of influence on changing consumer behavior (McGuire 1985, 1986, since replicated), it does influence what we decide is important or pressing or worth valuing.  Political scientist Shanto Iyengar has a word for this, and it’s as accurate as it is terrifying: agenda control. (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987) For instance, media coverage might not change our opinion on child kidnapping or make us change our behavior, but persistant coverage of it will make us think it’s the most pressing crime in our area. Persistent coverage of the economy over coverage of environmental disasters will result public concern centered on unemployment and inflation, rather than oil spills.

So then, when you say to me that media doesn’t make girls* starve themselves to fit what they see on TV, you’re somewhat right. No, it doesn’t make them skip that meal, or step on that scale, or say that no, they’re just not hungry right now. But what it does do is tell them that the most pressing issue in their lives is how they look, and that pretty has a weight limit.

So yes, I do get to blame the media.

I get to be upset that ‘pretty’ or ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ is more important to showcase than ‘successful’ or ‘happy’ when you take photos of successful, happy women. I get to be angry that ‘slimming’ is one of the best adjectives you can pin to feminine clothing.

Kidnapping is still a crime, the economy is still worth caring about, and you can damn well want to look pretty or sexy or slim. But that shouldn’t be the single most important thing.

(Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008)

*Current research is mainly towards media and women’s eating, but men suffer from eating disorders, and acting as though disordered eating is exclusive to one gender is silly and dangerous.


Gilovich,T., Keltner, D., Chen, S. & Nisbett, R.E. (2011). Social Psychology (3rd ed.) New York: Norton & Company.

Grabe, S., Ward, L.M., & Hyde, J.S. (2008). The role of the media in body image concern among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 460-476

Iyengar, S. & Kinder, D. (1987). News that matters: Television and American opinion. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

McGuire, W.J. (1985). Attitudes and attitude change. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (eds.), Handbook of social psychology (3rd ed. Vol. 2, 233-346). New York: Random House

McGuire, W.J. (1986). The myth of massive media impact: Savagings and salvagings. Public Communication and Behavior, 1, 173-257.

 

 

4 comments

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  1. 1
    dougmasson

    Last week, my 7 year old daughter had a team pizza party for the end of the soccer season. I was horrified when one of the 7 year old girls declined a second piece because it might make her “chubby.”

    I’m trying to emphasize to my kids (boy and girl) to exercise and eat good stuff so they can be healthy and happy. I’ll be pissed if my daughter gets all hung up on weight bullshit.

  2. 2
    jenny6833a

    Kate, if you want a break from the kind of body-shape emphasis you’re discussing, visit your friendly local nudist resort. There’s probably one near you.

    http://www.aanr.com/aanr-clubs/?id=regions_clubs_clubs.html

    :-)

    Jenny

  3. 3
    Marlow Up River

    Ashley, you are playing whack-a-mole! While I read your post there was an ad floating on the right side of your web page showing a shapely doe-eyed platinum blonde* and offering a product to boost testosterone.

    * the blonde is female, for those open-minded enough to have suspended judgement and who are curious about the gender of the person in the ad.

  4. 4
    Kate Donovan

    Ah, I’m actually the author, but eurgh. Ads are the worst.

  1. 5
    Writing A Better Love Story: On Pop Culture That Romanticizes Unhealthy Relationships » Brute Reason

    [...] affects us in ways that are too nuanced for easy fixes. As it is with eating disorders, it’s not like anybody would read Twilight or watch Gossip Girl and immediately conclude, [...]

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