Media vs. Self Esteem

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After the blog post about fashion and eating disorders, I received a few comments that reading my essay would be helpful and a good source of knowledge. Now, because I need to give credit where credit is due, I must say that I wrote this essay with a partner (who was amazing to work with). Also, I have a Works Cited that I am not attaching, but just letting you know so you know I did not plagiarize. Always good to put that all out there right away. Now, without further ado, my essay!


            80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance (Libal 12). 80% of 10 year olds are scared of being too fat (Libal 13). Why do you think this is? Studies prove that the media is so prominent in today’s society that this major influence can cause things to quickly spiral out of control in a young woman’s life. Girls should not let the mass media affect their body image because it provides a false reality of what defines beauty. This can lower self-esteem and even lead to eating disorders.
So many girls are sucked in to the sleek pages of magazines or the glamour of their television shows, and for teenaged girls, the mass media is like the fantasy world they all lived in as little girls; it’s a false reality. Sarah Murnen, a professor of psychology and a body image researcher said, “The promotion of the thin, sexy ideal in our culture has created a situation where the majority of girls and women don’t like their bodies” (Hellmich 1). The ideal for teens is not just being thin. A survey of girls showed that the ideal teen body was medium height, thin, Caucasian and has blonde hair and blue eyes (Heubeck 1). Promoting the thin ideals of the media is a simple task, when teenagers are constantly surrounded by all types of it. The average teenager gets approximately 180 minutes of media exposure per day (Huebeck 1). Surveys have even shown that teens get an average of 22 hours of television every week (Maynard 6).
The alternate universe, or false reality, the media creates is so unrealistic, it causes girls to feel as if they have to live up to a ridiculous and impossible goal for most, that can not healthily and naturally achieved (Maynard 6). Possibly 5% of the female population is 6 feet tall and 109 pounds, yet girls perceive this to be the norm (Bell 65-7). What females don’t know, however, is that in order to attain the stereotypical perfect body, magazines employ professionals to aim for perfection (Trueit 14.) This is proved in a quote from the popular magazine GQ’s editor, “We do that [photo-shopping] for everyone, whether they are a size six or a size 12. It hasn’t a lot to do with body size. Practically every photo you see in a magazine has been digitally altered in this way” (“Magazine Admits Airbrushing Winslet” 1). What media portrays as “normal” is in fact abnormal, but that would never be guessed based on the constant advertisements and television shows that are blasted at teens and youth in general. “In attempt to emulate countless media images they view, girls often take drastic measures,” summarizes how the media effects girls (Huebeck 1). When it comes down to it, looking at pages and pages of thin, unbelievably gorgeous models can be an exasperating experience to any girl. It is not surprising girls take such drastic measures to attain this ridiculous measure of perfection.
Fashion and beauty magazines are a huge part of the media, but sadly, it isn’t always a positive influence to teen girls. It has been proven that magazines, not television shows, are most likely to cause eating disorders in teenagers (Hernandez 88). In addition, magazines have been titled the single most influential source of media for everyone of all ages (Maynard 26). The high-gloss pages of magazines seem harmless, until the reader focuses in on all the hidden messages, such as you can only get a boyfriend if you are paper thin, or won’t be successful in life unless you have flawless skin and perfect hair. Teen magazines are filled with airbrushed models and celebrities, “the best” workouts and healthy eating articles. Other effective articles are ones that push exercising and watching what you eat to be “healthy” by reducing calorie intake. The truth is, all pictures in magazines have had tons of computer retouching, and all the girls have been digitally slimmed down. Instead of using computer retouching, lights placed at certain angles can highlight better features and hide worse ones. To create an ideal model or celebrity, sometimes body parts, like abs, are photoshopped in to replace the body part of that model or celebrity. Thinking that these people look perfect everyday can decrease a girl’s self-esteem in a matter of seconds.
            A girl’s self-esteem is a vital part to her development and her confidence level, and the media drastically lowers it. A report done by the American Association of University Women shows that for teenage girls, most think that the most important indicator of self-worth is “the way I look” (Croll 155). Lauren Richardson, a 14 year old, quotes, “No one wants to be fat. If I got fat, I couldn’t live with myself. I’d have no self-esteem” (Bell 65-71). The media has such a vast effect on young women in today’s society, that it in fact even affects a young girl’s body image. Many girls suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and more (Burke 1). This suffering is only increased by the hormones in the teenage body throughout the time of puberty as well as the changes puberty brings along. Puberty causes girls to round out and usually has an increase in body fat to go along with it (Croll 155). The physical change in their body can make teens more insecure with lower self-esteem. Late or early development can also to the same. During puberty is the time when teenage girls turn to the media for advice about how they should look, and the answer is never certain. This is because the media is extremely contradictory; though they say, “happiness comes from within,” media suggests that happiness springs from looking like a model. Meanwhile, a model’s proportions are impossible to achieve for the average girl (Maynard 26). Runway models must have long slender legs, wide-set eyes and high, and well-defined cheekbones (Hellmich 2). Even losing weight cannot make a girl look like a runway model, because the runway standards are attributes that you have to be born with (Hellmich 2).
Furthermore, low self-esteem is not just a result of a girl’s personal body image; low self-esteem starts early in life, created with influence from factors like school, parents, friends, society, activities and of course, the media, changing how a girl feels about herself (Marano 4). In school for at least 900 hours a year, girls can create a constant comparison between both close friends and people that a girl does not even know. This can turn into a silent competition to be skinnier and to look better than everyone else (Marano 2; Croll 156). Additionally, the media has been known to sway the self-esteem of girls as young as 5 years old (Heubeck 1). Parents are known to become more critical of their children in their teenage years, academically and physically (Croll 157). While encouraging their kids to stay fit and healthy and not become another childhood obesity statistic, parents are sending a silent message that girls perceive as, “You must be skinny” (Croll 157). For instance, if you have ever overheard your mom venting to your dad about how fat she thinks she is becoming, then it is no wonder that one of the main causes of eating disorders are moms. If the role model of their life thinks she needs to lose weight, then isn’t it assumed that you-the daughter-would need to lose weight as well? Though clearly this isn’t true, many girls perceive it to be. Having low self-esteem can make other aspects of a girl’s life negative also. Sports have been known to either raise self-esteem significantly or lower self-esteem significantly. Sports such as soccer, volleyball and basketball all encourage team spirit and have no relation to physical appearance (Libal 20). The teamwork and encouragement that these sports produce can leave long-lasting positive self-esteem (Libal 20). However, sports that can be judged on physical appearance, such as dance, gymnastics and figure skating, are known to lower self-esteem (Heubeck 1). The self-esteem is lowered in these sports when girls don’t achieve the best score or achieve their personal goal because of their appearance (Heubeck 1). Studies have shown that girls with low self-esteem are negatively affected physically, mentally, intellectually and socially (Libal 15).
Eating disorders are depressing psychological and physical conditions that affect many girls throughout the world. Perhaps no one fully comprehends this better than the teenagers affected by these life-threatening disorders. Take sixteen year old Laura for example; a perfect example of how harmful eating disorders are. When Laura’s dance teacher told her one day that she had to lose more weight to become a professional dancer, she was “shoved” into anorexia. Laura starved herself, but still saw herself as fat compared to the other dancers that she took classes with everyday of the week. Eventually she had to go to the hospital because she passed out from starvation (Abramovitz 26). Despite the fact Laura’s story may come across as extreme and rare, there are many stories just like Laura, some not ending in rehabilitating the affected person back to health. An alarming amount of anorexics and bulimics have in fact died due to their intense condition.
Surprisingly, a whopping 1% of all teens have an eating disorder (Martin 1). Though this may not seem like much, when you think about it in real-life terms, if there are 100 people in your grade, at least 1 of them is probably anorexic or bulimic. As an escape, girls try to deal with the stress to be perfect by taking complete control of their size and shape of their body (Bjorkland 15). There are two types of eating disorders, called anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Hellmich 1). Anorexia nervosa is defined as low weight, fear of being fat and most importantly, self-starvation. Anorexia nervosa is the most common eating disorder and frequently leads to bulimia nervosa.  Bulimia nervosa is known as the binge and purge disorder (Hellmich 1). Frequent dieting is also considered a type of eating disorder because it does the same things to the body that anorexia and bulimia do. All of this to say, eating disorders are serious conditions that should not be taken lightly.  Eating disorders have the highest rate of death out of all psychological disorders (Levchuck, Drohan, and Kosek 355). The seriousness of eating disorders is fully understood by Holly Hoff, of Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Inc. “Young people see these images on TV, in the movies and on the pages of magazines and they begin to think that these images of emaciated thinness are what they’re “supposed” to look like” (Martin 1). Aspects of eating disorders include restricting certain foods, extreme weight loss, too much exercising, an intense fear of being fat, and a distorted body image (Martin 1). Perhaps the most disturbing statistics about eating disorders include that: 8 million people in America alone have an eating disorder and media suggests thinness brings success, power, approval, popularity, friends, and even romance (Levchuck, Drohan, and Kosek 355). Sadly, girls go to extremes to attain this thinness, leaving them feeling hopeless and desperate. They feel that becoming anorexic or bulimic is their only option, but this is not true. Instead, girls should separate themselves from negative influences and bad media and pursue their hobby. For instance, they could play a sport they are interested in, join a chorus or band, or take time to socialize with true friends. Most importantly, girls should surround themselves with positive influences and think optimistically about their body. With too much time on a girl’s hands, one could begin to obsess over how they look and what others think about them.
            In conclusion, media provides an unrealistic idea of what beauty is. As a result, it lowers self-esteem and in some cases can lead to eating disorders. By avoiding comparison to other girls and being healthy, girls can make themselves stronger against the mass media. Let’s start a revolution! Do not let the media affect you negatively and understand that each and every girl is beautiful. What the media portrays is normal is not, in fact, so accept your bodies for the way that it is. The next time you look in the mirror, remind yourself that you are gorgeous, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the only beholder that matters is you. When you learn to see yourself as beautiful, others will too, and you will prove to the media that happiness truly does come from within!  

Hope you liked it, and that it was helpful and informative. If you have any questions or comments, please comment below! Most importantly, show your friends, so that word will spread about how teenage girls should not let the media affect themselves. 


Yours in Fashion,


  1. Thanks for posting your essay. It was very informative and I will definitely share this with others. I really think teenage girls could have the power to make a difference in the world!!

  2. Would you mind if I forwarded this post on my blog? I will of course give credit to you.

  3. I don't mind at all. What is your blog called?

  4. think eating disorders is a problem that dancers should also be informed of.

  5. Hi, I would like to say that I love your essay and I'm glad I found your blog! I'm really interested in fashion and I can't wait to hear what else you have to say!

  6. Ahhh E! So impressive! Our essay is official! I love your blog, you are so fashionable, and so much fun in total! Keep up the good work and wow the world with your fashion expertese! (experttise?) :)

  7. There are always to sides of the argument. Here's an article that examines the other side of the 'size zero' argument. :)

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox
    and now whenever a comment is added I receive four
    emails with the exact same comment. Is there a means
    you can remove me from that service? Thank you!

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    1. I am so sorry, I have no way of controlling that. Try to check at the bottom of the emails to see if you can unsubscribe or opt out of further emails. I'm sorry that this has been causing you trouble.

  10. hey i was wondering if you could supply me with your the sources you used in this essay?

    1. Sorry that this is long, but here are all my citations. Unfortunately I had no other concrete list of sources then this.

      Abramovitz, Melissa. "Mirror Mirror in Your Head: Your Mental Picture of Your Body Can Have a Direct Effect on Your Self-esteem and Behavior." Current Health 2Feb. 2002: 26. InfoTrac Student Edition. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

      "BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Magazine Admits Airbrushing Winslet." BBC News - Home. 9 Jan. 2003. Web. 21 Nov. 2011. .

      Bell, Alison. "Eating Disorders & The Toll They're Taking on Teens." TEEN 1999: 65-71. SIRS Discoverer. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. .

      Bjorklund, Ruth. Eating Disorders. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2006. Print.

      Burke, Wendy. "Eating Disorders: Overview." Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. .

      Croll, Jillian. "Body Image and Adolescents." Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services. Minneapolis: Center for Leadership, Education and Training in Maternal and Child Nutrition, 2005. 155-64. Print.

      Hellmich, Nancy. "Do Thin Models Warp Girls' Body Image?" USA Today 25 Sept. 2006: 1-3. Print.

      Hernández, Roger E. Teens & the Media. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest, 2005. Print.

      Heubeck, Elizabeth. "Girls and Body Image: Media's Effect." WebMD. WebMD, 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. .

      Libal, Autumn. Can I Change the Way I Look?: a Teen's Guide to the Health Implications of Cosmetic Surgery, Makeovers, and beyond. Philadelphia, PA: Mason Crest, 2005. Print.

      Marano, Hara Estroff. "Skinny Sweepstakes." Psychology Today 1 Jan. 2008: 1-4. Print.

      Martin, Patti. The Skinny on Weight Loss. 8 Feb. 2000. Web. 27 Oct. 2011. .

      Maynard, Cindy. "How to Make Peace With Your Body." Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society. ABC-CLIO, Sept. 1998. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.

      Mills, J. Elizabeth. Expectations for Women: Confronting Stereotypes. New York, NY: Rosen Pub., 2010. Print.

      Levchuck, Caroline M., Michele Drohan, and Jane Kelly Kosek. "Eating Disorders." UXL Complete Health Resource. 355. Print.

      Trueit, Trudi Strain. Eating Disorders. New York: F. Watts, 2003. Print.

      That's all of it, hope that helps

    2. wow that is a lot, i just asked because i am writing my 20 pg english 202 paper on this and related topics (like photoshop and self esteem) and i have to make sure the info, especially the percentages, are legit and not biased or spun a certain way

    3. If you wouldn't mind emailing it to me when you are done, I would love to read it!

    4. uh sure if you want it will be the beginning of May when its completed (ie the end of the spring semester is when it is due) right now i am still in the process of collecting sources (really not looking forward to those peer reviewed ones they are so long!)

  11. What seriously inspired u to write “"Media vs. Self Esteem"”?

    I personallyreally liked the post! Thanks ,Brianna

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    1. I am always very aware of then extreme behaviors in the fashion industry in order to stay super skinny, and I get upset at how teenager let this insane image of skinny affect their choices with their body.

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