How Media Affects Self-Esteem and Body Image


“ I should look a certain way; aspire to look like people who have a totally different build.  Hello I am 5’4 and pear shaped enough already; move on, right?  Easier said than done when it’s drilled into my head from such a young age… Disney princesses, waify actresses, Barbies and non-stop advertising – one day we all wake up and say, hey why don’t I look like that?”- Rosie.

Rosie isn’t the only one.  Images of female bodies everywhere- selling anything and everything from dog food to cars. Photos, selfies, comments and posts on Facebook and Twitter.  Many of these have an affect on our self esteem. Day after day, post after post. It can be overwhelming.

Media activist Jean Kilbourne said, "Women are sold to the diet industry by the magazines we read and the television programs we watch, almost all of which make us feel anxious about our weight.” The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells "ordinary" girls that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected.

It’s no secret that people in media are packaged and airbrushed into unrealistic levels of beauty and thinness. It’s an epidemic that only getting worse and worse. People feel like they can’t measure up, but still they try. And no matter where you go it seems like there is no relief from the images and the feeling that you are just not enough.

When I was in high school, how you looked determined how popular you are. There were other factors, but this was the main one. So there were the popular pretty people, and the rest. I started comparing and despairing. I became hypercritical of my appearance and I struggled with it significantly. I know I’m not the only one. I’d tell myself over and over…

“If you just lost weight.

“You need to be taller.”

“You are stupid, ugly, etc…”

I spoke to myself in a way I’d never speak to another human being--ever. Unfortunately, this wasn’t just a high school thing. I’ve felt shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and conflict within me. And I know I’m not alone. This isn’t something that only affects other people--teens, celebrities, or women—it’s something that people of all ages, body types, races, genders, and backgrounds struggle with.

Marla Gold shared her experiences about her save the dates .  She and her fiancé took a cute picture and sent it to her friends and family. Somehow it made it to the internet, and people had things to say. Some were not very nice. “Getting appearance snarked sucks” she said:

“I immediately felt about sixteen years old. To quote Angela Chase from My So-Called Life, “The worst feeling is suddenly realizing that you don’t measure up. And that in the past when you thought you did, you were a fool.” I felt hideous and most of all, stupid for all the times that I thought I wasn’t hideous.”

Lets be honest. The media is a big factor but just one factor. These expectations can also some from friends, family--everywhere and anywhere. Eventually, if you listen to them, they will come from you. I know that’s true for myself.

So what can we do?

First, recognize that it is happening. Do a self-check. How many times a day do you see images of other women and wish you were more like them or feel bad about yourself? Try this for a few days to a week. It might be helpful of you just say a word in your head or out loud when you see one. “there”, “there”, “there”. Do you hang out with people who reinforce negative thoughts? Do your “friends” put you down? What are people doing and saying? Being aware of the messages you are receiving every day is a powerful thing. You might not even realize how you are being influenced.

Second, make a list of things you like about yourself. This can be difficult, but do it. You are kind, you have great eyes, you are smart. Whatever you feel. For the next few days replace the “there” with one of those words “smart”, “smart”, “kind”, kind.” You can also replace negative people. Make positive comments to yourself and others. Do things that make you feel better about yourself.  You might want to limit your Facebook time and replace that time with something more positive (reading, talking to a friend, dancing, going for a walk, learning something new, writing in your journal, or make a playlist of positive songs).

I’ve done this and so have some of my friends. They were amazed to see how many times they were the ones beating themselves up. They were shocked when they saw how many unkind things they said to themselves, the names they called themselves, and the comparisons they made. One friend said “It was really sad to see how many times I was comparing myself to people. I was either really mean to myself or tried to cut the other girl down in my head so I could feel better.”  Getting a positive attitude, helped us improve. We could set realistic goals and reach them rather than just walking around feeling overwhelmed about what we could not change. Yeah, I may not look like the model (she may not even look that way), but I can be a better, healthier, more productive version of me.

Basically, it’s about challenging what you tell yourself.   Changing the “world” is a lot more difficult than changing yourself and you begin with your attitude. I know this is true.  If you want to talk about easy ways to start, call us . We’d love to help you get started or give you any support you need.