The Impact of Media on Body Image

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The Impact of Media on Body Image


With the advent of technological advances, social media is becoming increasingly prevalent and accessible to the general public. There was a simpler time when people only had access to social media in the form of newspapers, magazines and T.V. Nowadays people have easy access to social media in the shape of social media websites, blogs, vlogs, numerous T.V. shows, movies, applications and much more. One might think that having a cell phone in your hand gives you full authority over what type of content you wish to view; however, it goes the other way around.  People are not even aware as to how much grip social media has on the minds of the viewers and the way they manipulate them into believing things related to their body image, self-esteem and self-satisfaction are just nerve-wracking.

When trying to understand the impact social media has on both males and females regarding body image, shocking results are observed. One might think that social media target only women regarding their perception of the ideal body image, but unfortunately, that is not the case. The guys are equally affected by social media’s perception of the ideal body (Cruz, “Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys”).

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows how approximately 18 percent of boys are conscious of their body dynamics and figure (Skinner 562). The study also revealed that when it comes to comparing the different way in which both boys and girls react to social media's portrayal of the perfect body. The trends show that girls are more concerned with losing those not so extra pounds, whereas, boys are being pressurized to gain more in the form of muscles. The made-up perception of the ideal body image has known to have a variety of adverse effects on the emotional, physical and psychological well-being of both boys and girls.

Hence, the research paper aims at highlighting the way in which social media manipulates boys and girls into believing how their bodies are not shaped perfectly. Followed by this, it goes on to provide the impact on both genders separately so that one can understand the differences in more detail. Lastly, it incorporates psychological theories while trying to explain the way boys’ and girls’ emotional, physical and mental well-being is affected by these false perceptions.

Due to the limited amount of literature present about the adverse impact of body image on both boys and girls, the section serves to present resource material from academic journals as well as news articles, so that the literature gap existing in the topic is bridged.

Males and the Impact of Media on Body Image

Females are not the only ones who are being targeted by social media by their body image. As each day passes by, men are becoming obsessed with their weight as well. As pointed out by Dr. Alison Field (Cruz, “Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys”), social media is driving people crazy to such an extent that they lose their ability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy and instead just focus on losing massive amounts of weight in a short time span.


Social media has been widely known for portraying the superficial body image of guys where they are supposed to be bare-chested and have figures which resemble that of a Greek god, where acquiring six-packs is portrayed as being a piece of cake. Discrimination is not subjected to women anymore. Questioning one’s satisfaction towards their body image and making them feel uneasy about their physique is a leading source of discrimination and distress. It has been observed that boys as young as six and eight years old have developed issues regarding body image all thanks to the easy access to social media. Yes, being athletic is a good hobby, but does it really have to be at the cost of losing one’s health and mental stability? In high-schools jocks are perceived to be more powerful and desirable because of their athletic personality and bulky built. Unfortunately, social media tends to promote this image of boys, which cause the non-athletic ones to feel insecure and self-conscious about their bodies. Even though the non-athletic ones might be far talented than the athletic ones, but since, they can’t meet that unrealistic physical standard of body image, so their self-confidence hits rock bottom.

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Popular action figures of superheroes and movie characters have been perceived as being the male equivalent of Barbie dolls. Since the days of childhood, both boys and girls are being shown the unrealistic image of perfect bodies, so that as they begin to grow up, they risk the stability of their health just to look extremely skinny or muscular according to the standards that have been set by the social media. No one would have come across an action figure which would be fat or even slightly healthy looking. Even star wars figures of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker used to be skinny initially, but as time passed, those figures have transformed into more muscular and God-like figures, which have been messing children’s minds. This shows the double standards that have been portrayed by social media when it comes to promoting a healthy lifestyle and instead forces people to go on crash diets or develop eating disorders. Boys who have average weight think of themselves being overweight.

Moreover, as stated by a study conducted in 2012, boys belonging to the middle school and high school are more prone to using muscle building substances, which tends to harm their bodies. The results further showed that one –third of boys drink excessive amounts of shakes made of protein powder, so that they became bulkier, while, approximately 6 percent of the boys have developed a habit of taking steroids and other muscle building substances (Cruz, “Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys”). Followed by this, men are also being made conscious about their intimate parts; thus, making them question their body image repeatedly.

Even globally known celebrities like Chris Brown, Jack Nicholson, and Simon Cowell has been body-shamed by social media over gaining weight or for getting cosmetic surgery done, even if they have not gone through the procedure (Fell, “How The Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too”). Even a well-known celerity that starred in “How I Met Your Mother”, Jason Segel wasn’t seen to be the really buff man that one expects to see in shows. However, he was forced to lose as much as forty pounds in order to get casted in a movie. The main purpose behind making him lose that extra flab was that he needs to look as desirable as his co-star. Once, again a grown man is being made uncomfortable about his body image, just so that he tries to tone his body for a movie role. No one can guarantee whether that movie will be a blockbuster, but there is one thing for sure that movie did shatter his self-confidence. Boys and men are being forced to constantly compare themselves with photo-shopped images of actors and models so that they stop believing that having man boobs, a protruding belly or some skin disease is a common thing.

The consequences of these perceived body images are widespread. Men are brainwashed into believing that any personal impulse of masculinity should be ignored, and the traditional traits that are associated with being tall, chiseled and unnecessarily have caused them to lose touch with their real self. The situation has caused men to become emotionally unstable and thus, hinder them into opting for their aspirations that might be considered to be less manly according to traditional as well as contemporary views. This further leads to the development of insecurities that are being based on some unrealistic standard that has been set by social media sources. The superficial image hinders them from conversing about their emotions and fears because they cannot face being rejected by the society and their loved ones, thus, leading their lives in a constant fear of loneliness and insecurity.

According to another study conducted by students from the University of Florida, they introduced their male sample to advertisements displayed on television which either portrayed the ideal image as shown in the social media or a neutral body image (Tantleff-Dunn 13). The results of the experiment revealed that when males were exposed to ideal images, they reacted in a very depressive manner, especially because of their lack of muscularity. In case of neutral images, they showed a more normal behavioral trend. To meet these superficial standards, young adults have also noticed to be heading towards tattoo parlors and tanning parlors more than before (Kim Johnson 24). 

More and more emphasis is being put on broadening the chest and biceps, then developing a healthier lifestyle. The feeling of lack of satisfaction has been attributed to the objectification theory. Even though the theory was created to understand the objectification women face in our society, but as time is progressing, even men are being incorporated into the theory. Social media has also gained the authority to even meddle with people's minds when they are making clothing choices.

Typical advertisements like those of underwear have managed to intimidate a significant amount of men, thus, leading them to question their perception of the ideal body image. This objectification has even given rise to the development health conditions like muscle dysmorphia, which is described as being a state in which men's sole aim it to attain high levels of muscularity (Kim Johnson 24). The condition can further cause men to display patterns like vigorous muscle building, multiple eating disorders, along with, overdosing over steroids and muscle enhancing substances.

Eating disorders are not just associated with women, but also men and these unhealthy trends have been increasing as time progresses. Figures have shown that approximately, 1 out of 10 men will have developed an eating disorder, but these trends have worsened as a more recent research has pointed out that 1 out of 4 men is developing eating disorders these days. However, there is still more work to be done in the branch, so that more attention is given to men as well. Unlike women, one would not come across men who would be consuming laxatives or be engaged in activities like fasting, vomiting as well as, excessive exercising. Hence, it is quite evident that men have become a huge part of the image objectification that is being done by the social media and encouraged by the society.

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Females and the Impact of Media on Body Image

People who tend to look a lot into their appearance as well as do not agree with their outer appearance are bound to have eating disorders. These trends worsen when the social media begins to meddle with people's perception of their outer appearance, especially the body image. The more people are engaged in flipping through fashion magazines or viewing social media sites that make one question their beliefs, the more the person is bound to develop accelerating levels of dysfunctional beliefs. Such people will always exhibit signs of eating disorders, hence creating more and more dietary restriction for themselves. Exhibiting such behavior does not allow them to meet their required nourishment needs, hence ending up valuing an anorexic figure over a healthy lifestyle. Well-known celebrities like Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna are being targeted for being too fat by the social media repeatedly. It is sad how women who are completely with their figure, but are still belittled by their fans because of the unrealistic standards set by the social media.

Apart from males, females have also been a significant target of the false perception set by social media regarding body image. The perception was also proven by the statistical results shown by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2006. The results revealed that majority of the Americans are engaged in the use of social media as well as watching television, i.e., 3,592 hours and 1,704 hours, respectively (Russello). These increased trends of hours being spent in scrolling through social media sites have adversely affected women’s self-esteem regarding their body image. Easy access to social media and its exposure to women regarding their weight and figure have allowed them to lose grasp of their lives. The adverse effects of these superficial images are not just restricted to physical imbalances, but also emotional and psychological.

According to the study conducted by the college, women revealed that when these women were exposed to images of women who are extremely slim and beautiful caused them to portray high levels of mental stability and internalization (YukoYamamiyaa 76). Similarly, another study also revealed the same results. Once girls less than nineteen years viewed images of extremely skinny women; their self-esteem, as well as perception of body image, began to deteriorate as compared to when they were exposed to images of plus size or average looking models (Lisa M. Groesz 6).

According to the meta-analysis studies conducted by Kim Johnson has shown that the unrealistic standards of appearance that have been defined by the society have been more crucial towards women than men (Kim Johnson 24). These researchers indicated that the societal norms have emerged as being more flexible for men as compared to women, thus, forcing women to believe that they can achieve the same results in less amount of time, effort, and even money. Hence, this proves how women are present in a more vulnerable state and struggle more vigorously to become desirable in the eyes of the society.

Studies have also revealed that developing eating disorders is also accompanied by activities like body checking. The process of body checking involves excessive weight checking, individually checking parts of one’s body through pinching so that they can identify if they have gained weight on that part or not, along with, constantly sucking in one’s belly, so that others cannot spot from the outside (Kim Johnson 24).

It is unusual activities like these that are creating distress in the lives of women. Followed by this, women also tend to avoid looking into the mirror so that they can avoid facing their not so ideal looking reflection. They will go to any lengths to avoid showing their body to others, even if it involves them changing their gym clothes, not in the gym lockers. Women who have been increasingly engaged in self-weighing have been noticed to be more conscious of their weight and thus, begin to engage in activities like fasting, which ultimately makes them gain weight instead of losing it. 

According to statistical data, it was observed that as much as 40% of Australian girls belonging to the age group of 8-12 years had been known to be unpleased with their figure. The data shows that it becomes challenging for women and girls to keep up with the objectified standards that have been put forth by the social media. The women that are being hired by the social media for portraying the ideal body image are known to be at least fifteen percent below the approximate weight of the female population. Keeping those skinny images in mind, women have begun to lose more weight, so that they can appear more appealing to men. Followed by this, fall in self-esteem levels are also linked to these images, thus, allowing them to show huge fluctuations in their weight. 

Additionally, sociocultural theories that have been suggested by researchers have also confirmed that unrealistic ideas of the ideal body image can lead to increased levels of dissatisfaction. When a study was conducted using both boys and girls as a sample, the results indicated that girls displayed greater trends of body dissatisfaction as compared to males. Along with this, girls also experienced more mood swings and signs of negativity (MarikaTiggemann 353). Yes, boys are also affected by the unrealistic body image that is shown in T.V. commercials and other sources of social media, but the impact it has on girls and women as far more significant and normative.

Moreover, behavioral trends have depicted that women are prone to adopting a lifestyle in which they will be crash dieting and exercising excessively, because they cannot face being negatively compared with someone else on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. As stated by a study published in the journal called Body Image, schools need to stress on students to adopt a more positive approach towards their self-esteem and nourish rather than killing it (Ratcliffe, “Friends' pictures on social media have the biggest impact on body image”). Upon the filing of surveys by their sample, it was concluded that women found themselves to be less appealing than the ones who were found online and in magazines.

As women tend to become more insecure about their body image, they begin to edit their pictures multiple times, so that they appear attractive. The action was further proven by the results shown by a study conducted by Renfrew Center Foundation. It indicated that almost 70 percent of the women, who belong to the age group of 18 to 35, have been engaged in editing images before they have made it to their social media accounts. The same trends were displayed by 50 percent of the men. Even well-known cell phone companies like Samsung have been known to promoting such expectations by introducing the feature of "beauty mode," which gives them the ability to remove any flaws present in their skin.


Relevant Psychological Theories

Numerous psychological theories have been applied to understand the behavior in both men and women. One of the most common theories is that of the social comparison theory. Festinger coined the theory in 1954, which goes on to describe as to how individuals engage in making comparisons with other people, who seem to display specific types of characteristics (Russello 47). These comparisons allow them to develop their own identity. The central idea behind the theory is that it depends on the person's perception as to what characteristics they see in other people and the way they make those comparisons. Those individuals who prefer to make unsatisfactory comparisons are the ones who find them being adversely affected by the negative comments and beliefs of the social media, cultural ideas and traditions.

Greater trends of social comparisons increased the social media’s impact on the ideology of those people. Hence, showing that the social comparison theory can be considered to be a link between the impact social media has on personal characteristics like internalization of ideas, self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction and the differences in the behavioral pattern of people. Such people have aided in internalizing such unrealistic norms, hence, promoting the prevalence of such unfavorable trends.

Furthermore, there is also the cognitive theory of body image. According to the theory, some people believe that factors like body size as well as physique are an essential part of life and give a lot of preference to them (Asumeng 321). However, even such people deal differently with changes in the body. Some might feel more dissatisfied with their body image, while some feel less unhappy. Negative feelings are found to be inherent in these people. These people will tend to over analyze situations where they feel like other people are targeting their appearance and judging them for not being skinny or beautiful according to the standards of the ideal image. Everything they hear seems to be a negative assertion towards their appearance. The negative perception is an automatic reaction and is not processed in association with the consciousness of the person’s mind.

Followed by this, developmental and sociocultural theories have also known to have an impact on the body image that is perceived by individuals because of the social media. The developmental theorists’ emphasis on the treatment a person received during their childhood. In case the person has been subjected to unfavorable conditions, it can adversely affect the growth of their body image. Developmental traits like the timing of a person’s puberty initiation as well as external factors like teasing in school or by someone in their home and neighborhood have been known to contribute significantly to the way these people perceive the body image.

Similarly, sociocultural theories have also played an integral role in shaping one's perception of the outer appearance of individuals as well as their beauty. According to the theory, the development of body image influences the way in which cultural values have an impact on a person’s behavioral pattern (Asumeng 323). These cultural values do not just change the way people perceive their body image, but these values also influence the way other perceive that person's body image and analyze him/her accordingly.

Hence, the theory poses that within the boundaries of culture, all people have a defined set of traits that allow them to perceive not just themselves but the other person to be appealing as well. This results in clear distinctions between the behavioral patterns of individuals, because they tend to treat the more beautiful people and the less beautiful people differently. Even the way people react to such treatment is also affected the way. In other words, one’s vision of self-concept is also developed through the process.


In conclusion, it has been revealed that whether one is a man or a woman, a child or an adult, everyone will be subjected to the negativity of social media regarding the ideal body image. Due to increased access to social media, people are developing more and more unrealistic standards about their body image, thus, leading to the presence of unfavorable trends in their physical, social and psychological well-being. Instead of encouraging users to belittle them over their outer appearance, social media needs to be employed positively, so that people know that being healthy, short or having skin diseases does not make them undesirable or ugly. People need to be told that their physical and emotional well-being is far more important than being skinny or flawless. Yes, beauty is important, but it is not that important that an individual is at the risk of losing their lives.

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Works Cited

Asumeng, John Enoch Dotse and Maxwell. "Relationship Between Body Image Satisfaction and Psychological Well-Being: The Impact of Africentric Values." Journal of Social Science Studies 2.1 (2015): 320-342.

Cruz, Jamie Santa. Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys. 18 March 2014. 29 August 2017. <>.

Fell, James S. How The Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too. 7 August 2014. 29 August 2017. <>.

Kim Johnson, Sharron J Lennon and Nancy Rudd. "Dress, body and self: research in the social psychology of dress." Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 1.20 (2014): 24.

Lisa M. Groesz, Michael P. Levine and Sarah K. Murnen. "The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review." International Journal of Eating Disorders 31.1 (2002): 1-16.

MarikaTiggemann, Duane A.Hargreaves and. "Idealized media images and adolescent body image: “comparing” boys and girls." Body Image 1.4 (2004): 351-361.

Ratcliffe, Rebecca. Friends’ pictures on social media have biggest impact on body image. 5 March 2017. 29 August 2017. <>.

Russello, Salenna. "The Impact of Media Exposure on Self-Esteem and Body Satisfaction in Men and Women." Journal of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research 1.4 (2009): 45-56.

Skinner, Asheley Cockrell, and Joseph A. Skelton. "Prevalence and Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity among Children in the United States, 1999-2012." JAMA pediatrics, vol. 168, no. 6 (2014): 561-566.

Tantleff-Dunn, Daniel Agliata and Stacey. "The Impact of Media Exposure On Males' Body Image." Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 23.1 (2004): 7-22.

YukoYamamiyaa, Thomas F. Cash, Susan E. Mellynk, Heidi D. Posavac and Steven S. Posavac. "Women's exposure to thin-and-beautiful media images: body image effects of media-ideal internalization and impact-reduction interventions." Body Image 2.2 (2005): 74-80.

January 26, 2021




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