Mind Your Own Media!

Watching the news this morning, a thought suddenly hit me. What if we didn’t have computers, Internet, magazines, television, music…

What would be important to us? Would any of that change how we view others? Ourselves?

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The media bombards us every day. What to wear. Who to care about. What to eat. How to act. What if all that disappeared?

In Fiji, gaining weight and having a healthy body are positive characteristics. However, after television appeared on the island Viti Levu, eating disorders skyrocketed among young girls. Soon, those strong thighs and round cheeks were seen as signs of laziness or unattractiveness.

Girls, who had seen themselves as healthy, now complained about their bodies. In a 1998 survey, those who watched TV three or more nights a week were 50 percent more likely to describe themselves as “big or fat.” Diets and calorie-counting—virtually unheard of before—became the norm.

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Slender celebrities and jokes about others’ bodies are not hidden. Even Disney Channel has been critiqued for poking fun at eating disorders. With these kinds of messages, no wonder the Fijian girls felt more depressed and self-critical.

Blaming the media is easy though. Sure, they give us distorted views and skewed morals, but we’re the ones believing and sustaining those messages. Pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia sites fill the web. And people are behind these message boards and blogs. They’re the ones posting thinspiration pictures and calorie-counts, and we’re the ones reading them.

Even Facebook isn’t safe. In a study by American University, girls answered surveys about their Facebook usage and body image. Participants who spent time viewing photos of friends were more likely to report dissatisfaction with their own bodies.

We’re constantly comparing ourselves: to celebrities, to friends, to family, even to what our past selves. Social media provides access to triggering images and thoughts. After all, people are more likely to post pictures of themselves with flexing muscles or pancake-thin stomachs than one of them lounging on the couch. Images of healthy salads ordered in a luxurious restaurant than a snuck Ben & Jerry’s container consumed in-between late night TV infomercials.

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That’s why media literacy is so important. Post articles about body love instead of critiquing that girl’s legs. Pin quotes about self-confidence instead of the latest 1,000-calorie workout.

Sure, we might not get rid of all the negative influence in media. But we can make a difference. We can choose what to pay attention to, and that will help shape us into better and more positive people.

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Maybe those TV shows or Facebook posts will celebrate our personalities and uniqueness. Not glorify eating disorders.

Fuel for Thought: What do you think about the media’s portrayal of body image? Are we being too critical of TV shows and music, or not enough? How do you think you can use social media to improve our body images? Have you seen any shows like the Disney Channel ones that seem to make light of eating disorders?

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