The Influence of Mass Media on Eating Disorders
Do the media contribute to eating disorders? Well, today, the influence of the mass media is definitely ubiquitous. In fact, according to Melvin DeFleur and Everette Dennis, coauthors of Understanding Mass Media: A Liberal Perspective, in the age of technology, “The mass media are present in one form or another in virtually every society," with only “a few pockets of population in remote areas where one can find people who have no access to mass communications" (p. 3).
Given their ubiquity, the media, most notably television, magazines, and movies, influence not only people’s perception of reality but also their personal decisions, from how they dress to how they wear their hair to the cars they drive and even the brand of deodorant they use. One must wonder, though, in view of their considerable persuasiveness, if media organizations often have a more insidious impact upon human lives, however unintentional that might be. After all, they influence humankind’s perception of beauty, and since this is the case, one might very well conclude that, yes, it’s true; the media does contribute to eating disorders.
The Media’s Influence on Female’s Perception
In 1942, in one of the first studies of its kind, females who regularly listened to radio daytime serials (the forerunners of television soap operas) were asked their reasons for listening to such programming. Although some women said they experienced emotional release and/or gained invaluable advice, for example, regarding how to deal with family issues, the majority of the respondents said they listened for two main reasons: They identified with the heroine of the drama, and they engaged in wishful thinking. In other words, they wanted to be like the heroines, and they wished they could lead such exciting lives. (DeFleur & Dennis, 2002)
Eating Disorders and the Modern Mania for Slimness
The majority of individuals who suffer from eating disorders are female, a tendency many sociologists attribute to the social pressure placed upon women to be thin. Interestingly, however, as noted by Charles Zastrow and Karen Kirst-Ashman, coauthors of Understanding Human Behavior and Social Environment, thinness was not always in vogue. In fact, until 25 or 30 years ago, women were considered more attractive when they were a bit rounder and fuller; but today’s cultural ideal “is pencil slimness, and, according to advertisements and fashion magazines, even mature women should look like adolescent boys" (p. 330).