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January 20, 2005 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-01-20

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12B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, January 20, 2005

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Media i
ByKatis Marie Gates
Daily Arts Writer
While many young women spend
time counting calories and worrying
about what they eat, some suggest that
they should be paying more attention
to what their minds are consuming
during primetime television binges
and fashion magazine cravings. Stud-
isahave revealed that images of thin-
ness in the mass media encourage
poor self-image. The consumption of
these hard-to-reach ideals can per-
petuate the current problem of eat-
ing disorders and negative attitudes
towards eating in American society.
"Media images send a message not
only about what kinds of bodies are
valued and attractive, but that attain-
ing these kinds of bodies is both

mages n
possible and obligatory," said Dara
Greenwood, an assistant professor in
the Department of Communication
Studies at the University. Greenwood
is interested in how the ultra-thin ideal
of characters in the media impacts
women's self-image.
Specifically, she has studied char-
acteristics of women who engage
heavily with the media. "I found that
women who are preoccupied with
and anxious about close relationships
were more likely to identify with and
idealize female media characters,"
Greenwood explained. "Idealization
of characters, in turn, was associated
with increased body anxiety."
For example, young women who
might identify with the female leads
of "Desperate Housewives," "Alias"
or "The O.C." and are also concerned

nay harm viewer

with their own personal relationships
may find themselves anxious about
their bodies. When nearly every tele-
vision show represents leading ladies
with thin figures, it is difficult for
women to escape the message to lose
weight, Greenwood said.
While most eating disorders such
as anorexia nervosa and bulimia ner-
vosa stem from a variety of problems
such as personal trauma and fam-
ily conflict, the mass media provide
the benchmark images that perpetu-
ate these diseases. To gain control of
their lives in times of crisis, women
often look to the media for guidance,
Greenwood said.
Greenwood suggests that at first, it
might be pleasurable and comforting
for women to view images of thinness
in the media, but eventually the gap


"Being excessively
preoccupied with
your appearance
can interfere with
life satisfaction
and enjoyment."
- Dara Greenwood
Studies professor
between the actual self and the ideal
self grows too wide.
However, the media would sug-
gest that gap is never too wide to be
bridged. The recent wave of real-
ity television programs dedicated
to making women feel good by giv-
ing them a new body and a new face
suggests that looking good is an easy
solution to any problem. "The Swan"
for example takes several 'ugly duck-
ling' contestants and gives them dras-
tic makeovers, including liposuction,
plastic surgery and workout regi-
mens, to find a beautiful princess in
the end.
These shows present the idea of
altering one's body as a rewarding
experience, Greenwood said. "In
reality, being excessively preoccupied
with your appearance can interfere
with life satisfaction and enjoyment
and reduce the degree to which we
are authentically absorbed in activi-
ties and interactions."
The correlation between media
intake and disordered eating attitudes
has also been proven outside of the
United States. In a study done in Fiji,

Anne Becker, a professor at Harvard
Medical School found that after the
introduction of television in previous-
ly "media naive" areas, women were
more concerned with their weight
and even resorted to self-induced
vomiting. "The impact of television
appears especially profound, given
the longstanding cultural traditions
that previously had appeared protec-
tive against dieting, purging and body
dissatisfaction in Fiji," Becker wrote
in a 2002 article in the British Journal
of Psychology.
"It is important to note that the ide-
alized appearance of these characters
were bound up in cultural symbols of
affluence and independence," Green-
wood said. The women in Fiji may
have been attracted to characteristics
other than appearance first and were
eventually driven to changing their
eating habits. For young Fijians, thin-
ness was equated with a glamorous
In the United States today this jux-
taposition is often present. Fashion
magazines promote consumerism
of expensive clothes worn by thin
models. Daytime soap operas feature
emancipated actresses making their
way to the top of the corporate world
and flourishing as members of the
social elite.
Of course young men are also
susceptible to similar media mes-
sages about their bodies, though more
research focuses on the relationship
between mass media messages and
women's eating habits, Greenwood
said. This complex and intriguing
subject will undoubtedly remain an
issue for debate in the future as the
thin ideal continues to be preva-
lent and reality makeover programs
become more and more popular.

Photo illustration by TOMMASO GOMEZ/Daily
Maxim magazine, which caters to a young demographic, often features
032224 thin women on its cover.

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