Body Image and the Media continued...
"All of it sends just one message to women: That you are only acceptable if you look a certain way," says May.
Clinical psychologist Caroline Kaufman notes that this message has far-reaching effects -- even in places you'd never dream it would matter.
"In 2003, a pair of Harvard researchers noted how, when the Pacific island of Fiji got cable TV in 1995 (Friends, Ally McBeal, Melrose Place, etc.), rates of anorexia and bulimia skyrocketed," says Kaufman, an instructor at Columbus State Community College in Ohio.
Before that, she says, most Fijians preferred a fuller figure, and eating disorders were almost unheard of on the island. Â But by 1998, she says that girls who watched these shows at least three times a week were 50% more likely to have a distorted body image.
Ironically, Martz points out, many of the images women use to judge themselves aren't even real -- from the airbrushed bodies of lingerie models to digitally enhanced publicity photos of anchorwomen.
Psychologist and weight management expert Abby Aronowitz, PhD, says that while the media do have an effect on how women see themselves, far more dangerous are the product promises behind some of these glamorous campaigns.
"Companies use perfect bodies to point up our own body image dissatisfaction in order to sell us products to change that dissatisfaction. But when the diet doesn't work, or the cream wears off or the lingerie doesn't give you the bust line of your dreams, you feel like you have failed -- and that's when our self-esteem really plummets," says Aronowitz, author of Your Final Diet.
Women and Body Image: The Culture Phenomenon
Given the fact that media messages are aimed at men as well women, why are women seemingly so much more susceptible? For many, the answer harkens back to evolution -- or at least to our days in the baby stroller.
"Some would say women are hardwired to put more emphasis on their looks, that in terms of evolution, the value of attractiveness was programmed into women's DNA, necessary to help them get a mate, and ultimately, the protection that union provided," says Martz.