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Relationship Between Mass Media’s Portrayal of the Female Body and Eating Disorders: How Girls are Affected - A Multicultural Approach. Presented by: Zaha Alsuwailan Donna Carnduff Delanna Reed Ai-Lun Wu. Judgments or comments from others Sexual and racial harassment Stigmatization

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Relationship Between Mass Media’s Portrayal of the Female Body and Eating Disorders: How Girls are Affected - A Multicultural Approach

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Relationship Between Mass Media’s Portrayal of the Female Body and Eating Disorders: How Girls are Affected -A Multicultural Approach

Presented by:

Zaha Alsuwailan

Donna Carnduff

Delanna Reed

Ai-Lun Wu

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Judgments or comments from others

Sexual and racial harassment


Prevailing social values

Physical changes in the body during puberty, menopause & pregnancy


How the individual feels about him/herself

Violence – verbal, physical or sexual abuse

Actual conditions of the body – illness or disabilities

Eating Disorders are used to overcome traumas such as sexual abuse, heterosexism, poverty, racism and class injuries.

Body Image is Shaped by Many Factors

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1. Females are valued for their attractiveness

Whatever their race, class or ethnicity, most women growing up in North America learn to dislike their appearance and place a high premium on the cultural ideals of beauty.

2. Parental influences produce gender stereotypes

Parents describe infant daughters as beautiful, soft, and cute and rate their sons as stronger and hardier.

Research shows strong correlation between parental dieting efforts and encouraging a child to diet.

Social Influences/Causes

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3. Fat is stigmatized

Western society promotes widespread hatred and fear of fat.

Studies show that children as young as 4 - 5 yrs. Old have developed extremely negative stereotypes about fat.

Fat people have lower rates of acceptance to college, reduced likelihood of being hired for jobs and lower rates of pay

4. Media Image

By high school, children have watched 15,000 hours of TV & spent 11,000 hours in school.

They have seen 350,000 advertisements, half of which are selling food. Over half of these commercials stress the importance of being thin and beautiful.

A study of three women's magazines reported that the percentage of thin female models rose from 3% in the 1950's to 46% in the 1980's.

Social Influences/Causes

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5. Medical Profession

In spite of the evidence to the contrary, many health professionals and most people believe that body fat causes medical problems, and interpret "overweight" as a physical and psychological disease. In reality, many large women, pregnant or not, are quite healthy.

6. Negative Self-Image and Low Self-Esteem

The wide gap between the ideal of beauty for women and the reality that each woman must contend with leads many to think they have failed.

Feelings of failure lead to body image problems and periodic dieting and weight preoccupation that, in turn, lead to greater feelings of failure.

Twice as many young women as men do not feel good about themselves and young women's sense of self-esteem and self-confidence diminish as they grow older.

Social Influences/Causes

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A study of young Native American women (Chippewa) found that 74% were trying to lose weight (Rosen et al., 1988).

In a recent study conducted through Essence Magazine, researchers found that black women engage in weight reduction behaviors as frequently or more frequently than white women.

A study on the influence of sexual orientation on body dissatisfaction showed that both lesbian and heterosexual women had comparable levels of body dissatisfaction.

A 10-year study of eating disorders in more than 2,000 girls (grades 4 through 12) found amongst 7th graders, more Hispanic girls reported frequent weight loss attempts over the previous year than did black or white girls.

Poor Body Image Affects All Women

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Advertising is the most influential media in our culture

It reflects our daydreams, affects what we eat, what we wear, how we look and play.

The Power of Advertising

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Women in Advertising

  • Media portrays women in debilitating, demeaning and inaccurate ways

  • It presents women as flawless, decorative objects, dependent on men and it ignores the complexity of women’s lives.

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Women Dependent on MenWomen’s Place is at Home

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  • Women’s place is at home

  • Women need to depend upon men

  • Women do not make independent decision

  • Women view themselves and are viewed as sex objects.

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Women are Decorative/Sex Objects

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Women are Shown…

  • Women are shown as less authoritative, active, powerful, rational, decisive, and more concerned with youth and with their attractiveness.

  • Women are depicted as less intelligent than men and tend to have subservient occupations.

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Beauty Myth

  • Models present a new “ melting pot” of beauty ( all colors, all creeds, all ethnicity -and all still young, thin, and flawless).

  • Advertising portray women as white with white standards of beauty derived from myths of whiteness.

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Women are Flawless

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Cultivating Images of Thinness

In advertising, women receive more messages about slimness and staying in shape than men do, because thinness is associated with good health and attractiveness. In fact, images of thinness are a cause of the eating disorders of bulimia and anorexia.

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Thin is BeautifulThinness is Associated with Health

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Ads and Articles in 48 Women’s Vs. 48 Men’s Magazines

Female: Green

Male: Blue



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Magazine Models


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  • 32% of female TV network characters are underweight; 3% overweight

  • 5% of females in U.S. are underweight; 25% overweight

  • 90% of people with eating disorders are women

    According to Health magazine, Apr 2002

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  • Depression & low self-esteem pervasive problem for American women

    • Lower income women more likely to have low self-esteem

    • Younger women more depressed than older

      • 43% of women ages 18-44 report severe depression in a given week

  • National Survey of Women’s Health

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Magazine Images on Perfection

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  • 80% of American women dissatisfied with body

  • 42% 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner

  • 81% 10 year olds are afraid of being fat

  • 5-10 million girls and women struggling with eating disorders

  • According to National Eating Disorders Association

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  • MTV is the favorite TV show for girls age 11-19

  • 90% of the top 100 music videos shown on MTV were directed by men

  • Individuals who immigrate to the U.S. under the age of 17 are more predisposed to develop an eating disorder.

  • Only 15 min of exposure to beauty advertisements cause girls to perceive that beauty is even more important to their popularity with boys.

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Real or Not?



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  • Adolescents Trying to Lose Weight

    • 32.7% Asian-American

    • 31.9% African-American

    • 36.1% Hispanic/Latino-Americans

    • 34.9% White-Americans

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Ethnicity and Eating Disorders: A Multicultural Approach

  • Factors considered:

    • Socioeconomic Levels

    • Cultural Beliefs (vs. culture change)

    • Oppression

    • Immigration

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White Adolescents andEating Disorders

  • Historically upper-class, suburban, ‘whites only’ diseases

  • Depression brought on by low self-esteem directly linked to binge eating

  • White teens relate to “whiteness” culture more than ‘girls of color’

  • More opportunities in the workplace creates more pressure

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Black Adolescents and Eating Disorders

  • Socioeconomic level can determine type of eating disorder

  • Acculturation to mainstream culture increases risk

    • Struggle with self-identity & self-esteem

      • Increasing trend of Black boys dating white girls

  • Limited studies exist for Black teens and eating disorders

  • Unrealistic ‘media’ models (Halle Berry, Naomi Campbell)

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Asian Adolescents andEating Disorders

  • Patriarchal culture attributes to loss of control

  • Family harmony is often at the expense of women

  • Traditional family support deeply ingrained

  • Emotional control considered a mature trait

  • Expectations to be petite and small

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Hispanic/Latino Adolescentsand Eating Disorders

  • Clash of cultures may precipitate the development of an eating disorder.

  • Strive to mirror unrealistic ‘media’ models (J Lo, Penelope Cruz

  • Depression caused by low self-esteem directly related to bulimia

  • Increase in family and peer pressure to be thin

  • Believe that large women not taken as serious in workplace.

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Native Indian Adolescents andEating Disorders

  • Acculturation to mainstream culture is possible reason for increase of disease

  • Teens who move from reservations are more susceptible

  • High prevalence of obesity caused by unrealistic expectations

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The concept of ideology reproduces relations of the domination of media

The hegemony theory emphasizes a wide array of cultural institution’s function within social reproduction in the entertainment media.

The critical theory suggest we study mass media in relation to the dominant social structure.

A Theoretical Background in Media & Culture

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Patriarchal Culture: Men form the dominant social group.

Gender arrangement with respect to media

Social representation of the female body

A Theoretical Background in Media & Culture

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Feminist Theories

Humanist Feminists’ focus on the role the body plays as part of feminine nature

Structuralist Feminists’ focus on how the body reflects the creation of her desires and attitudes towards herself

A Theoretical Background in Media & Culture

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Synthesis of the Theories

  • Power and hegemony

  • Objectification as a form of oppression

  • Women as media objects

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Body Myths

Myth #1: Overeating Causes Overweight

Animal research suggests at least 51 causes of overweight, including genetic, metabolic and other environmental factors.

Myth # 2: Dieting is Effective

Clinical studies show that up to 95% of dieters regain the weight lost, usually within the first year.

Myth #3: Dieting is Healthy

In addition to inadequate nutrition, dieting has been implicated in the development of weakness, fatigue, binge eating, bulimia, weight gain and obesity.

Myth # 4: Everyone Can Be Slim

Many researchers are suggesting that the body has a "set point" or biological control for the amount fat in the body; weight is determined predominately by genetics and early nutrition.

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What Teachers Can Do

  • Encourage girls to take healthy, adventurous risks

  • Create welcoming space for girls in the classroom

  • Take sexual harassment seriously

  • Encourage self-reliance

  • Bring girls into classroom discussions

  • Develop awareness of your own gender biases

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Institute “Beyond Dieting” Programs

  • Target pre-adolescent girls because they are not yet as concerned about body image and weight concerns as adolescents.

  • Target young men to shift men's attitudes about female beauty

  • Teachers and parents also need education in order to reinforce and support the in-school curriculum

  • Wage a campaign to get your school’s administration involved.

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  • Kilpatrick, Ohannessian, Bartholomew, 1999

  • Body Image by Sara Grogan

  • Health Magazine, Apr 2002

  • Culture and Eating Disorders: A Historial and Cross-Cultural Review, Miller and Pumariega, Psychiatry 64(2) Summer 2001

  • Perry, T and Fraser J (1993) Freedom’s Plow., Routledge, Chapter 12

  • Kincheloe,J and Steinberg,S (1997) Changing Multiculturalism, Philadelphia, Open University Press.

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  • Media Education Foundation, 1995

  • Durham M and Kellner,D (2001)Media and Cultural Studies, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers Inc.

  • “A Way Outta No Way” Eating Problems Among African-American Women, Latinas and White Women by Becky Wangsgaard Thompson

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Using the Media To Fight Media?

  • Real Women Have Curves


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