Adolescence is a very important stage in the development of a person. It is characterized by various changes that occur in a young person’s body; a sign that one is in transition from childhood to adulthood. Therefore, there is no doubt that adolescents are met with mixed feelings, perceptions, and attitudes towards the changes that occur in their bodies. Consequently, many studies have been done on the sources of these feeling, perceptions and attitudes. While some authorities suggest that the main source is emotion, a large number of studies suggest that external influences have a greater impact on influencing how adolescents feel towards the changes that occur in their bodies. According to Bearman, Presnell and Martinez (2006) cited in Grabe, Ward and Hyde (2008), about 50% of the young women are dissatisfied with their body shapes. Notably, the media plays an important role in entrenching the perceptions about the ideal-body shape and size among adolescent girls and young women; thus, affecting their self-concept or self-esteem.
This essay is based on the research that sought to investigate the role of the mass media in influencing the feelings of adolescents and young women towards their body size and shape. In the investigation, adolescents aged between 12 and 13 years, as well as young women aged between 17 and 18 years were interviewed. The study design was based on a theoretical framework developed by Elizabeth Berk in her Exploring lifespan development. The interviewer has also used her own experience, as a way of affirming that media influences young women and adolescents’ perceptions of an ‘ideal’ body. The results of the study confirmed the hypothesis that media influences the way adolescent girls and young women perceive their body shapes. However, the investigator proposes the need for a longitudinal study that would establish a time frame, when such feelings begin, when they end, and other factors that form perceptions.
Adolescence and young adulthood is a central stage in the human development. Across sexes, the effects of body changes are evident. However, the aspect of ideal body shape is more pronounced among females (Grabe et al., 2008). However, there are several explanations that have been put forward to interpret how these changes affect the way females feel about themselves. In other words, their focus was on the ways the body changes influence one’s self-esteem. Theories on this subject emanate from a variety of disciplines, such as psychology, biology, and sociology among others. Moreover, Laura Berk explores the concept of self-esteem in a rather detailed manner. This section describes her explanation and also proposes, on the basis of personal experience, a theory that can be used in order to explain this particular phenomenon.
Berk’s explanation, or what can loosely be viewed as a theoretical conception, seeks to explain changes in self-esteem along the development continuum. According to her, women begin to evaluate their self-image at adolescence. This leads to an overall shift from the ideas about the self-concept earlier held at middle childhood. In other words, Berk suggests that at adolescence, girls change the perspective, upon which they evaluate themselves. Although their peers may influence them, the media plays a stronger role in informing their conception of an ideal body shape. Berk’s explanation has at least three components. The first one is centered at the evaluation of self-concept, while the second is centered at the level of changes in self-esteem. The third component entails the role of parenting in the development of self-esteem (Berk, 2010).
As has already been shown, the first component entails the commencement of evaluation of a self-concept. According to Berk, more dimensions of self-evaluation are adopted immediately after middle childhood or during adolescence (2010). However, in my case, due to my father’s sickness, I was not concerned about my weight until he passed on. Consequently, I had to occupy myself with weight loss. As far as the level of changes in self-esteem is concerned, girls or young women begin to have individual feelings about how attractive they ought to be, as opposed to the compliments they used to receive earlier from the parents. According to Berk (2010), adolescent girls believe that they are mature and capable of doing things on their own. This includes making decisions or holding personal views on their body shape. Although Berk suggests that individual fluctuations in self-esteem stabilize at adolescence, it appears to the researcher that the emotional change at adolescence is the nucleus, upon which the external influences, such as media, take root (2010). Moreover, Berk suggests that parents play a central role in the development of self-esteem (2010). According to her, authoritative parenting style, the third component, is a key builder of self esteem. In a general sense, parents either encourage or discourage their children. As a result, the latter develop a sense of confidence in themselves, or feelings of not being loved (Berk, 2010). In my case, due to the father’s sickness, it was not common for my parents to affirm my esteem regarding the way I looked like.
Although Berk propounds useful explanations, there is a need to put her explanation under further scrutiny and, perhaps, propose an alternative theory. On the basis of Grabe et al’s (2008) findings and my personal experience, a few ramifications to Berk’s explanation can be added. It appears that the theoretical ingredient of Laura Berk was mainly focused on the biological influences on self-esteem. It is also a general view of self-esteem. However, Grabe et al. (2008) actually did a meta-analysis of several studies and found out that indeed, media influences young women’s perceptions of the ideal body shape; as opposed or complementary to Berk’s strict focus on the biological endowment.
According to Grabe et al. (2008), several media affect the way women feel about themselves. These media include, for instance, magazines, television, and movies among others. In these media, thin-bodied women are over-represented, while large-bodied women are underrepresented. Since media is a key determinant of a public opinion, it is believed that slim bodies are the norm for women. However, this idea is pervasive (Grabe et al., 2008). According to the authors, it leads to dieting, eating disorders, and reduced self-esteem for not-slim-bodied women. Further, women have begun to seek ‘treatment’ that is geared towards ‘correcting’ the body size and shape. It appears that their theoretical perspective was grounded in psychology, where the human beings generally want to be like those, who are better than them. Under a theory of mind, it is expected that what women see in media is stored in their memory and implemented in terms of low self-concept if they do not possess the ‘desired’ body.
As a personal experience, I have been previously influenced by media with regard to body shape and size. After my father’s death, I began to be concerned about my weight. I wanted to be like the models and celebrities that I saw on television. In addition, I was influenced by the magazines I read and also the friends I talked with. Therefore, I decided to lose weight through dieting and sport. This was helpful because it has also helped me to forget about my father’s death. Therefore, for me to forget more, I had to exercise more. As a result, I lost about fifteen kilograms in one and half years. However, today I do not compare myself to celebrities as I used to after my father’s death. From this personal experience, I could say that although media has affected me, there were innate psychological and emotional factors that led to the entrenchment of perceptions of ideal body.
Considering the above experience, there is a need to propose an adjusted theory with reference to Berk’s view. Media affects women’s self-esteem with regard to body size and shape, but the effect depends on the individual’s emotional and psychological conditions. This effect also decreases with increase in age. Therefore, there is a need to conduct adequate longitudinal studies, such as it was demonstrated within the analogy with my life experience.
Do various media affect the perception of the young adolescents about their self-esteem and body perception?
- Media influences adolescents’ self-esteem regarding body size and shape;
- The effect of the media depends on the individual’s psychological and emotional state;
- Total effect is determined by a longitudinal study.
The data was collected at the two levels. Firstly, the interviewer recorded the researcher’s own life history with regard to the subject matter. Secondly, the researcher interviewed the two groups of females aged 12 to 13 years and 17 and 18 years of age correspondingly. This was done using an interview guide that consisted of the questions targeting various aspects. The questions sought to establish the kind of movies watched, opinion on the prettiest picture (Appendix A), comparison with models, physical appearance, improving self, nutrition and diet, peer influence, role of parents, opinion on the weight loss, and the way to behave about it. In recording her life experience, the researcher focused on the things that were related to body size and shape or the facts that have or might have affected these aspects.
Analysis and Findings
The collected data included the personal experience, as well as responses from the interviews. It was done through the content analysis. Regarding the interviews, there was a largely similar trend in the way the 17 to 18 year-old girls responded to the prettiest picture question (Appendix A). Answers ranged from the first to the third picture with the majority selecting the second one. From this finding, it is evident that following the kind of media they watched or read, the girls were inclined towards thin-bodied image. However, in my case, this perception was mostly influenced by the celebrities that I used to see on television.
Another category of analysis consisted on what the girls did after they gained weight. It was found out that most of them preferred to eat less or, in other words, to diet. Only a few were not concerned with the way they looked, or did not watch or read the popular media. However, it appears that majority of the girls wanted easy ways of losing weight, as opposed to the difficult ones, such as gym and sporting. With regard to the younger age group, 12 to 13 years, there were not many responses. Most of them were not concerned with the aftermath of weight gain. Moreover, they were also clear on the kind of body figure and size they admired most. In this case, the trend was exactly as for the 17 to 18 year olds. This is a clear illustration or evidence that the effect of media cut across the board. The effect was similar for all ages.
Regarding the hypotheses, there is no doubt that the first one was proven as being correct. In other words, girls who did not have the model body size and shape felt bad about themselves. This led to a low self-esteem, detachment from family, and some eating disorders. The second hypothesis is evident in each of the interviewee’s specific contexts, as well as the experience of the interviewer. The latter’s attempts of weight loss were a way of dealing with the feeling that followed her father’s death. The third hypothesis is proven by the interviewer’s personal experience. By recording a life-long experience, it was possible to establish that changes in self-esteem varied with increase in age. Past adolescence, the feeling of comparing oneself with others reduces.
With the rise in popular media, adolescent development has been compromised. Although emotions play a key role in establishment and development of a proper self-esteem, the media appears to crown it all. The fact that today media informs most adolescents, it is expected that their perceptions of body image are in tandem with what is contained in those media. This leads to the several consequences including the reduced self-esteem. However, this view proposes an integrative theory that takes into consideration not only the emotional state at the time of entrenchment of such perceptions, as well as a prolonged analysis of the changes in self-esteem from the time it starts, through adolescence up to the time when it significantly reduces.