Psychologists use the term ‘body image’ to describe what we think we look like. This can be thought of as a mental representation of our body that we compare to others. The overexposure to the media directs young people to examine their bodies and even measure their physical appearance to unrealistic computer enhanced images. Magazines and social media show images of celebrities and models that have been enhanced using computer programming and edit techniques such as Photoshop. This has a large effect on the teenage demographic as they are comparing themselves to the ‘perfect body’ that the media is portraying, despite the fact that the image they are aspiring to look like is fake and edited.
On average teenage girls spend 7.7 hours per week on their appearance and teenage boys spend 4 hours. Surely with these statistics, the media should be conscious of the pressures they are causing teenagers. The edited images are unnatural and not what we should be aspiring to look like. In an interview, Actress Jennifer Lawrence said “I think when it comes to the media, they need to take responsibility for the effect that they have on our younger generation”.
Our research and interviews shows us that girls are increasingly becoming more conscious about their appearance, however boys in high school are just as sensitive to the subject, this is due to ‘teasing’ or ‘banter’ within friendship groups and social media pressures boys to look fit and muscular just as much as it pressures girls to be slim and ‘perfect’. This causes a lot of issues because it knocks self-confidence, and effects future life, and may be the reason why eating disorders, self-harm and depression is more common in young people.
On social media, such as YouTube and Instagram there are accounts and channels dedicated to advising teenagers on how to lose weight. “Thinspo” has become a major phenomenon on most social media platforms, these accounts offer young people ‘inspiration’ to make themselves thinner, whether this be through dangerous dieting or simply not eating at all. Through personal experience, I know that some girls will not eat at all in school because it is seen embarrassing to eat in front of others and they think that it is healthier to just eat chocolate or a small snack than to eat a full meal. On the other hand, ‘skinny’ girls have been targeted through popular culture recently in songs such as “Anaconda” and “All About That Bass”, both of which portray slimmer girls as ‘fake’, conceited and even compares them to Barbie dolls. Girls with slimmer body types are just as easily affected by bullying as larger girls and are now looking to icons such as Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj who have unattainable figures.
We talked to some students and staff in school and they gave us their opinions on some issues we brought up.
When we asked a pair of 15 year old girls if they had ever felt body conscious or insecure about the way they looked, one answered, “Yes, all the time. It’s a big struggle. A lot of people compare themselves to others, even if they don’t want to. It’s a constant comparison.” So it looks like teen girls struggle with the way they look all of the time and they feel like they have to match up to others. When the same age boys were asked the same questions, answers were surprisingly very similar. One said “yes, I do feel conscious.” And the other replied “yes, quite a bit.” When we talked to them, they didn’t seem as conscious as the girls did, however said they experienced more teasing and ‘banter’ about the way they looked within their friendship group. A young, male PE teacher informed us that he often sees “banter amongst the boys in the changing rooms when someone is thin or bigger than the others. Whereas girls are more sensitive and don’t really mention the size of one another in a bad way.”
Media has a massive impact on the way people look at themselves. We wanted to know whether magazines and social media had a bigger effect on girls or boys. The same teacher felt it was girls whom struggled with this issue the most. He said, “Oh girls have it rougher definitely. There are men’s magazines with muscular guys, but women’s magazines are based on the way people look and body image.” The other male students agreed, saying they thought the media put more pressure on girls than boys. But when we asked the two female students this question, they had more empathy on the boys. When we asked, which sex has it worse, one replied “it’s equal. Skinny and fat shaming is common amongst girls and media is constantly conveying the perfect body and looks. But also boys are pressured into looking ‘buff’ and going to the gym.” This gym culture surrounding boys is evident in our interviews. Our PE teacher told us “gym culture and things like protein shakes are quite a big thing with lads.” One of our male students however said, “I go to the gym because I want to look and feel like that, not because of media representations.”
One current topic of conversation in our interview was France wanting to ban super skinny models on the catwalk. France may be banning “super skinny” models, and jailing anyone who hires them. The use of the word “skinny” can be as offensive as being called the reverse. One French MP has branded the models as “glorifying anorexia” and two years ago, fashion designer, Giorgio Armani, said that the fashion industry had a duty to ‘work together against anorexia’. We had many different views on this controversial issue. A young female teacher at our school believes banning them is a good thing, “once one place takes up the idea, everyone else with follow. At the moment everywhere has skinny models and it isn’t fair.” But the 14 year old girl thought they shouldn’t, “its discrimination and skinny shaming, I think they should allow all sizes.” So, even though the young teen felt that the media made her more self-conscious, she didn’t want those who were that size and just trying to get a career to be discriminated. The boys didn’t really have opinions on the matter whereas another young female had a very good message to give us,” there shouldn’t be any skinny or fat shaming. Everyone is beautiful. It has always been the case that not slim, but skinny people have been used to model clothes, but people take it the wrong way and think they should look this way. Models look like that for a reason, because it doesn’t affect the look of the clothes, if you’re not modelling clothes for Marc Jacobs then it’s not a look you should try and achieve.”
Finally, we asked both the male and female teacher if the pressure lessened as they got older. Both had opposing opinions. The male teacher said “yes, it does. In year 7 I didn’t care, towards the end of high school when everyone was growing taller, going to the gym, and getting muscle was when I was most conscious.” The female teacher however said, “I think it gets worse, in uni, when you’re in larger groups or in city life, the pressure just grows to fit the perfect image.” So it’s clear that as people get older the pressure to look a certain way is different for boys and girls. And to end, the male PE teacher gave us a very good piece of advice, “everyone goes through a stage of uncertainty, but it passes.”
By Lucy, Lucy, Emily, Hannah and Alice