Weight in the Media
May 2007
"We don’t need Afghan-style burquas to disappear as women. We disappear in reverse by revamping and revealing our bodies to meet externally imposed visions of female beauty." [Source: Robin Gerber]

Increasingly, there has been a growing tendency for the newspapers, magazines and the media at large to focus column inches and airtime on diets and weight in general.  The trend has been particularly noticeable over the last couple of years. Today, we are bombarded with an array of images from both extremes i.e. size zero to the morbidly obese.  Of course the media wouldn’t spend such substantial amounts of time and money on the issue of weight, if the public didn’t consume everything they produced and still have a seemingly unquenchable appetite for more.  

Like sex, the fact that the latest A....Z list celebrity has cellulite, gained weight, lost weight, had lipo-suction etc …. sells and continues to sell. It’s as simple as that; or is it? I can’t help comparing the whole subject matter to the chicken and the egg “what came first” analogy.   Does the media preoccupation with body weight  drive demand or does public demand drive the current media obsession?

I could be cynical and say that it’s all about money. By presenting the unattainable as the ideal, marketers and manufactures can be assured that there will always be a demand for their products and services. Products/services that are initially advertised in the media.

The media has a very powerful effect on individuals and society at large, due to the repeatedly reinforced messages that it constantly broadcasts/publish.  If you see and hear something often enough, you will eventually start to believe it, whether it’s true or not.  E.g The word fat is depicted in the media as something unappealing, ugly, disgusting and to be avoided at all costs.

The truth is that a percentage of body fat is essential for health  (average acceptable body fat percentage for a male is 15%, and for a woman 25%) but this necessary fat is often lost in the message ‘fat is bad’. Today’s models weight 23% less than the average women; compared with 20 years ago when their counterparts weighted 8% less than the average woman.

New women experimented with bigger models only to revert back to slimmer models when their advertisers insisted on it. Advertising Age International has since concluded that the incident "made clear the influence wielded by advertisers who remain convinced that only thin models spur the sales of beauty products."

Magazines. especially women’s magazines, sublimely  imply that if you could lose the odd 10lbs, stone or few stones, that a perfect life complete with spouse, children, house and lifestyle would follow. This idyllic picture is at best a lie and at it’s worst, very damaging to the psychological health of their audience.   A Mintel study showed that “Almost two in five (37%) women were dieting most of the time, compared to around just one in six (18%) of men” meaning that 13 million people are effectively on a permanent diet.

This then leads me to the next logical question. Is the media ethical? Knowing how influential they are and the psychological effects media generated images can have on an individual’s self esteem, do they strive to portray positive, affirming and realistic images or are they irresponsibly building the foundations of poor body image, low self esteem and unhappiness?

I’ll let you be the judge.