Since the birth of communication, media has been used to convey information to those willing to absorb it. Beginning with publications and simple spoken words, and soaring to new heights in the twentieth century with radio, television, and the internet, media have been made accessible to people in every aspect of their daily lives. With such a strong hold on modern society, mass media have been able to shape popular culture and often influence public opinion. However, when abused, the power of media can harm the general population.
Biased media tend to make people strive to be someone else’s idea of perfect while subconsciously ignoring their own goals. Stereotypes formed by the media that include thin, tanned women, and wealthy, muscular men have led to a decline in self-acceptance. The majority of media today often present the perfect body to the public, hoping that consumers will strive to achieve fitness using a certain product or idea. While this form of advertising may somewhat increase a product’s market share, many people suffer from inner conflicts as a result of failure to achieve the body of a top athlete or fashion model.
Along with emotional conflicts, those influenced by the media have encountered physical problems, including bulimia, anorexia, and the employment of harmful dietary plans. Unless reality is discerned from what is presented in certain media, some people will continue to suffer. Consumers could find the truth more easily if media offered products advertised by normal people without all the extra glamor. In addition to this, if the public could view advertising only as something to get one’s attention and not a portrayal of how one should look, there would be fewer problems.
Until either is accomplished, the negative effects will be felt by the vulnerable, and companies will continue to make their money. Those consumers given a false impression about a product through various forms of media are the ones who suffer most from our society’s portrayal of the perfect body. After being influenced by a television commercial or a magazine pictorial, certain people in this world will purchase an item hoping that the same success shown in the medium will be had by them as well. The truth of the matter is that this hardly ever happens.
Every day, ugly people wear sensual cologne, and slow runners wear Carl Lewis track shoes. Mentally, some may feel an improvement but in reality nothing has changed. Realization of this leads to the demise of many individuals’ self – pride. The severity of both the mental and physical damage done to the person depends on the case. Some may resort to extreme diets, more unnecessary spending, or a decline in social activity. After being rejected at a local bar despite the bath he took in Polo Sport, Jerry might finally understand that his appearance or personality is the problem — not his cologne.
The mental effects of the mass media’s portrayal of the perfect body can cause people to resort to unhealthy methods of losing weight to attain that athletic look that so many desire. Such conditions that can occur from trying to lose weight too fast are bulimia and anorexia. Bulimia is a food disorder caused by mental insecurities (Larsen 2). Doctors recommend that bulimic people see a psychiatrist because the illness’s symptoms, including compulsive exercise, taking laxatives, and throwing up, can cause one’s body to become short on electrolytes, which is extremely unhealthy (2).
Anorexia is a similar condition in which one loses exorbitant amounts of weight often by eating very little and vomiting what minute amount of food that is actually consumed (3). In one extreme case, a young woman lost an incredible thirty pounds in a period of a month (3). Because of the constant binging and purging, one’s metabolism becomes abnormal and one puts on large amounts of weight by hardly eating anything (3,4). Although these conditions are more common in women, men have diet problems as well.
In the past, both men and women (predominately men) who were slightly overweight used a fat burning drug known as Redux. It was designed for obese individuals, but the off-label use of such drugs began rampant due to advertising techniques by the manufacturers (Lawsuit 1). Many people, including doctors, who were slightly overweight used the drug and have experienced pulmonary hypertension, valvular heart disease, and neurotoxicity (1). Other drugs, such as steroids, have been widely proven to cause brain cancer, stunted growth, and shrinkage of the testes (Mathias 2).
Many student-athletes use these performance enhancers in an attempt to become as muscular as the men often portrayed by media. This problem is also present in female teenagers as well. To some girls, steroid use is comparable to diet pills and laxatives (3). The abuse of these drugs is partly a result of inaccurate advertising as well as the young person’s desire to look and perform as well as the superstars shown in various forms of media. How can a fifteen year-old “be like Mike” without shooting up a performance enhancing steroid into his arm? The bottom line is that he can not.
Something needs to be done to halt this problem. If media were encouraged to present products in ordinary situations by ordinary people, there would be fewer negative effects as a result of advertising. Consumers might realize that an article of clothing is not meant solely for slender women but can be enjoyed by people of all sizes. The products may not necessarily sell because of their sexy advertisements, but rather because of the appearance of the items themselves. In the long run more customers would buy the product simply because it appeals to them.
There would not be as many disillusioned people, and possibly some of the harmful activities done to lose weight could cease. If manufacturers would agree to this, it could help them financially as well. For example, in the Redux case, glamorous advertising cost the company millions of dollars in lawsuits and brand name recognition. If the product had been aimed only at seriously overweight people as the drug was originally intended, less money would have been lost, and the company could still have its good name.
The bottom line is that people should make up their minds that they will not be negatively influenced by the media. In doing this, the public can view media for what it truly is-a means of conveying information or supplying entertainment. Good common sense should tell a woman that the overly attractive person in an advertisement is a model and should be admired for her beauty; all women are not required to look like her to be attractive. The process of differentiating fact from fiction in advertising can not be described on paper. It can only happen in people’s minds, one at a time.
It is true that some messages are sent subliminally, but if consumers would appreciate the advertisement for what it actually is, much of the ordeal could be avoided. As long as this method of advertising continues to sell products for companies, there will still be the gorgeous woman bouncing around one’s television screen with a Marlboro in her hand and a Versace evening gown covering very little of her body. Although there is no direct solution to ending personal suffering due to the images put in front of the American population, there is a starting point.
Companies can still successfully sell products without beautiful babes. Also, if certain media can be viewed for entertainment purposes only, people can enjoy the beautiful bodies before them. However, if some still model themselves after Cindy Crawford or Tom Cruise, they will keep failing to meet their extremely high personal goals. The media’s negative grip on society can be greatly decreased if people remember just one thing–what is on television is only an advertisement.