Body Image and the Media

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
The media portrayal of beauty has for years negatively influenced body image and held people, especially women and girls, to an unreal expectation of appearance. Current initiatives from socially responsible organizations and influential individuals, in reaction to the harm caused, work philanthropically in the form of advocacy to promote positive self-esteem and change the narrative about the many ways to be beautiful.

by Jennifer Evans


“Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. These feelings can be positive, negative or both, and are influenced by individual and environmental factors” (McShirley, 2019)

According to the Merriam-Webster medical definition, “Body Image is a subjective picture of one's own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others” (Merriam-Webster, 2019)

According to Lexico, the Oxford Dictionary definition of media is “The main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet) regarded collectively.” (Lexico, 2019)


Historic Roots

The history of body image and the media started long before the rise of social media accounts. “With the rise of mass media throughout the 20th century, the popular image of women in America has undergone a substantial change. From models like Marilyn Monroe to Kate Moss, the body shapes of the most admired models have remained consistently slimmer than that of the average American woman, representing a nearly impossible ideal.” (Rehabs, 2019).

Due to the rise in social media these days, advertiser’s influence has a wide reach. Newspapers, Magazines and other print media have been around for centuries and began the focus on body image issues. Advertisers have used models to promote their goods and services and found that consumers tend to gravitate towards ads that include “beautiful” people.

According to an article by Amanda Ray, “the beauty industry presents idealized images in order to persuade customers that they will become new and improved if they use their product or wear their clothes.” (Ray, 2015) Using women and men who are physically fit may help customers think that if they buy that specific product, they will also look fit, or healthier.

Although the “ideal beauty standards” of society have changed a bit throughout the years, they are still affecting us in modern times and can have negative consequences.


Body Image and the Media continues to remain an issue as social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat grow and expand their popularity among society. Media outlets on the internet, fashion magazines and retailers continue to affect the body image concerns of society.

In a 2013 study was conducted of the relationship between internet exposure and body image concerns in adolescent girls, with an emphasis on Facebook activity. Most of the sample, 95.9%, had internet access in their home and reported using the internet for about 2 hours a day after schoolwork use. It was found that 75% of those who were sampled had a Facebook profile and those who used Facebook scored significantly higher on body image concerns than non-users. It was concluded that hat the Internet represents a potent socio-cultural medium of relevance to the body image of adolescent girls” (Tiggemann and Slater, 631-632).

Some negative consequences associated with the body imagery targeted toward young people is that it can lead to a higher chance of developing eating disorders. According to an article “Women’s Body Image and BMI," this has resulted in a severe rise in weight anxieties and negative body image among women and girls. Dissatisfaction with weight is nearly universal among women, while dieting is pervasive. Girls as young as 6 are commonly unhappy with their weight.” This trend has led to the rise in various eating disorders in adolescents and young women. (Rehabs, 2019). When faced with this data, advertisers have made changes to their marketing campaigns and many have worked to include more diversity in their ads. Consumers have taken to social medial in recent years with public outcry over photos that are widely known to be airbrushed, and do not depict what the “average” consumer may look like. This led to the body positivity movement that is still thriving today.

Due to the rise of body positive initiatives, there are various ways that people can get involved with promoting positive body confidence. Many social media users have developed various hashtags that they use when posting on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Nonprofit organizations and companies are promoting national and global campaigns to address positive body image concepts.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

As positive body image campaigns from companies like Dove, Lane Bryant, JCPenney, and the YMCA continue, there are various nonprofit organizations who also cater to the body positivity trends.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) has developed a campaign called “Love Your Body” that “challenges the message that a women’s value is best measured through her willingness and ability to embody current beauty standards.” (NOW, 2019).

Be Real Campaign was developed by the YMCA and Dove in 2014 to focus on health, education and diversity to promote positive body confidence and healthy lifestyle changes. The campaign uses toolkits and resources for parents, teachers and other individuals who can promote healthy body confidence and health. (Be Real, 2019) (

Dove Self-Esteem Project was developed by the Dove beauty company to further their mission of making sure people grow up with a positive outlook of how they look and promote positive body self-confidence. “Dove started this campaign in 2004 to provide tools and resources for parents, teachers, mentors and youth leaders that are geared towards youth. Dove has since partnered with other major global organizations such as The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, The Centre for Appearance Research and the Women’s Dermatologic Society.” (Dove, 2016) (


Key Related Ideas

  • Body Image Dissatisfaction:  Body image dissatisfaction is defined as “the negative perceptions and feelings a person has about their body and is influenced by factors such as body shape and appearance, attitudes towards weight gain, and cultural norms in relation to an ideal body.” (McGuiness and Taylor, 2016)
  • Eating Disorders:  Eating Disorders are defined as “any of various disorders, as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, characterized by severe disturbances in eating habits.” (Dictionary, 2019)
  • Body Positivity Movement:  Began in the 1960s as a movement to end fat-shaming after Lew Louderback published the essay, “More People Should Be Fat.” In his essay, Louderback discussed the discrimination that he had felt in the workplace due to his obesity, and advocated for women who were “plump,” to appear in magazines.(History, 2018) The movement has continued to transform and has gained momentum within the past couple decades due to the positive promotions with social media to strengthen the idea and movement.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Laverne Cox (1972-) is an Emmy-Nominated American actress, producer LGBTQ+ and trans-rights activist. “She is vocal about positive body image. The actress and producer put an emphasis on allowing women to be themselves. Her message is that women should not allow the media to dictate to them who they should be or tell them that their bodies are not right.” (Ferrar, 2014).
  • Tess Munster (1985-) known professionally as Tess Holliday, was the first plus-sized model to sign with a major modeling agency. She also started an Instagram account, effyourbodystandards, to encourage women to celebrate their bodies, whatever their size, and to celebrate their unique appearance. (Ferrar, 2014).
  • Paul Schilder (1886-1940) was an Austrian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who was one of the founding fathers of group therapy. He was one of the first people to develop the idea of body image and how one’s body image was formulated by their own view of themselves, the view of their fellow human beings and by the world around them. (Alchetron, 2018).


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • “Beauty Redefined is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Salt Lake City, UT, that is dedicated to taking back beauty for females everywhere by promoting positive body image online and in person through research, activism, and speaking engagements.” (Beauty, 2019) (
  • Endangered Bodies is a global nonprofit organization that challenges the “current toxic culture that promotes negative body image.” They collaborate with other organizations to work on promoting body positivity and holding companies accountable for how they portray body image in their retail settings. (Endangered, 2019) (
  • The Body Positive is nonprofit organization that “teaches people to listen to their bodies, learn and thrive. Their goal is to end the harmful consequences of negative body image: eating disorders, depression, anxiety, cutting, suicide, substance abuse, and relationship violence.” (Body, 2019) (


Reflection Question

How can you promote positive body images in your classroom?



  • Alchetron, 2018, “Paul Ferdinand Schilder”,, Updated January 2, 2018, Accessed November 3, 2019,
  • Beauty Redefined, “Beauty Redefined: Donate”,, Accessed October 28, 2019, https//
  • Be Real, 2019, “Be Real Campaign: About”, Accessed November 1, 2019, Be Real,
  • Dictionary, 2019, “Definition of Eating Disorder”,, Accessed December 19, 2019,
  • Dove, November 1, 2016, “Dove Self Esteem Project: Our Mission in Action”, Accessed October 29,2019,
  • Endangered Bodies, 2019, “Endangered Bodies: About”,, Accessed November 3, 2019,
  • Farrar, Tabitha, “Celebrities that Promote a Healthy Body Image”, Accessed November 2, 2019,
  • Lexico, 2019, “Definition of Media”,, Accessed November 2, 2019,
  • McGuinness, Sarah and Joanne E. Taylor, 2016, “Understanding Body Image Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating in Midlife Adults,” New England Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 45, No 1, April 2016, pp. 4-12.
  • McShirley, Collin 2019 “What is Body Image?”,, Accessed November 1, 2019,
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2019, “Medical Definition of Body Image”,, Accessed November 2, 2019,
  • NOW, 2019, “NOW Foundation: About: Love Your Body”,, Accessed November 3, 2019,
  • Passion Blog, February 26, 2018, “History of Body Positivity,” Accessed December 19, 2019
  • Rehabs 2019, “Women’s Body Image and BMI: A look at the Female Figure over 100 Years”,, Accessed November 3, 2019,
  • Ray, Amanda, “A Revealing Look at Beauty Advertising”,, Accessed December 18, 2019,
  • The Body Positive, 2019 “”,, Accessed December 19, 2019,
  • Tiggemann, Marika and Amy Slater, “Net Girls: The Internet, Facebook and Body Image Concern in Adolescent Girls,” The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2013 September, Vol. 46; pp. 630-633.


This briefing paper was authored by a student taking a philanthropic studies course in 2019 at The Lilly Family School