In 2011, Glamour magazine surveyed over 300 women about their bodies; 97 percent of respondents said they had at least one “I hate my body” moment every day.
That's a staggering majority, but sadly, as noted by Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D, a psychologist and body image expert who helped Glamour design the survey, it doesn't come as much of a surprise.
While your body image—how you perceive and feel about your body and how you assume others perceive it—is affected by everything from your friends and family to peer pressure, a growing body of research suggests that the media plays a large role in shaping those thoughts too.
One year-long study from 2006 found that girls who watched greater amounts of “appearance focused” TV shows were less satisfied with the way that they looked and that those who participated in more discussions about the appearance of celebrities with their friends had a greater desire to be thinner.
And while many studies focus on how women are affected by this phenomenon, though maybe less prominent, there's no doubt a similar issue also exists for men.
In a day and age when we know for a fact that Photoshop is frequently used to distort images, erase blemishes and turn celebrities into pictures of perfection, it almost seems silly that we believe any images we see on TV, in magazines or online. We're quite aware that the beauty ideals we're presented with are unrealistic, yet we still have a desire to achieve them anyway.
“The significant rise in referral for cosmetic surgery operations, concerns about unhealthy eating, and an increase in the use of drugs designed to make men and women more muscular have inspired researches to try to understand the motivations behind these behaviors,” writes Sarah Grogan in Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children.
What they’ve found: part of it likely has something to do with the way beauty standards are presented to us through popular culture and the mainstream media.
Here are just a few of the ways the ideas and images you view on TV, online and in magazines could be negatively affecting the way you feel about and perceive your body.
Headlines that encourage unrealistic fitness goals.
The media loves to encourage us to emulate the physiques of our favorite celebrities. And while aiming for arms like Michelle Obama’s or a behind like Beyoncé’s can be a well-meaning source of motivation, for most, achieving such a specific physique is unrealistic and will likely lead to disappointment and frustration. From our muscle character to our bone density and our overall proportions, the appearance of our bodies is mostly affected by genetics. So yes, you can lose fat and build muscle to make your arms look more muscular, but you can’t change the natural structure of your body; nor should you feel like you have to in order to fit what the media narrowly defines as "beautiful."
'Motivational' graphics that make you feel bad.
Is exercise essential to good health? Yes. Should you feel exceedingly guilty for missing a workout or not being able to get to the gym every single day of the week? Absolutely not. Some online “fitness inspiration” takes on condescending tones, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and an overall negative mindset. (Not to mention, many of these mantras are typically plastered over photo-shopped images of fitness models.) “Although being dissatisfied with the way that we look and ‘feeling fat’ can motivate us to exercise, it may also prevent us from engaging in organized sports activities such as joining a gym or exercising due to concern about whether we have the right kind of body to fit in with sports culture that promotes a slender ideal,” Grogan explains in her book. That’s why it’s important to remember that it’s OK if you don’t always have time for exercise. Sometimes not having enough time is a legitimate excuse (as are plenty of other reasons) and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it.