Media Influences on Body Image and Disordered Eating among Indigenous Adolescent Australians

Article excerpt

A substantial body of data indicates that the media provides strong messages regarding ideal body appearance for both adolescent boys and girls. In Western countries, the media consistently portrays the ideal body for girls as extremely slim (Thompson & Smolak, 2001) and the ideal body for boys as slim and muscular (Podpe, Olivardia, Gruber, & Borowiecki, 1999). Adolescent boys and girls are clearly aware of these media ideals, which have been shown to influence levels of body satisfaction, as well as disordered eating and strategies to increase muscles (McCabe, Ricciardelli & Finemore, 2002; Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2003). However, these findings largely apply to Caucasian populations, with less investigation of body image ideals of other racial groups (Abrams & Stormer, 2002). Abrams and Stormer have suggested that other racial groups who live in Western societies are less likely than the White population to adopt the body image ideal portrayed within these societies. It is not clear if the differences in the levels of body satisfaction and disordered eating between different racial groups are due to the fact that the media messages are different for respondents from different ethnic backgrounds, that the media messages are not detected, or that the messages do not impact on the body image or eating behaviors of some groups. There is also no information on the nature and impact of media messages related to increasing muscle size among non-White populations.

The current study was designed to evaluate the nature of media messages related to body shape and strategies to change body shape perceived by indigenous Australian adolescents, and compare these messages to those received by non-indigenous Australian adolescents. Associations between these perceived messages and body satisfaction, as well as strategies to decrease weight or increase muscles, were also investigated in the two groups. Indigenous Australian adolescents are known to have a distribution of body size/shape that is atypical of the general adolescent population (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs, 2000), with higher proportions of indigenous adolescents being overweight, but little is known about related attitudes and behaviors. We are not aware of any other research on body image and media influences on body image that has been published on this group of respondents.

The following reviews past research on body image and body change strategies among other ethnic populations in order to guide the hypotheses for the present study. Past research on ethnic differences in body image and body change strategies has focused primarily on body dissatisfaction and the impact of perceptions of attractiveness for females. Relationships between perceptions of media messages, body image concerns, and body change strategies for males have received little attention.

Although they did not specifically examine media influences, Abrams and Stormer (2002) investigated the role of ethnicity in the internalization of the thin ideal among urban adolescent girls in the United States. The respondents were African American, White, Latino, and Asian. The results clearly demonstrated that White adolescent girls were more aware and had internalized the thin ideal more than African Americans. Interestingly, no differences were found among the White, Latino, and Asian American girls on the awareness or internalization score. African American girls were the least likely to detect or internalize the sociocultural messages regarding the ideal body form for females. This would suggest that the African American girls are most different from the other groups in their views on ideal body appearance. It is not known whether these findings are generalizable to indigenous Australian adolescents.

Poran (2002) also explored the perceptions of beauty held by White, Latino, and Black American women. Consistent with the findings of Abrams and Stormer's (2002) study, Poran found that Black women specified an ideal of beauty that was different from the general ideal portrayed in society, and demonstrated higher levels of body satisfaction than either White or Latino women. …