Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

The Impact of Print Media on the Thin Ideal of Collegiate Female Athletes

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

The Impact of Print Media on the Thin Ideal of Collegiate Female Athletes

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is a general consensus among researchers that the media have an impact upon the body image of young women (Bisseil, 2004a; Bisseil, 2004b; Bissell and Zhou, 2004; Botta, 2000; Harrison, 2000; Harrison and Cantor, 1997; Harrison and Fredrickson, 2003). However, the exact relationship between the media and body image is unclear, as studies have often found contradictory results. Many researchers believe that media consumption leads to body image dissatisfaction; for example, content analyses of entertainment media often suggest that body shape and size of women tend to largely focus on thinness (Brown and Dittmar, 2005; Frith, Ping, and Cheng, 2005; Gamer and Olmstead, 1984; Gagnard, 1986; Harrison, 2000; Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, and Ahrens, 1990). In fact, research with entertainment media have developed the terms, "thinness-depicting and thinness-promoting" or in other words thin ideal media. As such, the media have used these terms to classify certain genres of television and magazines that place a specific emphasis on thin body shapes (Harrison and Cantor, 1997).

In Western culture, the portrayal of thinness as beauty and success is commonplace. Reischer and Koo (2004) wrote: "... our capacity for self-modification and adornment is a central and essential feature of our humanity, though the particular ways in which we alter our bodies are clearly a cultural phenomenon" (p. 297). Yet, given the current prevalence in obesity in the United States for women, where non-Hispanic white women exceed 30% in most age groups (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, and Curtin, 2010), coupled with the notion that the female standard of beauty is becoming thinner, the elusive gap between actual body size and ideal body size is widening (Dittmar, 2005). A plausible explanation that thinner is beautiful may stem from such perceptions being created in childhood. Research has indicated that the ubiquitous image of thin and beautiful is seen in early childhood via books, television shows, and movies (Frith, Ping, and Cheng, 2005; Herbozo, Gokee-Larose, andThompson, 2004). Herbozo, Gokee-Larose, and Thompson (2004) studied popular children's entertainment and found that thinness is considered to be the prime factor in defining beauty. In addition, merely watching television has been connected with an enhanced desire among preadolescent girls to have a thin body when they mature (Harrison and Hefner, 2006). Apparently, the "thinness" theme continues since adolescents' body image has been reported to be manipulated by several factors including messages from the media (Ata, Ludden, and Lally, 2006). Female adolescents in particular seek out magazines, internalize the messages presented, and use the media as a source of information about how to improve their physical appearance (Littleton and Ollendick, 2003). By making these comparisons provided by the media, women tend to become motivated to emulate the images they most often see (Bissell, 2004a).

Theoretical Foundation

Social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) is an important aspect to consider when exploring the relationship between the media and body image, and has often been described as "a core aspect of human experience" (Suis and Wheeler, 2000, p. 15). Festinger's (1954) social comparison theory posits that individuals possess a need to estimate their personal opinions and abilities. In order to operate under this theory, they need to comprehend their own capacities and limitations, as well as the accuracy of their opinions of objects and of other people (Jones and Gerard, 1967). Festinger perceived that people self-evaluate by assessing their attributes against direct, physical standards. However, if such measures were unavailable, Festinger indicated that people will compare themselves with other people.

To put into the context of this study, when a person views media images, internalization is made via a comparison between the image and themselves (e. …

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