In today’s world, we constantly encounter the media—when we drive down the highway and see a billboard, when we read a magazine, when we watch TV, when we go online. By becoming media savvy, we learn to look critically at media images and messages. It means understanding that media are created through conscious, specific decision-making processes that are primarily embedded in for-profit ventures. It also means being less vulnerable to manipulation by the media. Here are some ways to be media savvy.
- Do not believe stereotypes
- What are the “ideal” male and female body types?
- How do these body types portrayed in the media make you feel about your own body? What do the advertisers want you to feel?
- Do these advertisements really portray what the person in the photo looks like in real life?
Watch out for gender stereotypes that make you think you must have a perfect body in order to be happy. Exposure to the “ideal” male and female body types—through the media, advertising, and even superheros—can affect internalization of the cultural norm.
People often are affected by the way others look. Some go through extremes to be thinner or more muscular, to look like the models or actors portrayed in the media. The “ideal” should be the healthy-ideal, feeling good about how you look and feel regardless of what you see around you. Ask yourself:
- Do not believe that all the images you see are real
Seeing is not believing! Be a skeptical consumer. The ability to analyze and evaluate the media messages that we receive is crucial to developing a positive body image. Even if you know that images have been altered, it’s helpful to remind yourself of this fact. Models, actors, and other portrayed individuals in media and advertising are often physically altered. This includes make-up application, padding certain areas underneath clothing to create extreme thinness or curves, duct-tapping excess flesh to show a wrinkle-free body, and more. Photographs are often computer-enhanced with tools like Photoshop and this makes it difficult to know what is real in what you see. When a retoucher receives an image from a photographer, there are an array of “flaws” that they correct. To view an example of the process for creating a typical media image, click here
Try flicking through a fashion magazine and ripping out any pages featuring extremely underweight or drastically retouched models. You’ll surprised by how little is left on the remaining pages.
- Step inside the minds of media image creators
Marketing and image making are very often about money—your money! Realizing that the people who create media images want to make you feel and think a certain way so that you will buy their products and consequently further their cause or fatten their pocketbook. They may not have your best interest at heart. Every ad you see represents a point of view (why you need a certain product) and a desire on the advertiser’s part to prevail (for you to buy the product). Look at what images are symbolically trying to sell to you. Will you really have a perfect life if you buy one brand of jeans over another?
- Learn the truth about dieting and dieting ads
The diet industry is one of the few that do not have to comply with truth-in-advertising laws. This means that the advertisements located at the back of health magazines that read, “This diet helped me lose ten pounds in three days!” do not have to tell you that the vast majority of diets fail.