On PBS (Check local listings)

A half hour special from In the Mix, the award winning PBS series

Self-Image: The Fantasy, The Reality focuses on how media images are driving teens to diet constantly, develop eating disorders, use steroids, and suffer from low self-esteem. This program deconstructs the images we see in films and magazines, on television and billboards, to help young people understand that confidence and personal style are more important than striving for unrealistic, ever-changing ideal body images.

In the 40’s and 50’s, the public swooned over Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Marilyn Monroe (sizes 12 to 16). Today, the media has given us new icons: for women, waif-thin models and actresses, for men, the super-muscular "diesel" body. The message is clear and relentless to boys and girls alike: this is the way you have to look to be popular, attractive, confident…and happy.

During its five years on the air, In the Mix has heard from hundreds of teenagers frustrated that "their world" is almost never shown on television and in the movies, and who feel pressured by the media to "fit into a mold". As one teen on the program says, "It’s hard to find your own place and stand up and say, I look that way, and that’s the way it’s going to be."

How to Use this Program:

Research by RMC Research on earlier In the Mix specials has shown that these programs engage the interest of teenagers; deliver information; catalyze discussion on critical issues; and promote critical thinking and a greater sense of self-efficacy among teens. We recommend that you show the entire special in one sitting and then revisit each section followed by discussion. The aim is to encourage thought and allow teens to generate their own creative solutions.

Did you know?

In the Mix Awards

1997 International Prix Danube for Children’s Television

1997 New York Emmy for Children's Programming

1996 Finalist, The New York Festivals

1994 National Emmy for Community Service Programming

1993 Finalist, Prix Jeunesse

1992 CPB Gold Award

Self-Image: The Fantasy, The Reality contains four major segments, along with introductions and commentary by In the Mix reporters and teens.

This Discussion Guide is divided into the following sections:

YM Magazine and Ford Models

Eating Disorders


Teens Speak Out

Selected Resources

For information about In the Mix, including show descriptions and schedules, visit our home on the World Wide Web at, or e-mail us at

Self Image: The Fantasy, The Reality carries one-year off-air taping rights and performance rights. Check your local PBS listings for airtimes.

Note: Videotape copies of the program can be purchased for $69.95 (Plus $5.00 shipping and handling per order; Includes performance rights and a Discussion Guide), and can be ordered by sending a check or purchase order to: In the Mix, 114 E. 32 Street, Suite 903, New York, NY 10016, or by calling (800) 597-9448. There is a discount of $5.00 per tape on orders of any five or more In the Mix titles.

Other videos of interest to grades 7-12 are available on topics including: Drug Abuse; Teen Immigrants; Depression; Smoking Prevention; Gun Violence; Sports Participation; Computers; Media Literacy; Political Activism; Alcohol and DWI; Dating Violence; Getting Into College; School to Work Transition; Careers; Relationships; AIDS; and others. For a complete catalog, call: (212) 684-3940 or (800) 597-9448, or write to us at: 114 E. 32 Street, Suite 903, New York, NY 10016.

c 1997 In the Mix. Self-Image: The Fantasy, The Reality is a production of Castle Works Inc. In the Mix was created by WNYC Radio. This special was funded by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


Segment Length 5:00

Andrea Barrow visits a fashion shoot for YM magazine, which shows the extensive preparation and lighting that goes into creating a young model’s "look". Lesley Seymour, editor-in-chief of YM, explains current model trends, the role of editors and advertisers in presenting magazine images, and how to tune out media messages to focus on personal style. Ford Models agency head Katie Ford explains changing model trends, emphasizes that most models are thin because they were born that way, and urges teens to separate fantasy from reality.

Why do models look so good in fashion spreads and advertisements?

hair and makeup done by professionals; lighting; many photos taken so the best shot can be chosen

What kinds of mixed messages are magazines sending to their readers?

an article about anorexia next to an ad for a diet product; articles about developing self-confidence next to ads with skinny models

What are the two major components of a magazine?

editorial, which chooses articles and fashion spreads; publishing, which sells space to advertisers

Lesley says readers prefer images that are more attractive than real life, because magazines are entertainment and give us an escape. Do you agree? Why or why not?

What are some of Lesley’s suggestions for finding your own style?

get ideas from magazines and friends; try out what looks best on your body; find what captures your personality; take time to develop it; go with what makes you feel comfortable

Why do we see so many severely thin models in magazines?

today’s designers create styles that need thin models; only small sample sizes are available when fashion spreads are shot

According to Katie, how do body types change depending on fashion trends? What have been some of the changing body-type trends and their eras?

one generation reacts to the generation before, every 10 years or so; 50’s: Marilyn Monroe; 60’s and 70’s: Twiggy; 80’s: curves, cleavage; 90’s: waif-thin

Katie says that what you see is on the fashion page is a "dream". Why is that?

most models who are thin are born that way; it’s not meant to reflect reality; none of us can be someone we are not



Lesley urges her readers to complain to advertisers about harmful media messages. Ask students to identify magazine ads with images they don’t like. Have them research the company’s address and write a letter of complaint. Follow-up with any responses students receive.


Andrea’s photo was computer re-touched to erase circles under her eyes and change her hair color. Ask students to choose photos from fashion magazines and identify what computer retouching may have been done to make them "perfect" images. Have them keep an eye out for: erased zits, freckles, wrinkles; teeth straightening and whitening; altered eye, lip, and skin color; erasing parts of the body to make them thinner; added muscle definition.


As a class, collect pictures from books and old magazines to create a timeline of changing body types and what was considered attractive during various eras, for both men and women.


As a class, discuss the difference between having a personal style and following fashion trends. What are some ways you can create a personal style?


Segment Length 5:25

Danielle, Lisa, and Erin reveal their struggles to overcome long-term bulimia and anorexia. Dr. Barry Shapira, a specialist in treating eating disorders, explains the medical side of these life-threatening illnesses.

At the start of the show, a boy points out that in the "good old days", nobody cared about dieting; today, almost everyone does. Where do you think the pressure is coming from?

media images, parents, friends

At about what age did these girls become concerned about their weight and start dieting? Why?

twelve/thirteen: they became more aware of the media and its messages to be thin, started reading magazines, began to be interested in boys and in being attractive

Besides the desire to be skinny, why else do girls become anorexic or bulimic?

low self-esteem; a need to feel strong and in control of their lives; the feeling that society only values their bodies

What are some of the serious side effects of anorexia and bulimia?

general malnourishment; weakness, memory and concentration loss, internal injuries from vomiting; infertility; heart problems; osteoporosis; anemia; hair loss

What are some telltale signs that someone you know is battling anorexia or bulimia?

obsession with weight; significant weight loss in a short period of time; sparse meals; over-exercising; bruising easily; visiting a bathroom after every meal

How can you help someone who has an eating disorder? What shouldn’t you do?

tell them in a loving way that they’re dieting too hard, tell their parents, tell them that you’ll support them and not judge them; offer to accompany them to get help; don’t compliment them for losing weight, or try to force them to eat


According to studies, 50% of women with normal body weight think they’re overweight. Ask the class to research statistics on normal weight ranges per height, for boys as well as girls. Discuss their findings.


Ask students to start a "media journal" to keep over the course of several days or even a week. Ask them to log their responses and reactions to various media experiences, i.e. their favorite TV show, a street billboard, watching music videos, reading a magazine, a new movie, etc. Ask them to focus on how their feelings fit in with daily events in their lives. Have students discuss their media journals in groups of three to four.



Ask students to identify a particular TV program that sends out damaging messages. Have them write or e-mail the producer, network, and/or studio to tell them how they feel.


Segment Length 3:55


A former steroid user recounts his journey into and out of steroid use, and how his mental and physical health suffered. Dr. Alwyn Cohall elaborates on harmful side effects of steroids and offers suggestions for building muscles naturally.

What are some of the factors that drive people to start using steroids?

low self-esteem; wanting to quickly achieve the media’s image of the "diesel" body All-American male; desire to impress girls; steroids are easy to get

What are some of the health risks involved with using steroids?

mental: impatience, anger, depression, mood swings; physical: liver problems, acne, heart trouble, high blood pressure, low sperm count, strokes

In what ways does the former steroid user now feel good about himself?

his workout results are all natural; a feeling of ‘I did it myself’; focusing more on school and developing other interests; keeping an attitude that working out is just a hobby and not his whole life

What kind of exercise program should you follow to get in shape naturally and safely?

do sit-ups and push-ups every day or every other day; to build specific muscle groups, increase repetitions instead of increasing weight


Arrange to have a local fitness trainer and/or nutritionist speak to the class about safe ways to build muscle, burn fat, and be generally fit.


Teens are also spending money on expensive dietary supplements of doubtful value. Contact doctors and medical groups to get the truth.


Discuss as a class how one would help a friend who has a steroid use problem (or eating disorder). Ask students to role-play this situation.


Segment Length 5:00 (And Throughout Program)

A group of guys and girls hang out and let the feelings fly about how the media effects their self-image, and what traits they prefer—and dislike—in the opposite sex.

Do all guys only like girls who wear revealing, "sexy" clothes?

no: they prefer clothes that are not too tight, that look good on an individual girl, clothes that the girl is obviously comfortable in, a girl who’s not afraid to get dirty or be relaxed.

Do all girls automatically like guys who are "pumped up" and muscular?

no: everybody has different tastes; personality is more important

What are some of the characteristics these teens find attractive about someone?

a healthy look; physical activity and fitness; having other interests; a sense of humor, the ability to be "real"; the ability to laugh at oneself; communication skills; confidence; style; giving compliments

What are some of the characteristics these teens find unattractive?

obsession with weight; being conceited and self-centered; habit of treating people badly; trying too hard to look good

How do these teens feel about how the media affects them and their friends?

angry: they have to cope with unrealistic images; they see friends who have low self-esteem and are unhealthy

What do both girls and guys suggest as an alternative to obsessing over fashion?

set academic goals, get involved in sports, watch less TV, develop hobbies and interests; focus on pleasing yourself and not anyone else; create your own self-image; shop at vintage stores to find styles that fit


Ask students to clip magazine ads and fashion spreads of very thin or pumped-up models. Discuss whether these are attractive body types in real life, and if they are factors in being popular and happy.


Pass out index cards to the class and have each student write down what characteristics they find most appealing in the opposite sex. Collect and read them anonymously, showing there is a wide range of preferences.


When the boys complain that girls rave about "diesel" models like Tyson, making them feel insecure, Nina says, "Now the shoe is on the other foot, now you know how we feel." Pass out index cards to the class and have each student write down the kinds of things people say or do to make them feel less satisfied with themselves. Collect and read them anonymously.




Berg, Frances M.

Afraid to Eat: Children and Teens in Weight Crisis

Hettinger, ND: Healthy Weight Publishing Network, 1997

Claude- Pierre, Peggy

The Secret Language of Eating Disorders Random House, 1997

Reflections of Girls in the Media

Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now Report, 1997

(800) 656-4533


True Beauty

G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1997

Wolf, Naomi

The Beauty Myth

Morrow, NY. 1991

Pipher, Mary, Ph. D.

Reviving Ophelia

G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1994

Jean Kilbourne

A noted author and lecturer on the subject of the media and its relationship to self-image/ problems in society.

Contact: Lordly & Dame, (617) 482-3593.



National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

Box 7, Highland Park, IL 60035

(708) 831-3438

American Anorexia and Bulimia Association

165 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036

(212) 575-6200


The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

Girl Power!

(800) 729-6686

National Institute For Drug Abuse

(800) 662-HELP

Ms. Foundation For Women

(212) 742-2300

Center For Science in the Public Interest

(202) 332-9110

Center For Media Literacy

(800) 226-9494

Girls Inc.

(212) 689-3700

On The World Wide Web:

Size Wise

Size-Acceptance information and support

Something Fishy Eating Disorders Web Site

Melpomene Institute Body Image Page


Magazines That Focus on Girls’ Achievements:

Blue Jean Magazine

(716) 654-5070


(212) 545-4800