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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
Eating Disorders
The Media's Influence
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One of the ways we can protect our self-esteem and body image from the media's often narrow definitions of beauty and acceptability is to become a critical viewer of the media messages we are bombarded with each day. Media messages about body shape and size will affect the way we feel about our bodies and ourselves only if we let them. When we effectively recognize and analyze the media messages that influence us, we remember that the media's definitions of beauty and success do not have to define our self-image or potential.

Use your creative mind to view all media with a discriminating eye.

All media images and messages are constructions. They are not reflections of reality. Advertisements and other media messages have been carefully crafted with the intent to send a very specific message.

Advertisements are created to do one thing: convince you to buy or support a specific product or service.

Remember that you are only seeing what the advertisers want you to see. To convince you to buy a specific product or service, advertisers will often construct an emotional experience that looks like reality. Just because they think their approach will work with people like you doesn't mean it has to work with you as an individual.

As individuals, we decide how to experience the media messages we encounter. We can choose to use a filter that helps us understand what the advertiser wants us to think or believe, and then choose whether we want to think or believe that message. We can choose a filter that protects our self-esteem and body image.

Express yourself. Help promote healthier body image messages in the media.

When you see an ad or hear a message that makes you feel bad about yourself, your body, or others by promoting only thin, formulaic body ideals, talk back to the TV and the advertiser by writing a letter. It works, you can make a change.

Also write to advertisers who you think are sending positive, inspiring messages that recognize and celebrate the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes. Compliment their courage to send positive, affirming messages.

Make a list of companies who consistently send negative body image messages and make a conscious effort to avoid buying their products. Write them a letter explaining why you are using your "buying power" to protest their messages. There is power in grass-roots movements. Take out the pages of your magazines that contain advertisements or articles that glorify thinness or degrade people of larger sizes. Enjoy your magazine without negative media messages about your body. If you want, send them back to the advertiser with a message: "Here, I don't want them."

Don't keep it to yourself. Talk to your friends about media messages and the way they make you feel.

Talking Back to the Media
If you believe you can't make a difference, read this story told by Joe Kelly. Executive Director of Dads and Daughters.

In November of 2000, the Campbell Soup Company launched a series of new ads for its television campaign. Joe Kelly saw the ad and decided he needed to do something about it.

The 30 second television spot featured nine year old girls, and boys. The boys offer soup to the girls, who decline saying, they can't accept, they're watching their weight. The boys reply, "Lots of Campbell's soups are low in calories!" The girls then hungrily ask for some, while the announcer adds: "Because over 30 savory Campbell's soups have under 100 calories or 3 grams of fat or less per serving. So you can feel full on fewer delicious calories!"

They're talking to pre-pubescent girls about managing their calorie intake!! With Campbell's soup, of all things -- an All-American family company. This is crazy! I saw the ad on the Rosie O'Donnell Show. Several of our members saw it and sent me e-mails saying, 'Have you seen this ad, it's crazy.'

Dads and Daughters wrote to the CEO of Campbell and asked them to think carefully about the message their corporation was sending with this ad. Joe and his colleagues found the ad additionally upsetting because of the time slot it occupied, and the show it was on.

Girls watch that every day... The message was that pre-pubescent girls, should be worrying about their weight; should be eating low fat food, low calorie food. That's the last thing kids that age should be thinking about. It's ridiculous. Their bodies haven't even begun to change, through puberty. Come on! What could they have been thinking?

Within a couple of days, the Vice President for Marketing and Corporate Communications for the company called Joe in his, as he describes it, "little two-person office in Po-dunk Duluth, Minnesota." The Vice President acknowledged he had received their letter, reviewed the ad again, saw their point, and was pulling the ad. Joe was heartened, "A multi-national company responding to a couple of guys writing a letter!"

This decision is a real victory for girls. So, just as DADs urged parents to demand that Campbell's pull the commercial, we now encourage parents to thank to the company.

When you are writing, father to father, I think it carries a special weight.

I think we as consumers have a lot more influence with corporations than we realize. Especially nowadays, when corporations are so competitive with one another, fighting so hard to get our attention, and have to be so flexible and responsive; just a few people, raising their voices, can make a huge difference.

Joe Kelly sees the broader implications of the response to his letter. He suspects that possibly his man-to-man approach carried more weight, and wonders, had a women's organization written the letter, might they not be written-off as complaining feminists. He finds this upsetting in general, but more so on his daughters' behalf.

My kids shouldn't have to suffer because we continue to let our culture get away with narrowing our notions of what it means to be male, and what it means to be female... I'm going to use the influence I have to try to make this into a world where my daughters are no longer taken less seriously just because they are daughters.

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