Dissertation Example: Glamour and Cosmopolitan
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Glamour and Cosmopolitan
In what way do woman’s magazines influence the body image of their readers?’
CHAPTER 1 – INTRODUCTION
This dissertation will investigate the following issue: ‘In what way do woman’s magazines influence the body image of their readers?’ This dissertation will look at two popular women’s magazines Glamour and Cosmopolitan.
Specifically it will look at three issues of each magazine and will discuss how much of their content is dedicated to body image related issues. The reason these magazines have been selected is because they are two of the leading competitive magazines for women and most suited to the research question due to their similar content and target audience.
or any similar topic only for you
Just three issues of the publication were chosen to keep the process manageable.
The research project was driven by an interest in magazines and a passion for uncovering the reason for women’s body hang-ups. This dissertation will also look at relevant literature which relates to the research topic as well as looking at the theories of media influence.
According to the NICE, an independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health, guidelines published in 2004 the number of people in the UK affected by an eating disorder is around 1.6million.
Statistics from beat, a charity which supports people affected by eating disorders, show that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are more common amongst girls. Young women generally develop these disorders between the ages of 15 and 25 years, although they can occur at any age, even as young as 7 or 8 years.
Who is to blame for encouraging this desire amongst young women to be unnaturally thinThis study intends to find out if the magazine industry plays a role in how women form their self – image.
So far there has been numerous research projects into the effect images in magazines can have on female body image. For example Jaehee Jung’s research project in 2006, Media Influence: Pre- and Post-exposure of College Women to Media Images and the Effect of Mood and Body Image, assessed the effects of exposure to attractive models in the media on women’s mood and body image
The influence that articles in magazine journalism can have is a completely different angle which needs much more exploration.
The methodologies used in this research project were content analysis and a focus group. Content analysis will illustrate the content and how it was portrayed by each publication. The data will be analysed according to particular topic, the overall tone and editorial positioning. Undertaking a focus group is essential to this research paper as it will allow the readers of the magazines to express their opinion.
This subject is being researched to determine whether or not women’s body image is influenced by women’s magazines. The literature reviewed and the methodologies undertaken in this research project will also provide a framework for any future research in this topic.
CHAPTER 2 – LITERATURE REVIEW
For the purpose of this dissertation an extensive range of literature was reviewed which focused on issues surrounding the topic of magazine journalism influence on female body image. This chapter provides information on news values as well as including literature on theoretical aspects of the influence women’s magazine’s has on their readers. This chapter also comprises of literature in support of the methodologies used to gather suitable and sufficient data for this research paper.
Body image has been defined in many different ways. Cash & Pruzinsky (1990) defined body image as a person’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions about their body overall, including appearance, age, race, functions, and sexuality. They discussed body image as being multidimensional, consisting of a cognitive and an emotional dimension. Cognitive body image includes beliefs and self-statements about the body. Emotional body image is comprised of experiences of appearance, whether the experiences are comfortable or uncomfortable and if there is satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the body. Body image is a subjective experience; it depends on how the individual interprets himself or herself. How a person perceives their body is how they perceive themselves. Banfield and McCabe (2002) concurred that body image is multidimensional, however they identified three aspects: cognitions and affect regarding body, body importance and dieting behaviour, and perceptual body image. The cognitive dimension relates to thoughts and beliefs about body shape and the affective dimension includes the feelings that a person has towards their bodies’ appearance.
The second dimension, body importance and dieting behaviour, can be described as behaviours associated with grooming and dieting. Women who focus more on their body shape tend to engage in more grooming and dieting behaviours than women who do not focus so much on body shape. The last dimension, perceptual body image can be described as the accuracy an individual has when judging their shape, size and weight. Although researchers agree that body image is multidimensional in construct they do not agree on the amount or nature of the dimensions.
Body image is not static; it can change over time or in a few moments. Cash and Pruzinsky (1990) found that watching television could change a person’s body image by influencing them to think about their weight, attractiveness, or appearance. Body image is static in the sense that it changes over the life span. Grogan (1999) concluded from several studies that body image is influenced by many factors (family, friends, teacher, peer and society) and as a person gets older the influences on body image change and may become stronger or weaker, thus creating flux in body image over the life-span.
Women with a negative body image experience negative feelings about themselves. Cash, Ancis, and Strachan (1997) found that the negative feelings that some women have about their bodies are only minor annoyances, but for other women the negative feelings they have about their body cause great distress that interferes with their everyday life. When a negative body image gets severe, it may contribute to several disorder, including body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa. A negative body image could also lead to anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction. Cash (1999) concluded that investment in physical appearance comes at a high price – undermined self-worth as the body fails to meet societal standards. This study intends to find out if magazines are creating these unachievable social standards and influencing the body image of their readers.
The media portrays women in an unrealistic manner. According to Paff and Buckley- Lakner (1997), advertising has historically included stereotypical and unrealistic images of women. These thin ideals encourage women and men to focus on a woman’s appearance and body shape. The cultural message that was found to be suggested in some magazines was that women should spend time and engage in behaviours that will make them more physically attractive.
Being a key theme throughout this proposal, literature was reviewed on the theory of news values in the press today. Research revealed that the news values presented by Norwegian researchers Galtung and Ruge (1967) are still to an extent the most apparent in the press today. According to McQuail (1994) Galtung and Ruge’s study remains ‘the most influential explanation of news values.’ Galtung and Ruge (1967) produced a list of 12 factors to help define the concept of how events become news. For example frequency, threshold, unambiguity and meaningfulness were required as a checklist for what makes news. This checklist is extremely relevant to the research paper as it is the meaningfulness and the influence of these magazines which is being examined. Harcup and O’Neill (2001) conducted a survey of their own which aimed to show that the news values presented in Galtung and Ruge’s 1967 survey were still apparent in newspapers today. They studied the content of three newspapers and deduced that some of the news values presented by Galtung and Ruge still appeared in the newspapers but it was also evident that Galtung and Ruge’s news factors may be a little out-dated. Harcup and O’Neill produced a list of their own news factors which are far more modern; the power elite, celebrity, entertainment, surprise, bad news, good news, magnitude, relevance, follow-up and newspaper agenda. These news factors are a perfect representation of most modern magazines. Although Harcup and O’Neill’s (2001) study relates solely to newspapers it is evident that their more up-to-date list can be related to magazines. From studying the content of two women’s magazines for the function of this research paper it is clear that some of Harcup and O’Neill’s news factors are still quite apparent within them. Women’s magazines are saturated with stories and images about celebrities and real life good and bad news stories. This relates to this dissertation as the focus is on magazines who mainly publish articles relating to or about reader’s personal experiences which falls into the good news and bad news categories.
Prior research in the areas of agenda setting, framing, and affect explain how media forms differ in conveying information. Miller (2002) indicated that media does not express direct opinions about a topic but instead highlights the topics people should have opinions about. In order to highlight an issue, though, the media must first gain and maintain the attention of the audience (Miller, 2002). Hence, media uses tools such as framing, the concept of sensationalism, and effect to ensure audiences will remain interested.
Agenda setting proposes a relationship between the mass media and the public agenda. This theory suggests that the media tells the public what to think about by its coverage of a hierarchy of issues it publishes or broadcasts at a given point in time. Salience, the “degree to which an issue on an agenda is perceived as relatively important,” is a critical factor in agenda setting (Dearing, 1996, p. 8). It seeks to answer how important a particular issue is that is shown on the television news or printed in a daily newspaper. When studying agenda setting, one needs to measure how the salience of an issue changes and why the change happens (Shaw, 1992).
Another important aspect of agenda setting is the issue the media hopes to promote on its agenda. An issue is whatever is in contention for coverage by the news media. Because issues compete with each other, one will become more or less newsworthy in the public arena or in the mass media. Newsworthiness is not just determined by the coverage of an issue in a simple third-person or necessarily objective narrative format. More often than not, it is the visual power of the pictures or film associated with the story or the value and emotion-evoking quality of a subject’s interview that will influence an editor to move an item to the front page or the top-of-the-hour broadcast.
Sensationalism is another tool the media may use to both attract attention and induce emotion (McQuail, 2000). Sensationalism is the use of exciting and even shocking stories, graphics or language at the expense of accuracy to generate heightened interest and excitement, according to Askoxford.com (2004). Sensationalism can also distort reality and provide a negative picture of a subject (McQuail, 2000). Audiences’ negative opinions concerning a topic can be directly linked to sensationalism through affect. Affect is the emotional vehicle by which humans guide their behaviour (Dillard, 1998). More specifically, empathy is defined by Zillmann (1994, 1996) as an individual’s emotional response to another’s experience. In a study of news coverage, Zillmann, Taylor and Lewis (1998) stated that, “empathy theory predicts that bad news that reveals mishaps, setbacks, endangerments, victimizations, or tragic losses for specific agents or groups will prompt distress and genuine sadness in some” (p. 155). Armed with the three key communication concepts of agenda setting, affect, and sensationalism, the media can attract audience attention and sway public opinion through emotion while dictating what issues receive exposure.
In the course of prioritizing its agenda, the media often times prefer to favour or exclude information to achieve specifically desired reactions from the public. A key ingredient in agenda setting is framing the story. Framing is the way the media “chooses to shape the presentation of an issue” (Jasperson, A., Shah, D., Watts, M., Faber, R., & Fan, D., 1998, p.205). Gamson and Modigliani (1987) defined framing as a “central organizing idea” or “story line” that helps provide meaning to an event. Neuman, Just, and Crigler (1992) described news frames as “conceptual tools” that media use and audiences depend on “to convey, interpret, and evaluate information”
News has been defined as “an end-product of a complex process which begins with a system of sorting and selecting of events and topics according to a socially constructed set of categories” (Hall et al, 1978). This involves, according to Hall et al (19780), selecting from the many contending items within any category, those that are felt to be of interest to readers. At the general level this involves an orientation to items which are ‘out of the ordinary’, which in some way breach our ‘normal’ expectations about social life (1978:53).
Hall et al (1978) go on to say that extraordinariness does not exhaust the list of news attributes. Other possible newsworthy items, as any newspaper will reveal, include: “events which are concerned with elite persons or nations; events which are dramatic; events which can be personalised so as to point up the essentially human characteristics of humour, sadness, sentimentalism; events which have negative consequences and events which are part of, or can be made to appear part of, an existing newsworthy theme” (1978:53).
This is essentially what magazines are about. Elite persons, dramatic events and extraordinariness which could easily be related to issues of unobtainable beauty portrayed in women’s magazines.
In the process of newsmaking, these events are qualified for inclusion in the newspaper by journalists in terms of the characteristics of news values that they exhibit. In line with Cohen and Young’s (1973) argument, it is clear that, “far from being random reaction to random events, the selection of news is a logical outcome of particular ways of working and of a shared set of criteria of what makes material newsworthy” (1973:183). This material is therefore made newsworthy by the news values it embodies.
It is the same process that takes place within magazines in regards to content. The magazine writers and editors select the items they deem to be of interest to their readers and these items become important. Whether it be how to lose weight in two weeks or where to find the perfect party dress for your figure.
According to Hall et al (1978), while the professional ideology of news helps in easily identifying those qualities that constitute what is newsworthy, the process of news selection is “located within a range of known social and cultural identification”. The social and cultural identification within which the selection of news is located is further explicated by Gans (1979). He argues that news happens in social contexts and these contexts influence their nature and how they are gathered, and in this way the social factors in different contexts influence the sort of news values in the news. One criticism of news values as a way of understanding news decisions is that they are sharply limited in their explanatory value. A number of authors have commented that news values, as a construct, ignore the news gathering process, portraying events as though they presented themselves in reportable fashion to journalists, who in turn gave each a simple up or down vote based on how well they fit a predetermined list of criteria (Tunstall, 1971; McQuail, 2000). This may be true of, say, an editor’s choice of Associated Press stories, or selective coverage of so-called “diary events,” which are scheduled in advance—and studies which have supported news values have tended to focus on exactly these sorts of settings and situations, a potential research bias that Tunstall (1971) roundly criticizes as placing “researchers at the mercy of those very journalism news values which their research reports subsequently decry”.
Agenda setting describes a very powerful influence of the media – the ability to tell us what issues are important. As far back as 1922, the newspaper columnist Walter Lippman was concerned that the media had the power to present images to the public. McCombs and Shaw investigated presidential campaigns in 1968, 1972 and 1976. In the research done in 1968 they focused on two elements: awareness and information. Investigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they attempted to assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of the media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and Shaw concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign.
Bernard Cohen (1963) stated: “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”
Altschull (1984). Altschull contends that “the content of the press is directly correlated with the interests of those who finance the press” (Altschull, 1984, p. 254). The autonomy of media outlets is given within the boundaries of owners’ profit. Where the media outlet is commercially owned, the content will reflect the point of view of the news organization’s owners and advertisers. Where the media outlet fits into what Altschull calls an “interest pattern,” the content mirrors the concerns and objectives of whoever is providing the financing.
Literature was also reviewed on how the content for women in newspapers was determined as it gives an outline of what those in a position of authority deem as important to the readers. As this dissertation focuses on the content of women’s magazines, this journal article entitled ‘An Examination Of How Content for women is Determined in Newspapers’ (Armstrong 2006) was relevant as it gave an outline of what news producers felt women wanted to read about. The literature argued that newspaper editors have looked into developing news content that would attract female readers. Historically much of the content of newspapers had been predominantly read by males and therefore to attract female readers some newspapers tried to provide content that would be of interest to women from writing about things considered to be women’s “issues” to using more female sources. This relates to this study as it is about what is considered interesting and attractive to female readers which is of extreme importance to this dissertation.
McNair (2003) states that “the role of the editor is to determine which stories are of sufficient interest to the audience to deserve coverage within the special limitations of the particular medium and to prioritise them”.
Yang’s study (1996, cited in Armstrong 2006) established that women’s pages focused on the four “F’s”; fashion, furnishing, family and food. In relation to this research paper this demonstrates how content for women has focused on image and how one is outwardly perceived. From studying recent women’s magazines it is quite apparent that this is still the case. Nice’s study (2007) commented on the portrayal of women saying that magazines keep a constant commentary of weight gain and celebrity diets. The article also stated that the idea of women’s magazines was to pay attention to the reader, their needs, their desires, hopes, fears and aspirations. This reflects on women’s magazines today as many women read magazines not only for pleasure but also to seek advice about certain topics. There are many similarities within all areas of journalism. Abrahamson (2007) states that ‘Newspapers are initially distinguished by their variety of journalism and they are geographically delimited in terms of both subject and audience. He adds ‘magazine journalism is profoundly different to other aspects of journalism’. Abrahamson (2007) questions why magazines command such a privileged position in the media and claims that part of the reason is that they “enjoy a unique closeness with their audiences”. Abrahamson (2007) also suggested that sometimes the writers of magazines share a direct community interest with their readers and take a different editorial approach in order to interact with their audiences. The editors of women’s magazines are predominantly female and perhaps they also reflect their own views through the content of their publications. For example, in relation to this research paper, if the editor has concerns about weight then they may include it in their magazine in order to engage with other readers who have the same concerns.
Literature was also reviewed concerning media influence. Sung- Yeon Park’s study in 2005 called Media Influence on Women’s Desire to Be Thin investigated the effect of magazine use on the desire to be thin. It also went on the hypothesis that reading beauty and fashion magazines increased the drive for thinness both directly and indirectly. The indirect pathway included the perceived prevalence of the thin ideal in mass media and the perceived influence of the thin ideal on self. Jung – Hwan Kim and Sharron J. Lennon also completed a study on this subject in 2007. The study on Mass Media and Self-Esteem, Body Image, and Eating Disorder Tendencies (Jung 2007) examined whether the level of exposure to mass media is related to self-esteem, body image, and eating disorder tendencies.
Researchers have used various theoretical underpinnings for studying the relationship between media and body image.
Festinger (1954) argues that people evaluate themselves through comparison with others and are more likely to compare themselves to those who are similar to them and who are attractive. This comparison is supposed to motivate one to improve if she finds herself lacking.
Social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) suggests that people will compare themselves to others (including those portrayed in the mass media) who they believe represent what is ideal and socially desirable. Furthermore, when people are exposed to various body images, they automatically engage in the social comparison process without even knowing that they are doing so (Botta, 1999). Bessenoff (2006) confirmed the impact of social comparison as a mediating variable between exposure to thin models in advertising and resulting negative consequences (i.e., increased body dissatisfaction, negative mood, levels of depression, and lowered self-esteem).
However, researchers who use social comparison theory as a backdrop for media and body image studies suggest such comparisons could have potential negative effects. Research has shown that a discrepancy between the “actual” self (attributes you and others believe you possess) and the “ideal” self (attributes you or others believe you should possess) can produce negative emotional states such as sadness, discouragement, and depression (Hatter, 1998). An average woman may be discouraged by the discrepancy between her body and that of the media ideal. Therefore, if social comparison is the mechanism at play, researchers would expect that a discrepancy between a woman’s ideal body shape and her actual body shape leads to negative feelings, including body dissatisfaction.
Other researchers have both implicitly and explicitly explained a connection between media exposure and body image using Gerbner’s cultivation theory as a framework (Borzekowski et al., 2000). Cultivation theory theorises that the more television a person watches, the more that person will believe television life is “real life” (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994). Those who believe cultivation theory offers an explanation of the relationship between media and body image suggest that thin images in the media lead people to believe the thin form is both realistic and ideal. If people do adopt the thin media ideal, researchers would expect a connection in survey research between length of media exposure and endorsement of the most prevalent body type portrayed by the media, the thin woman (Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986).
Another theoretical backdrop for researching the relationship between media and body image is Bandura’s social cognitive theory (Dunkley et al., 2001). Social cognitive theory assumes that people model the behaviours of attractive others (Bandura, 1994). Proponents of social cognitive theory posit that young women find thin models in the media attractive and try to imitate them through dieting and, eventually, the development of eating disorders. If young women do attempt to imitate the figures they see on television and in magazines, they would exhibit a greater degree of eating pathology.
Thus far, researchers have made some contribution to the understanding of the relationship between media and eating disorders. However, methodological inconsistencies persist, inhibiting our understanding of this relationship.
A common inconsistency is the use of the term “body image.” There has been no consensus on its definition. Therefore, it has been measured in a variety of ways. Some researchers have measured the degree to which subjects are dissatisfied with their bodies in response to media exposure (e.g., Hofschire & Greenberg, 2002; Irving, 1990). Other researchers have examined the degree to which subjects overestimate their body size, using the discrepancy between perceived and actual body size as an indication of body dissatisfaction (e.g., Myers & Biocca, 1992; Vartanian et al., 2001). Others measure the degree of subjects’ disordered eating using diagnostic scales for bulimia and anorexia (e.g., Dunkley et al., 2001). Others measure different constructs such as “importance of appearance” (Borzekowski et al., 2000) and “endorsement of the thin ideal” (e.g., Botta, 1999, 2000; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994). It is clear that eating disorders are created because of different reasons such as poor self-esteem but does this stem from the media and magazines?
In 1922 Walter Lippman, newspaper columnist, first posed the idea that the mass media shapes public perception with images. Lippman’s notion, based on the public’s limited first-hand knowledge of the real world, created the foundation for what has come to be known as agenda-setting. The agenda-setting theory maintains the media plays an influential part in how issues gain public attention.
Conceptualized over time, agenda-setting is the dynamic process, ‘in which changes in media coverage lead to or cause subsequent changes in problem awareness of issues’, (Brosius & Kepplinger, 1990). Cohen’s (1963) predicted “the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about”. Whether social or political, local or national, public issues are generated by the media. Consumers not only learn about an issue “but also how much importance is attached to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position” (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). McCombs and Shaw’s study of mediated affects on the 1968 presidential campaign nullified previous assumptions that information and how it is presented has an attitudinal effect inducing behaviour changes. Their ground breaking efforts focused on issue awareness and relevance not behaviour and attitude, concluding “the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign” (Infante, et al., 1997, p. 366). Although the subject of presidential elections is quite far removed from woman’s magazine’s and female body image the issue of media influence is the backbone of this research paper.
Funkhouser (1973) focused his attention on the major issues for each year in the 1960s and further concluded that media agenda drives public agenda, and real-world indicators are less strongly associated with issue salience and media attention (Funkhouser, 1973).
Gitlin (1980) suggests that mass media influence has become the principle distribution system of ideology. People are only familiar with their own “tiny regions of social life” (Gitlin, 1980), and that the mass media brings simulated reality into their lives and people find themselves relying on those sources to provide a conceptualized image of the real world.
While agenda-setting theory has its critics, the media’s influence is no more evident than in the coverage of events since September 11. National polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center reflect the public rates U.S military members as “high” to “very high” on honesty and ethics, and the public is solidly behind the military and the president in the “War on Terrorism” (Gallup, 2001; Hickey, 2002). Although this is quite far removed from the usual topics covered within women’s magazines it demonstrates just how much power and influence the media actually has.
Researchers have studied the association between media and disturbed eating by examining characteristics of media itself, including frequency of exposure, medium, and content. Frequency denotes the amount of exposure to media (i.e., hours of television per day, number of fashion magazines per week).
The term medium refers to various forms of media. For example, one can distinguish fashion magazines from television, television from movies, and so on. Some investigators have focused on the medium of television commercials (Myers & Biocca, 1992), others have studied images from fashion magazines (Irving,1990; Levine, Smolak, & Hayden, 1994; Stice & Shaw, 1994); and some have used exposure to television and magazine images (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg,Shaw, & Stein, 1994). Media content is defined as the nature of the material portrayed in the media. In research on the association between media and disturbed eating, investigators are most concerned with appearance-related advertisements that depict an unrealistically thin standard of beauty. This suggests that it is the images that have more bearing when it comes to whether woman’s magazines have any influence on reader’s body image or not. However, this could possibly be due to the lack of research into the influence that written content in women’s magazines can have on their readers. Another reason why this study is extremely relevant to this field of study.
The assumption behind operationalising media influence by assessing the frequency, medium, or content of media is that characteristics of the media rather than characteristics of the individual lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. This assumption is consistent with a cultivation theory perspective (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1986), which assumes that there is a “dose-response” relationship of sorts between amount of media exposure and internalization of norms and values portrayed by media. Applied to the proposed relation between media and disturbed eating, this perspective presumes that there is a direct relationship between amount of exposure to appearance-related media and degree of acceptance or internalization of a thin standard of beauty. As internalized pressures and body dissatisfaction are believed to predict disturbed eating practices (Stice, 1994), cultivation theory assumes that greater exposure to media publications ultimately leads to the development of disturbed eating practices as women endeavor to attain the thin standard of beauty.
Research that examines characteristics of news media demonstrates a small but significant relationship between media exposure and body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. For example, both Meade (1995) and Levine et al. (1994) examined frequency of exposure when they assessed middle school girls’ fashion magazine reading habits. Meade found that greater magazine use was associated with disordered eating practices. Levine et al. (1994) found that girls who read fashion magazines more frequently were more likely to want to emulate the thin ideal of beauty. Furthermore, considering magazines as important sources of information about appearance and fitness was the strongest predictor of investment in thinness, weight management, and disordered eating practices. Stice et al. (1994) assessed frequency of media exposure in a study where female college students reported the number of health and fitness, beauty and fashion, and entertainment, arts and gossip magazines they had viewed over the past month, and the number of hours of comedy, drama, and game shows they watched. Structural equation modeling revealed a modest direct association between amount of media exposure and eating disorder symptoms. A stronger, indirect association was found between media exposure and eating disorder symptoms: media was associated with eating disorders symptoms through gender role endorsement, internalization of the thin standard of beauty, and body dissatisfaction (Stice et al., 1994).
In addition to the correlational research described above, researchers have examined media content and body dissatisfaction experimentally, by exposing women to thin media images (Irving, 1990, Heinberg & Thompson, 1995; Stice & Shaw, 1994) and assessing the impact of such images on perceptions of self and body. Irving (1990) exposed college women to slides of thin, average, and oversize models, and found that women reported lower self-esteem and weight satisfaction in response to thin fashion models. In addition, all participants, regardless of their level of bulimic symptoms, reported greater pressure to be thin coming from the media than from peers and family, thereby implicating the media as the most salient carrier of the thin beauty standard. Similarly, Stice and Shaw (1994) found that, in college women, exposure to thin fashion models as opposed to average weight models or neutral pictures led to increased depression, unhappiness, shame, guilt, stress and decreased confidence.
In conclusion, according to previous research, this has demonstrated that the messages and images that focus on the value of appearances and thinness for females have a significant negative impact on body satisfaction, weight preoccupation, eating patterns, and the emotional well-being of women in western culture.
This literature review has represented the key theories that underpin the research question: Do women’s magazines influence the body image of their reader’s. This has also allowed the reader to develop and showcase a depth of knowledge on the dissertation topic.
CHAPTER 3 – METHODOLOGY
According to Leedy & Ormrod (2005) ‘research is a systematic process of collecting, analysing and interpreting information (data) in order to increase our understanding of the phenomenon about which we are interested or concerned.’ Understanding the phenomenon of women’s magazines and the influence they have on their readers is paramount to the success of this dissertation.
This project sets out to examine if articles written in Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazine can have an effect on the body image of women aged between 18 and 35. In this chapter the researcher will outline the way in which the project will be researched, the methods used and the data collected.
The methodologies used to gather data for this research question will be interviews, content analysis and a focus group. However, perhaps the most important research method and the obvious place to start when beginning a research project is a literature review.
A preliminary literature review was carried out prior to the completion of the research proposal. As suggested by Nicholas and Walliman (2005) the context of the preliminary review is to place emphasis on the historical aspect of the subject. This view was applied in order for the researcher to gain a knowledgeable background of the field.
The initial review also informed thinking for the proposal and helped form the dissertation question. The further expansion of knowledge highlighted the need for more study in this particular area.
The literature read will add and enhance to the researchers knowledge on the subject area. According to Leedy & Ormrod (2008) ‘the goal is that you know the literature related to your research topic very, very well.’
As Bryman (2008) states a literature review is in part a means of affirming your credibility as someone who is knowledgeable in your chosen area.
The researcher will embark on an on-going literature review up until project completion. Emphasis will be placed on books within the preliminary reviews. Although the final review will comprise mainly of these books, additional reading will be undertaken in order to display sufficient evidence of current research that has more ‘prominence’ (Creswell, 2003) with the contemporary subject matter. To accomplish this a search of journal articles has been carried out, where particular attention was placed on areas such as the effect of magazine use on the desire to be thin.
The literature review is extremely important and relevant to this research project as its purpose is to provide the background to and justification for the research undertaken (Bruce 1994). As Bourner (1996) states; ‘It also allows the researcher to identify gaps in the literature, to carry on from where others have already reached (reviewing the field allows you to build on the platform of existing knowledge and ideas) and to increase your breadth of knowledge of your subject area.’
By analysing and evaluating well researched pieces of literature on magazine influence extensive knowledge is gained and the dissertation question completely formed. It also benefits the process of deciding interview questions as background information gives the researcher a well-defined path to go down.
Content analysis will be another method used and can be described as ‘any technique for making inferences by objectively and systematically identifying specified characteristics of messages’ (Holsti 1969: 14). According to (Berelson, 1952) the objective is “the systematic and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication”.
To conduct a content analysis on a text, the text is coded and broken down, into manageable categories and the results are then used to make make inferences about the messages within the texts, the writers, and the audience. For example, Content Analysis can indicate pertinent features such as intentions, biases and prejudices. This will help the researcher to answer the dissertation question
Content analysis is essential to this research project as it allows the researcher to go directly to the source under scrutiny – magazines. Carrying out this research method will provide useful data on articles which could have an effect on female body image, whether negative or positive. It will look at what exactly the chosen magazines are telling women to think and feel about themselves. When analysing the magazines it will also be noted if there are any pictures related to the article which could be influential. The various advantages of doing content analysis are that it can allow a certain amount of longitudinal analysis with relative ease as well as being a highly flexible method. It can also allow information to be generated about social groups that are difficult to gain access to. The content analysis will consider the language used by the journalist to determine if it gives a negative or positive message and is encouraging or discouraging. To do this particular attention will be paid to adjectives and nouns. The analysis will also aim to discover how much space the article is given and whereabouts it is placed in the publication.
It is necessary to include a code system to efficiently organise the data. By producing the coding book and coding system it will allow others to investigate the content of the magazines studied and arrive at the same conclusion. Bryman (2004) states; ‘The coding scheme is a form onto which all the data relating to an item being coded will be entered and the coding manual is a statement of instructions to codes.’ The manual will be broken down into sections such as what to look for and what is the intention behind it.
The focus group is extremely important to this research paper as it will give strength to the overall project and will get across the views of the readers. The focus group will allow the people involved to talk openly and honestly about the issue of body image.
Why a focus group?
Focus group research is useful for revealing through interaction the beliefs, attitudes, experiences and feelings of participants, in ways which would not be feasible using other methods such as individual interviews, observation or questionnaires (Gibbs 1997).
These attitudes, feelings and beliefs may be partially independent of a group or its social setting, but are more likely to be revealed via the social gathering and the interaction which being in a focus group entails. Compared to individual interviews, which aim to obtain individual attitudes, beliefs and feelings, focus groups elicit a multiplicity of views and emotional processes within a group context.
The individual interview is easier for the researcher to control than a focus group in which participants may take the initiative. Compared to observation, a focus group enables the researcher to gain a larger amount of information in a shorter period of time. (Morgan & Kreuger 1993).
Kitzinger (1994, 1995) argues that interaction is the crucial feature of focus groups because the interaction between participants highlights their view of the world, the language they use about an issue and their values and beliefs about a situation. Interaction also enables participants to ask questions of each other, as well as to re-evaluate and reconsider their own understandings of their specific experiences.
Another benefit is that focus groups elicit information in a way which allows researchers to find out why an issue is salient, as well as what is salient about it (Morgan 1988).
The benefits to participants of focus group research should not be underestimated. The opportunity to be involved in decision making processes (Race et al 1994), to be valued as experts, and to be given the chance to work collaboratively with researchers (Goss & Leinbach 1996) can be empowering for many participants.
If a group works well, trust develops and the group may explore solutions to a particular problem as a unit (Kitzinger 1995), rather than as individuals. Not everyone will experience these benefits, as focus groups can also be intimidating at times, especially for inarticulate or shy members. Hence focus groups are not empowering for all participants and other methods may offer more opportunities for participants. However if participants are actively involved in something which they feel will make a difference, and focus group research is often of an applied nature, empowerment can realistically be achieved.
Morgan (1998) suggests a typical group size is eight to 10 members especially if the issue is controversial.
A great benefit of using a focus group is that the interaction between participants can generate different information that would not have emerged in a one to one interview. Jensen (2002) says, ‘focus groups typically emphasise a specific theme or topic that is explored in depth, whereas group interviews span very widely.’
The focus group is an opportunity for issues not previously thought of to be raised by the participants. It is for this reason and the fact that the group will express honest and various answers that this is yet another beneficial and effective form of methodology to use for this dissertation.
By effectively applying the selected methodologies stated previously the dissertation should satisfy its original aims of examining the effect that magazine journalism can have on female body image.
The methodology chosen clearly has many advantages but has mainly been selected by the researcher to best obtain an answer to the dissertation question. If successful then this should allow for a fair and accurate research paper.
CHAPTER 4 – CONTENT ANALYSIS
This chapter looks at the content analysis of two women’s magazines. It will explain the reasons why the magazines were chosen for this study and how exactly the content analysis was carried out. It will also discuss why this method of research is vital to the overall study and the findings that can be drawn from using this methodology.
The mass media are a resource that is widely available. They have far reaching effects on many different members of society. They affect how people perceive and understand various issues (Clarke, 1992). This study intends to discover if women’s magazines have an influence on female body image and this method of research will be partially responsible for finding that out.
The two women’s magazines studied for this dissertation were Glamour and Cosmopolitan as they are two of the biggest leading competitive magazines for women and most suited to this research question because of their content and target audience.
Glamour magazine targets women aged 18-49 (with the median age of 33.5). It is a women’s magazine published by Conde Nast Publications. Founded in 1939 in the United States, it was originally called Glamour of Hollywood.
Local editions are now published in numerous countries but the UK edition was launched in April 2001, where it pioneered the ‘handbag size; format, with the tagline ‘fits in your life as well as your handbag’. Glamour magazine content consists of fashion, beauty, hair, makeup, diet, health, sex advice and dating.
The magazine is published in a larger format than many of its counterparts. Its current editor-in-chief is Cynthia Leive.
According to ABC statistics Glamour remained the leading women’s lifestyle title in the second half of last year despite its average monthly circulation dropping almost three per cent. Glamour’s average monthly circulation was 500,591 in the period – a year-on-year drop of 2.9 per cent.
Cosmopolitan began as a family magazine, launched in 1886 by Schlicht & Field as The Cosmopolitan. Paul Schlicht told his first-issue readers that his publication was a “first-class family magazine”, adding, “There will be a department devoted exclusively to the interests of women, with articles on fashions, on household decoration, on cooking, and the care and management of children, etc., also a department for the younger members of the family.”
In recent years the magazine and in particular its cover stories have become more sexually explicit in tone as well as covers with models wearing revealing clothes. Kroger, America’s largest grocery chain, used to cover up Cosmopolitan at checkout stands because of complaints about sexually explicit headlines. The UK edition of Cosmopolitan, which began in 1972, was well known for sexual explicitness, with strong sexual language, male nudity and coverage of such subjects as rape. In 1999, Cosmo GIRL!, a spinoff magazine targeting a teenage female audience, was created for international readership. However, it ended print production in December 2008.
The magazine currently features topics such as sex, relationships, beauty, fashion and health. Cosmopolitan magazine’s target market is women aged 21 – 35. ABC statistics showed that Cosmopolitan’s average monthly circulation was 400,575 last year.
Three issues of each magazine were studied because it was felt that anymore would prove too much data. Studying three issues meant the content analysis would have a tighter focus and the researcher could carry out the process in a controlled manner.
Content analysis is essential to this research project as it allows direct access to the source under scrutiny – magazines. Carrying out this research method will provide useful data on articles which could have an effect on female body image, whether negative or positive. It will look at what exactly the chosen magazines are telling women to think and feel about themselves. When analysing the magazines it will also be noted if there are any pictures related to the article which could be influential. The various advantages of doing content analysis are that it can allow a certain amount of longitudinal analysis with relative ease as well as being a highly flexible method. It can also allow information to be generated about social groups that are difficult to gain access to. The content analysis will consider the language used by the journalist to determine if it gives a negative or positive message and is encouraging or discouraging. The analysis will also aim to discover how much space the article is given and whereabouts it is placed in the publication.
A coding manual was prepared in order to analyse the content of each magazine in the most efficient and accurate way possible According to Bryman (2004) ‘coding is a crucial stage in the process of doing a content analysis.’ The coding schedule included a list of questions and a set of answers for each magazine being coded.
The number of body image related articles within the six magazine issues were counted and the size of the articles noted. However, as McQuail (2002) explains, content analysis often neglects to measure the salience of elements in the text, and fail to gauge the relationships of the text to the audience’s schemata. With this in mind, the nature of each article be it positive, negative or neutral has been noted, as well as observation of accompanying pictures.
The aim of this content analysis was to gain a very clear understanding of the dissertation question – ‘In what way do women’s magazines influence the body image of their readers?’ In order to conduct a fair analysis, two important factors had to be constant. These two important factors in this analysis were the actual magazines and the months in which the issues were published.
The two popular magazines chosen were selected due to the similar target audience of each publication and because of the fact they have analogous content and are both released monthly. Selecting which monthly issues to analyse was equally important. The magazine issues of March, April and May 2011were chosen because they fell in the run up to summer. A time the magazine industry is well known for being very focused on body image.
For the purpose of this dissertation it was important to investigate exactly how many articles in the two magazines were devoted to the issue of body image. It was found that there were quite a few pieces in these issues relating to this topic (see appendix …)
The first magazine analysed for this study was Glamour magazine which showed similar results to the previous magazine. Yet there was a regular number of body image related articles throughout the three issues of the magazine compared to a steady progression of the number of these kinds of articles in Cosmopolitan magazine.
The articles related to body image in this magazine were again mixed in regards to the message and tone conveyed to the reader. However, most of the articles were deemed to be of a neutral nature as they appeared to be rather factual and did not seem to be leaning one direction or the other. Unlike Cosmopolitan magazine, who waited until their May issue to move their body image related articles from the back of the magazine, Glamour has these articles throughout in each of the three issues analysed. They range from pieces on Gwyneth Paltrow’s body secrets and celeb pregnancy rules to what men think are thinking when women are naked.
Glamour’s articles relating to body image are full page or double page spreads with large pictures to compliment them. The April issue of Glamour features an article entitled ‘Bump alert! The A-list pregnancy rules about the do’s and don’ts of being a celebrity mum. Myleene Klass gives advice to readers on embracing your new shape and staying glamorous while pregnant. The article is littered with pictures of a pregnant Klass including one of her wearing a figure-hugging dress and high heel shoes and another picture of her wearing absolutely nothing on the front cover of a previous issue of Glamour magazine. This article could be construed as positive as well as negative because, on the one hand, Klass is encouraging pregnant women who may be feeling self-conscious about the change in their body to embrace their new shape but, on the other hand, the suggestions for being glamorous with a baby bump may put unnecessary pressure on some women who feel a need to keep up with these unrealistic expectations.
May’s issue of Glamour contains the most articles related to body image. ’20 shortcuts to your best bikini body’ is an article which is featured on the front cover of the magazine and is about quick fixes for looking your best on the beach this summer. Geri Halliwell shares her ‘happy body-boosting tips’ with the readers. The title of the article might possibly suggest that the tips are going to be unhealthy making the article a negative one but it is actually about the clever use of swimwear and eating the correct vegetables. All very achievable suggestions. The use of words such as fun, flattering and confidence give the article a positive tone. Another article which featured in the May issue of the magazine entitled ‘Glamorous girl’s go to the gym’ gives off a somewhat negative feel as some women may believe it suggests that the way to be glamorous is to get down to the gym.
The second magazine chosen for this study was Cosmopolitan and from looking at the coding results you can see that the number of body image related articles increases slightly as the months go on. The number of body image related articles is not extensive but the size of the articles is consistently large. Again, like the previous magazine, they all cover a full page or double page spreads within the magazine and are accompanied with large images relating to the article.
The general tone of the articles in the three issues studied were of mixed messages with some being rather positive and inspirational using positive language and a cheerful tone. Other articles were decided to be of a negative nature as they could be construed as pressuring women into striving for unachievable heights of perfection. There were articles that featured tips on how to dress like a celebrity, women ‘Dying to be thin,’ and how to be confident about your body. This article on body confidence in Cosmopolitan’s May issue was particularly positive. It was entitled ‘We want a body swap, and was about the body hang ups of three normal women. But instead of advising the women on how to change their appearance Cosmopolitan enlisted the help of psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos to encourage and counsel them on how to love their body.
However, the May issue of Cosmopolitan also included an article that could be perceived as negative by some women. The article was entitled ‘How I got my body to look like this’ and details the fitness regimes of four extremely fit women. The article is accompanied by pictures of the women in their underwear looking very tanned and toned. This kind of article could potentially have a negative effect on readers who feel that they do not and could never have that kind of body. Causing them to feel low self-esteem.
The articles that were deemed to be positive were done so because they contained positive language and positive words such as health, happiness and loving your body. In the same way as the negative articles were deemed to be negative because of the language and words used. For example, the March issue of Cosmopolitan contained an article on how to banish your cellulite and get a peachy bum. The large picture relating to the article was a flawless rear end undoubtedly belonging to a model. This could potentially add pressure to women already anxious about flashing the flesh in the summer months.
The articles were placed in the back in the first two issues of Cosmopolitan magazine studied but in the May issue they were threaded through the entire magazine. Possibly due to the fact that summer was approaching. This is also reinforced by the fact that the May issue was the only one of the three to feature articles about body image on the front cover.
It was also clear from studying Cosmopolitan that the articles about body image in all three issues analysed covered the same topics and were all concerning women.
Looking at the results as a whole, the findings indicated clear evidence that the two selected magazines deem the topic of body image related issues to be of great significance to women. Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazine are plagued by numerous pieces on body image which vary slightly in subject, language and tone. However, in both magazines there seems to be a theme of copying celebrity looks and achieving a better version of yourself.
To conduct this content analysis the researcher has coded and broken down the magazines into manageable categories and the results were then used to make make inferences about the messages within the articles. For example, Content Analysis can indicate pertinent features such as intentions, biases and prejudices. From this research it was derived that these magazines intend influence readers in regards to who they look up to, how they live their life and how to achieve body confidence.
CHAPTER 5 – FOCUS GROUP FINDINGS
This chapter looks at the focus group which was carried out to further research this dissertation. The intention of this focus group was to obtain the views from a range of women to find out if women’s magazines have an effect on female body image.
Fourteen women contributed to this focus group, all aged between 18 and 32. It was felt that any more than this number would not be easily controlled. The group was asked seven questions which were carefully chosen to help answer the research question:
There are many definitions of a focus group in literature but Powell et al (1996) define a focus group as a group of individuals selected and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experience, the topic that is the subject of the research.
The women shared very personal and very diverse opinions on how exactly the content of women’s magazines, Glamour and Cosmopolitan in particular, makes them feel.
First of all the participants were asked why they buy magazines and what they hope to get from them. The majority of the group did not hope to gain much more from these magazines than to be kept up to date with the latest trends and to have something to do to pass the time. One participant said: “I wouldn’t say I hope to get anything in particular from them they mostly just fill a gap when I have nothing else to do.”
Another participant explained that she used magazines as a route to escapism from the drudgery of everyday life: “a magazine is something which is easy reading, not too demanding and i can pick up and read what bits i fancy and ignore other bits depending on how i feel, it’s not like reading a book for uni or something, it’s simply pleasure.”
The group was then asked what kind of issues they think women’s magazines cover the most and if they think they cover a wide range of issues or do they focus on certain onesThe women thought that the most covered issues are fashion, sex, dieting/weight, celebrity and beauty. Some of the group felt that magazines offer a wide range of topics within their publication but the majority of women in the focus group mentioned the fact that weight is nearly always gracing the glossy pages. One participant who felt very strongly about this said: “I think they focus mainly on aesthetics. By that I mean what you can see such as appearance, dress and physical impression. They focus on making the package look pretty. They are all about the packaging and repeatedly try to sell the idea that looking good is feeling good. Above all, they seem to be glossy advertising brochures for every cosmetic and fashion brand out there today. Every second page, especially in Cosmo, is an advert for anti-ageing cream, perfume or some other luxury I don’t want or need. “
After asking the group this question it became quite apparent that the issue of weight and body image was at the forefront of their minds in regards to magazine content. One participant said: “I feel magazines today focus far too heavily on body image, weight and the latest diet to keep you looking slim.”
Another participant believed that there are links between magazine content and negative body image: “With celebrity interviews always discussing women’s body shapes and a lot of fashion articles which tell you how to look like celebrities is there any wonder we have these issues.”
The third question the group were asked was: In what way do you think articles about weight put pressure on women to lose weightGenerally the group agreed that unrealistic goals were being projected in the magazines and that women want to achieve these targets set by models and celebrities. One participant answered: “Women are constantly being bombarded with messages that they need to lose weight and look like size zero celebs.” Another participant said: “If you don’t squeeze into that ‘box of perfection’ then you’re too fat, too ugly, etc. Who was it that decided what was beautiful anywayIt’s – dare I say – bordering on Hitler’s idea of ‘one true race’ where he decided everyone had to be blonde with blue eyes! Women read articles about celebrities piling on the pounds and going from a size 10 to a size 12 (God forbid!) and are made to feel inadequate. Of course they feel pressured into losing weight.”
In support of this another participant said that she felt “women see these articles in magazines and they feel they have to be a certain size or they can’t be loved when the reality is women should be happy as they are.”
Next the group was asked if they think these sorts of articles are encouraging or discouraging and in what wayThirteen out of fourteen members of the focus group agreed that these weight related articles are discouraging in regards to the body of women. One participant voiced the opinion that: “I think these articles can only be discouraging because they are advocating the impossible. They detail ‘faddy’ diets and link them to beautiful celebrity women and brainwash people into making themselves ill. Don’t get me wrong, I‘m all for losing weight if you need to but I am equally for a healthy, achievable body image through balanced dieting and exercise, not the ‘baby food diet’ or the ‘egg diet’ or the ‘live off the air and only drink coconut milk’ diet. I mean come on.” Another participant said that she ignores these kinds of articles to avoid having negative feelings about herself.
In support of this one participant said: “I would say that these articles are totally discouraging. For starters the vast majority of celebrities and models pictures are airbrushed, thus making the image completely unachievable without using Photoshop.”
However, a couple of the participants felt that women’s magazines include both encouraging and discouraging types of articles. (See appendix … for more detail).
The group were then asked if they think that the articles are sending out a positive message to women. The initial response from everyone was no. One of the women even said that “promoting these unachievable goals is dooming young, impressionable girls (and older women alike) to a lifetime of disappointment and longing for what they can’t have.”
Another participant believed that women’s magazines were covering the issue of weight and body image in the wrong way. She said: “I think it would be better if they were more focused on being physically fit rather than being skinny. It gives the impression that unless you’re skinny you’re not healthy which is totally false.” Backing this up another member of the group said that magazines “should be encouraging healthy and active lifestyles, not trying to have women emulate the impossible.”
On the other hand a few of the participants felt that magazines were also now becoming more positive in the way they cover these delicate issues and in who they chose to grace the magazine covers. One woman said that “more recently magazines appear to be sending out a positive image to women by featuring more curvy celebrities such as Kim Kardashian on their covers.” Although this may be the case the same participant also said that “this is often contradicted with the use of model images of stick-thin, flawless women which, quite frankly, would make any real person feel inadequate.”
After this question the researcher asked the women, in what way do you think that articles in magazines have an influence on body image and self-esteemOne of the participants believed that women’s magazines are not to blame. She said: “I think it’s not so much the magazines but the world we live in. 30 or 40 years ago it was in trend to be curvy, now it’s in fashion to be skinny. Magazines probably assist the fashion world in getting this message across. But I think it’s the responsibility of the reader to realise that starving yourself is not the way to live.” Another participant did not agree with this as she felt that “magazines have to realise that they have a very powerful influence over body image and this has an immediate effect on self-esteem.” Another member of the group agreed as she felt that “magazines clearly do have a detrimental effect on body image and self-esteem because when somebody sees the celebrities featured and then starts comparing them to their own image and if it doesn’t match then it can damage to peoples self-esteem.” One participant felt particularly strongly about the issue. She said: “The constant focus and reminder on losing weight can be dangerous to those suffering low self-esteem and although this alone does not cause eating disorders this could start the beginning of one by giving tips on how to lose weight which could then spiral into an eating disorder.”
The group were finally asked what they think of pictures in women’s magazines and if the ones related to the articles have any effect on themAccording to one participant the pictures are “lies, pure and simple.” She also said that: “photographs are supposed to capture the truth, but there hasn’t been a truthful picture in a magazine for years. Nowadays, it’s all about erasing the flaws that ultimately make us human. I look at these pictures and see mannequins; hollow plastic dolls.”
Half of the women in the group seemed to be quite badly affected by pictures related to the articles as one of the women said that “they can often make me feel inadequate as stars are constantly perfect and beautiful. It’s easy to feel ugly and this has sometimes led to me having low self-esteem which has had a lasting effect on me.”
However, some of the women insist they remain unharmed. One participant said: “Over time it’s made me believe that to be beautiful (beautiful in the sense that you could be a model) you have to be size zero thin. But it’s not stopped me from buying a quarter pounder with cheese any time I want it.”
All in all the fourteen women in the group were generally in agreement when answering all seven questions. The researcher concluded that women buy magazines as a form of escapism and entertainment but they can sometimes be affected by the way in which the stories are written (usually negatively according to the group) and because of the images selected to accompany the articles. The group seemed very focused on how the issue of body image is covered and how it is linked to levels of low self-esteem. One member of the group said: “I think that women compare themselves to other women all the time so by seeing these pictures all the time, they constantly feel bad about themselves and i think it can hugely affect a person’s self-esteem and distort their body image.”
Conducting a focus group as part of the research for this dissertation proved very useful as well as interesting as the women involved were extremely passionate about the subject and raised some interesting points.
CHAPTER 6 – CONCLUSION
The question that was selected and the methods chosen to research that question has produced a very clear and interesting conclusion.
Derived from the literature it is evident that given the prevalence of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in females in our society, and the associations which have been found between eating disorders and the media, it would be prudent for professionals and the public to advocate for more positive and self-esteem building messages to be conveyed to females by the media
In conclusion, the mass media surrounds us with images of the “thin ideal” for females, an ideal that has become increasingly thin since the 1950’s and thus increasingly unrealistic for most girls and women. Future research should focus on ways to counter-act the effects of the media, in order to improve body satisfaction and self-esteem for girls and women in western culture.
Eating disorder prevention research is relatively new. Prevention efforts have only achieved real interest in the last 15-20 years, and the research since 2000 has produced almost all of the positive results (Stice & Shaw, 2004). Clearly the rise in disordered eating behaviours, the seriousness of the disorders, the pervasiveness of body dissatisfaction, and the finding that over 33% of adolescents report using extreme weight loss tactics (Phelps, Andrea, & Rizzo, 1994) suggests that more must be done.
Evidence reveals that internalisation has predicted eating disorder onset (Levine & Harrison, 2004; see Thompson & Stice, 2001), and it correlates with a host of other factors such as body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and bulimia. Thin-ideal internalisation also theoretically leads to body dissatisfaction (Thompson & Heinberg, 1999) and reducing it may be an essential first step towards reductions in eating disorder risks.
From carrying out a detailed content analysis it is evident that the magazines selected for this study do produce a lot of their content on the issue of weight. All six issues from both magazines included large articles (usually double page spreads) on the subject of body image and displayed these stories on the front cover. The magazines tended to focus on issues of weight loss and achieving celebrity looks. Diet and fitness plans were also often included. The tone of these articles was mixed but mostly neutral.
The women in the focus group clearly expressed that women’s magazines can have possible detrimental effects to body image and self-esteem. However, some of the women made a conscious decision to ignore possible negative articles or were just not affected by them. Many of the participants felt that women’s magazines have two sides to them and have the ability to be beneficial and encouraging when it comes to maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle. On the other hand these magazines could potentially damage women’s self-esteem and even ruin their dreams and aspirations. The women of the focus group were particularly opinionated when it came to the issue of photographs accompanying articles relating to body image as they found them to be rather contradictive. Usually displaying a stick think model or airbrushed celebrity.
It therefore seems that women’s magazines do infact have an influence on female body image as the literature, content analysis and, in particular, the focus group has displayed.
This research project has only touched upon this vast surface when it comes to the subject of media influence and body image. This consequently provides a framework for any future research into this area undertaken by myself or any other willing student.
Other possible areas of study that could possibly be followed on from this dissertation are how:
• Magazines have become sexualised
• Do women’s magazines seek to influence their readers?
• Do images that accompany articles relating to body image effect women.
This dissertation will provide a different perspective to the previous studies already undertaken on this particular topic. The key theories are news values and agenda setting. I also hope that it will raise awareness on the issue of body image and make a difference in the world of media.
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