With the excessive use of social media today and the growth of sport in social media, sport is constantly on the public agenda. Social media platforms such as Instagram have become a huge part of the health and fitness industry, with Instagram as the second most used social media platform and the fastest growing with over 800 million monthly users. This allows sport and exercise to be exposed to millions of social media users, even if they have no participation in exercise themselves. Although this can be used in a positive way to promote healthy and active lifestyles, media influence can lead to body dissatisfaction. Media is seen as a sociocultural factor that can contribute to body concerns and consequently deeper mental health issues such as discorded eating, anorexia and depression. This essay will focus on the impacts of social media as a sociocultural factor affecting individuals body image and body concerns. Focusing on how it may lead to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and how this alters training goals/objectives.
First, research has found that media influence can lead to body dysmorphia. This is because media portrays an “ideal” body. For men this is usually strong and muscular due to the dominant hegemonic masculinity in society and for women a thin or ultra-thin body. When individuals cannot achieve these body types themselves it often leads to low self-esteem, and bodily concerns which in turn can lead to disordered eating.
Uchôa et al studies how media such as television can affect adolescents, especially through puberty. Where girls may have sudden weight gain and boys may have sudden weight loss due to growth. According to (Uchôa et al., 2019) Grabe et al found that women and adolescents exposed to the media spent more money on improving their appearance and were more susceptible to eating disorders. (Uchôa et al., 2019) carried out a study using a descriptive, observational, cross-sectional study. The following figures show that, Uchôa et al, found that media influence was low for 26.4% of girls and 28.3% for boys. Media influence was moderate for 14% of girls and 13.3% for boys. Media influence was high for 11.7% of girls and 6.3% for boys Uchôa et al (2019, p. 6) They then found that media influenced boys who were overweight/obese boys more than ‘normal’ and ‘thin’ boys. The following figures show 85% of thin girls showed low media influence. However, 56% of girls who were overweight and 63% of obese girls showed moderate to high media influence Uchôa et al (2019, p. 7) Uchôa et al research demonstrates to us that if you do not fit the “ideal” body then you are more likely to be influenced by media.
Next the essay will focus on how modern-day media such as Instagram affects men’s body satisfaction and exercise motivation. This article suggests that the ideal body comes from three primary sources; peers, family and media (Thompson et al.,1999). This articles shows that mediational pathways allow individuals to internalise ideals and this influences the view of their own body (Rodgers et al., 2015).
Fatt et al., studied men aged 17-30 who were using Instagram. This sample included individuals from Caucasian, Asian and Australian cultures. Fatt et al., measured how long individuals spent on Instagram, how often they viewed fitspiration posts, how often they compared themselves to others on Instagram, how much they internalised the muscular ideal, individuals exercise motivation and individuals body satisfaction. In order to reduce demand characteristics Fatt et al., used a single blind technique where individuals were unaware of the real aims of the experiment. However, this may raise ethical issues such as deception and informed consent.
Fatt et al., found that in contradictory to Uchôa et al., frequency of viewing fitspiration posts did not directly affect body satisfaction, appearance based exercise motivation (where individuals exercise purely to achieve an ideal body) or affect health based exercise motivation (where individuals exercise in order to improve their health) however Fatt et al., did find that frequency of viewing fitspiration posts did positively correlate with how often/much individuals compared their appearance with others. Fatt et al., also found that frequency of viewing fitspiration posts also positively correlated with how men internalised the muscular- ideal body.
However, a limitation of Fatt et al’s., research is that it is only correlational. And therefore, cannot establish a causal link. Therefore, it cannot prove that the direct viewing of fitspiration posts cannot be the direct cause of these findings.
These findings show that although fitspiration is meant to encourage and inspire individuals to take part in healthy active lifestyles. Instead it can lead to individuals internalising body ideals such as the muscular-ideal internalisation (Fatt et al., 2019) therefore fitspiration is linked more closely to appearance motivations rather than health motivations (Fatt et al.,)
The essay will now focus on how media influences women’s self esteem and their determination to achieve the ideal thin body, portrayed on social media. Fernandez et al, carried out an online survey to examine whether media influenced individual’s self-esteem. Fernandez et al, used different measurements and identified different factors that may impact individuals. such as influence of media models on body image, internalization of media messages, societal pressure, information about how to achieve a certain body ideal, drive for thinness, and social self-esteem.
The results of these factors were then drawn up in a table showing the means and standard deviations. The following figures from the table show that media internalization – general in females was 3.19 mean and in males was 2.57 mean proving that women are more likely to internalize images from the media. Social pressures for women was 3.098 mean for women and 2.20 mean for men. showing that women are more likely to feel pressured to look a certain way (thin ideal) than men. influence of media models on women was 3.10 mean for women and 2.07 for men proving that women were also more influenced by models in the media than men. drive for thinness in women was 21.10 mean and 14.07 for men.
This study has proven that women are much more influenced by media than men. Fernandez et al, found that influence of media models on body image, internalization, societal pressure is all related to women’s ambition to be thin. Fernandez et al, also found that societal pressure influenced women more than men.
A limitation of Fernandez et al, study is that by examining drive for thinness may have made this study gender bias. If the factor had changed to drive for muscularity in men, we may have been able to make a clearer comparison between men and women’s ideal body preferences. This way they could have compared media influence for men and women based on societies traditional expectations of each gender.
To conclude these three pieces of research have shown that media influence is prominent in society. It has shown that media can influence both men and women into internalising body ideals that are portrayed in the media. The research has also shown that these body ideals can further lead to issues such as discorded eating. To conclude we have found that women are more likely to be influenced by the media than men as well as individuals with higher BMI’s. However, the body ideals for men and women are different. Men are influenced by the media to believe they need to be lean and muscular whilst women drive for thinness. This is due to the different representations of men and women in the media. In order to tackle low self-esteem and disordered eating due to the media, more variance in body shapes and sizes need to be displayed on media platforms. This way individuals will begin seeing other body shape and sizes as normal and internalise them. By portraying more realistic body shapes and sizes on the media individuals will begin to have higher self-esteem and women are less likely to drive for thinness and men are less likely to drive for muscular bodies.