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Image by Dan Stark

A person who is very interested in the world around her.

A person who is very interested in the world around her.

Emma Tenzler

A person who is very interested in the world around her.

About my Story

My story/essay is about female representation in the media and most of all on social media.

Warning: Sensitive Content (eating disorders, some language).

Gender and the Media

I am sick.

Sick of seeing my body objectified in the media. Sick of watching my friends struggling with self-acceptance. Sick of seeing myself being seen as nothing more than my looks.

The degradation of women to nothing more than their physical appearance is nothing new, but I would have thought that after the movement of feminism swept through the western world in the 70´s, leading to gender equality getting a hold in the law and becoming more of a social standard, we would be further ahead than it seems we are now. But when I talk to my classmates and friends, who each seem to be struggling with similar problems (too fat, too thin, not big enough ass etc.) I cannot shake the feeling that after having taken a step into the right direction we are taking two steps backwards.


And this recent development cannot be explained without looking at the emergence of new media technologies, most of all social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Unrealistic beauty standards are becoming social norms and young adults strive towards achieving certain looks

propagated by celebrities, Instagram models and influencers. Overly sexualised and edited pictured posted on these platforms have led to the objectification of female bodies becoming a part of daily lives. A culture of body shaming and intense focusing on physical beauty has emerged and is

seriously affecting the new generation of women growing up today. A shocking number of 8% of Instagram accounts are fake, according to research compiled by Ghost Data, and the very large majority of uploaded pictures are edited to fit into the tight corset of “perfection”. Girls exposed to

this from a very early age internalise these standards and are unable to distinguish between reality and what they see online. This is not surprising as parts of the brain that govern reasoning and good decision-making skills are not fully formed until the early 20s, so it is close to impossible for teens to realise that what they are presented on social media is very rarely the reality. The fact that we will always fail to live up to certain beauty standards because they are simply impossible to attain is leading to serious problem in the actual world.

For as long as I can remember I have had a problem with my body. Soon enough every girl realises that her body does not match the athletic, skinny yet curvy, perma-tanned beauties in just about every coming-of-age movie. Why don’t news presenters look like my mother? Why are all the sidekicks in action movies the epitome of male projection? Why do I have to watch movies about women through the male gaze? This, paired with my use of Instagram (uploaded when I was 12) led to an increasingly unhealthy body image. “Going offline” two years ago has seriously helped me regain the control over my body.

A very close friend has been struggling with an eating disorder lately and I was genuinely shocked to see posts about “How to feel full when dieting” “lose weight with these simple tricks” and lists of calories all over her Instagram feed. On her TikTok fyp, anorexic influencers lip synched to showing

off the tiny amounts they ate during the day. Pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) and “Pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) websites are an actual thing and social media gives them a far-reaching platform. Communities form with the specific mission of encouraging the destructive behaviours associated with eating disorders, calling them lifestyle choices and vehemently denying that they are mental illnesses. Members share stories, photos, and even tips and tricks. I´m not so sure this is a niche anymore.


According to the National Eating Disorder Association, a recent study of women between the ages of 18 and 25 showed there was a link between Instagram and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images. Two hours each day are generally spent by

Americans exposed to unrealistic beauty standards, diet talk, body shaming, thinspiration, weight loss posts, etc. 


Social media is also contributing greatly to triggering those in recovery to engage in eating disordered behaviours again, usually through presenting posts about weight loss, workout routines, dieting, and the images of unrealistic ideals of body sizes. For example, there are many posts of before and after weight loss photos that may trigger the urge to lose weight by any means necessary. 


But what exactly are eating disorders? 


Eating disorders are illnesses that affect a person’s relationship with food and body image. People with eating disorders have excessive thoughts of food, their body weight or shape, and how to control their intake of food. They can be defined as three sperate illnesses: Anorexia nervosa, Binge eating, and Bulimia nervosa. 


Statistics show that they are much more common than many may think, 

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide.

9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.

Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose.


10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder which is one death every 52 minutes.


I am not saying that social media is the sole reason for this mental illness and its increase. It has always existed and according to psychologists eating disorders are usually triggered by some unresolved feeling related to low self-esteem, lack of worth, or repressed trauma. People turn to the attempt at controlling food intake or eating their emotions instead of dealing with the underlying problem, if untreated. However, the medias obsession with beauty does encourage unhealthy eating behaviour and has created an atmosphere of self-objectification amongst young girls.

The nature of social media lends itself toward comparison, and the principle of Instagram and co. is essentially based on showing off. Judging oneself against the often altered beauty pictures of others and the incredible, successful and happy lives everyone else seems so be leading judging from their online profiles does not only lead to greater loneliness and less social interactions between young adults, but also creates a climate of judgement and comparison between young girls, that are manipulated into wanting to fit into certain beauty standards. We seek our validation through virtual likes, comments and followers and go to lengths to achieve large amounts of these. I feel like we compete with each other when we should all empower each other, in the difficult stage of growing

up today.

Cyber bullying and body shaming, a deed women are guilty of too, have become normality not only or internet celebrities. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 65% of people with an eating disorder say that bullying contributed to it, and social media has provided a platform on which bullies can take their tactics much too far, and in which direct and indirect judging occurs, well outside a schoolyard.


The numbers speak for themselves, and there is a correlation between the exposure to social media at an increasingly earlier age and body related problems:

42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.

81% of 10 year old children are afraid of being fat.

46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.

35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives.

In a college campus survey, 91% of the women admitted to controlling their weight through dieting.

The time spent obsessing over appearance and weight could be spent with so many more useful things, and aren’t we as a gender so much more than our looks?


Sadly other forms of media are also guilty of enforcing this.

Recently I have realised that there are close to no normal old women in TV. Female actresses quickly find themselves out of work when they cross a certain age (I´m vouching for 45), and when they help out with plastic surgery, they quickly find themselves under criticism again. If they do manage to remain breathtakingly beautiful, it often becomes all they are praised for.

In general, the media has an unhealthy relationship with ageing. Beauty products are advertised just about everywhere and grey hair on females is as much stigmatised as stretch marks on young girls.

There seem to be no older women working as news presenters, while I can think of plenty of men, and the job of moderator seems to have a serious shortcoming of female beings with wrinkles as well.

The easy accessibility to porn on the internet is also leading to adolescents (mostly boys), maturing with a very wrong idea of sexuality. Pop culture is becoming overtly sexualised and even though it might be true that artists explore their own bodies and confidence through twerking half naked in music videos and singing questionable lyrics repeated by children all over the world, the heterosexual male management teams in background worry me. As do the terms “femininity” and “feminism”, that are given a whole other meaning which I cannot make myself agree with. The question is, why do so many celebrities go along with this? This modern culture living after the motto “sex sells” has greatly contributed to the objectification of female bodies and has led to a generation of boys thinking it is alright to define and judge these just as they can see being done all over the media. Too often, women and girls go along with this unquestionably. 


We are living in a paradox of self-objectification and suffering because of it.


But social media, at its core, can be great. It has reformed communication and has allowed people all over the world to connect in one global room. Positive use has to be encouraged and taught. Now that the vast majority of teenagers is active on social media, schools need to have lessons teaching healthy social media use and media use in general. Children should be informed about the advantages and disadvantages about social media from as early on as primary school, now that the current and following generations will never know what a world without the internet is like, and exposure occurs increasingly earlier. Discussions should be encouraged and counsellors that

specialise in eating disorders and body dysmorphia should become a part of every larger school.


The topics of feminism and female rights need to become a part of the official syllabus in all school and the issue of female objectification in the media and especially on social media has to become an official debate. Above all, adults and politicians need to work together with teenagers to find solutions to this problem and need to accept that the internet with all its pros and cons isn’t going away but finally needs to be regulated.

I believe that the underlying interest, are, like always in our hyper capitalist world, profit based. Big corporations benefit from young girls (and boys) doubting themselves and their bodies. Each year, billions are spent on beauty products, operations and ridiculous amounts of clothing. The beauty industry made $380.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $463.5 billion by 2027.

The unrealistic image of the perfect human does not only harm a whole generation, but also leads to an unhealthy, potentially self-harming and materialistic lifestyle. This all leads to more destruction of the environment and above all, leads to stereotypical gender roles being subconsciously enforced, and the objectification of the female body becoming normal again. Billions cannot be made when young adults are content with themselves, their lives and each other.

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