In less than thirty minutes of media interaction you can find twice that number of negative influences on teens. That’s plain scary and even more, it’s just plain wrong.
Modern advertising is color-coordinated, at least as far as being ethnically represented. This is also very true in the presentation of fashion for teens and pre-teens. It is rare to find an advertisement that doesn’t play fair and show a variety of ethnicities. This is a good thing, because we are a great big and diverse nation.
“Great big” is a whole other area of mis-influence of the popular media when looked at from a size point of view. You don’t see the less-than-fashionable stereotypes represented except as examples of how not to look, how not to dress—and this is where the media’s influence on teenagers drives home how not to be.
Don’t be fat. In fact, don’t be average. Be thin, or better yet, thinner. Don’t be unusual. What’s unusual? Whatever the current style or fashion isn’t. Skinny jeans in, but how can you get those natural curves out, in order to fit into those jeans?
It’s no big surprise that eating disorders in teens continue to be on the rise in the United States and other economically developed countries. According to ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) over one-half of all teenage girls and a third of teenage boys use skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, taking laxatives, vomiting and other unhealthy behaviors to control their weight.
Other studies show that the teenage body type shown most frequently in the media as “ideal” is actually only naturally present in 5% of American females. Five percent!
The media’s negative influence on teenagers, and how they treat their peers, often takes the guise of body snarking. Body snarking is a bullying behavior. Teens bully other teens about how they look in what they wear, and by being cruelly specific about what is “wrong” with their bodies. Body snarking and other bullying behaviors often lead to eating disorders.
Proud2BMe is a positive website supported by the National Eating Disorders Association. It is teen-focused, and in many sections teen-written. The media’s influence is addressed on this site, in ways that help adolescents understand that the images they are pounded with on radio, TV and the internet aren’t actually the true ideal. That an ideal body shape and weight has a very wide scale. Proud2BMe has begun an important Stamp Out Body Snarking campaign to address body image bullying.
But for many teens the damage has already been done. They binge, they purge. They even die. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in teens is important for not only parents, teachers and medical professionals; it is also important for aunts, brothers, cousins, coaches and peers. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also means it takes one to save a teen from a distorted body image based on unrealistic expectations thrown out by the popular media.
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Sue Dungan is a freelance writer with in interest in health issues and public awareness. When not hunched over her keyboard, she works as an emergency department RN in a busy DC metro ER.