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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Media Literacy

The ProblemDiesel-Be-Stupid-20

If you think that you’re immune to the barrage of media messages our society receives each day, you’re not. And if  you think you’ve escaped the impact of these messages on your values, your self-esteem, and your sense of self, you haven’t.

Experts at Nielson estimate that each American spends an average of seven hours per day in media attention. Meanwhile, most of us spend less than 90 minutes per week exercising and less than three and a half minutes per day in meaningful conversation with our children. Heck, you’re engaged in media attention right now (even if you are reading this on your Droid while walking on the treadmill…)!

With so much of our time and energy consumed by the media, it’s vital to consider what kind of impact this exposure is having on us as individuals and as a society. One of the most significant areas in which the media has demonstrated a dangerous influence is on body image.

The fact is, our feelings about our own bodies, and consequently our moods, relationships, and health behaviors, are greatly affected by the media.

Consider the following evidence :

  • Harrison (2001) looked at the media consumed by 366 adolescents and found that exposure to television and magazines which depicted the reinforcement of thin individuals was predictive of eating disorder symptomology, especially for older adolescent girls.
  • Stice and Shaw (1994) exposed 157 undergraduate women to magazine images of female models of either thin or average size, or to no models at all. Those who saw thin models reported greater depression, shame, guilt, body dissatisfaction, insecurity, and stress.
  • Groesz, Murnen, and Levine (2002) looked at 25 separate studies in order to examine the overall effect of media exposure on body image. They found that exposure to thin media images was associated with greater negative body image than exposure to average models, plus size models, or inanimate objects.

While there are many avenues to address this issue, including government becoming involved in regulating the media, one in particular is building support and evidence around the world.

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Media Literacy

carrotscompressedMedia literacy has been defined by the Canadian-based Media Awareness Network as, ‘”the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day.”

Media literacy is about helping all of us become more critical and educated consumers of media messages. The process of media should not be passive, where we as consumers remain simply reflexive to the needs and desires of others. When we are able to engage in media in an active way and think critically about the messages we see, we can regain our power and combat the negative influences that threaten us.

Media literacy is all about asking questions and challenging the status quo. It’s about considering what’s really going on behind the scenes. It’s about saying, “Wait a minute,” when we see an advertisement that gives us a strange feeling in our gut. It’s about saying, “I won’t accept this,” when a company we buy from does something we can’t support.

Developing media literacy isn’t difficult, but it does involve challenging our own instincts and thinking a bit more critically. To get started, I encourage you to ask the following questions about the an advertisement you see today, particularly one that strikes you as bothersome in some way:

  • Who created this message and why are they sending it? Who owns and profits from the message? (Consider not just the company that sponsors the ad, but anyone else that might profit – not just monetarily – from the message.)
  • What techniques are used to attract and hold attention? (e.g. placement of the product, airbrushed models, people in sexual positions, flashy print, etc.)
  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in this message?
  • What is omitted from this message? Why was it left out? (Consider if the ad is inclusive of different cultures, ability levels, etc. and if the ad gives the full story.)
  • How might different people interpret this message? How does it make me feel?

Part of the core mission of Nourishing the Soul is to promote media literacy and be a forum for discussion on how our ideas about ourselves are shaped by our media. It is also designed to be a positive media outlet where readers can develop skills to be more critical consumers and a healthier sense of their bodies and themselves.

If you encounter media that makes you feel uncomfortable or promotes a negative view of women or men, contact me by email at nourishingthesoulblog@gmail.com. Also, check out the Resources tab for great stuff.  Together we can take a stand and reclaim our power.

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