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What Is the Connection between the Media and Self-Esteem?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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Messages from the media and self-esteem are believed to be closely interlinked, especially for girls and women. Experts have pointed out that many advertisements, films, television programs, and magazines set vastly different societal expectations for males and females. While the media may often encourage boys and men to be active, strong and independent people, messages sent to women and girls are believed to encourage the opposite. Experts believe that many media outlets excessively sexualize and objectify women, while encouraging them to remain passive, demure, and reliant on men. The media is often blamed for setting unrealistic or unattainable standards of femininity and beauty, leading to lowered self-esteem in many women and girls subjected to these images.

Various studies seem to suggest that female self-esteem depends heavily on messages perceived from the mass media. Media and self-esteem may not be so closely linked for men and boys, who often receive more positive messages about themselves from the mass media. For women, however, the impact of the media on self-esteem can be extensive, especially for young girls, and older women who do not perceive themselves as conforming to the socially accepted standard of feminine beauty. Research suggests that overweight or obese women suffer from lowered self-esteem when they view images of women in advertisements. Even women of normal weight have been found to experience feelings of low self-worth when exposed to images of women in the media.

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Media images may be especially damaging to the self-esteem of girls in childhood and adolescence. Experts believe media messages may be teaching little girls to overvalue romantic and other interpersonal relationships, leading women to depend on the love and approval of others for feelings of high self-esteem. In addition, say experts, the media may be teaching girls and women to defer to the authority of men, and to rely on men rather than themselves. The connection between media and self-esteem may be so pronounced that girls and women often experience lowered levels of self-esteem after exposure to certain types of media messages. Girls are particularly prone, in childhood and adolescence, to self-esteem disorders as a result of over-exposure to advertisements as well as other media messages, including the way female characters are portrayed in films and television.

Experts believe that, the more attention women and girls pay to media messages about women, the more likely they are to experience lasting low self-esteem and self-esteem disorders. The connection between media and self-esteem may drive many women and girls to avoid exposure to media outlets that send negative messages about women or that attempt to establish unrealistic standards of appearance and behavior for women.

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