Media and advertisements in today’s age are heavily integrated into everybody’s lives and almost inevitable to avoid them since they are everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Media in general has a huge impact on everything which is why it plays a very important role for people in the 21st century, especially on social media.
Social Media’s Influence on Body Image
To start with, social media is being consumed by the majority of people whether it is deliberate or not. Companies recognize how effective the influence of social media can be which leads to them investing in working and involving themselves with influencers, bloggers, and other public figures who are present online to promote their products and services. In addition, it is a whole lot cheaper to commercialize their products this way than to create stand-alone advertisements that play on televisions or billboards. Just like other forms of media, what is presented on social media most of the time is disingenuous. Instagram is the biggest contributor to creating outrageous standards that affect people’s self-esteem; for example, an image of a photoshopped waist and body on an influencer promoting “skinny tea”, which is essentially just laxatives disguised as a product that can transform someone’s body or a lollipop that suppresses appetites.
These are incredibly unhealthy and toxic notions to project toward people who follow and look up to these social media figures who have a sense of trust due to the parasocial relationship, which will make them believe that those products do work and that the bodies they see online are authentic when in reality it is not; this can cause myriad of issues on the audience of all ages but mostly young. According to Milmo & Skopeliti (2021), in the United Kingdom, 40 percent of young girls around the ages of 11 to 16 have stated that they have seen pictures on social media that consequently made them feel less secure about their appearances, and 50 percent for young girls around ages 17 to 21. Although social media is an amazing platform to advertise things and have something go viral, it is as guilty of creating negative impacts on people just like other forms of media.
Media’s Influence on People’s Attitudes
As mentioned, media as a whole has a huge influence on everything, and the constant consumption of media every day will eventually shape the way a person thinks and assumes about things. Various problems follow like being discriminatory against minority groups because of the stereotypical portrayal of a character or developing an eating disorder or body dysmorphia from seeing how different people who are perceived as beautiful look in media from films to models in magazines, and now with the addition of social media.
There is a great example of how media can very much shape the way people think and perceive, and that is the recent event that everyone has suffered from, which is the pandemic. The amount of misinformation and propaganda from the media is astounding. The numbers of anti-vaxxers have skyrocketed from years prior to COVID spreading. The misinformation about the COVID vaccines was being spread everywhere from the news to social media, specifically, Facebook, which has resulted in a large number of people who swear will never get vaccinated. Furthermore, Fox News is guilty as Facebook is in encouraging people to not get vaccinated and that their choice should be respected. It is no surprise that a news media outlet that has extreme right-wing political views would paint getting COVID vaccines as a violation of people’s freedom as opposed to the encouragement of getting vaccinated from the left-wing party (Hsu, 2021). The health of the vast population became a political tool that divided people and because of this, the virus will be staying for a long while as long as there is still a big percentage of unvaccinated people out there. Interestingly enough, social media also played a positive role despite all of this and that is online public figures and celebrities encouraging their followers and fans to get vaccinated, but the negative will always outweigh the positive since it causes more harm and in this case to people’s physical health.
Moreover, prejudices against others and themselves can be developed from the stereotypes that are shown in the mass media. It is no secret that fatphobia is incredibly prominent in our society and the media encourages it by producing stereotypical and specific ways to portray plus-sized characters; they are often portrayed in the media as undesirable, unattractive, not worthy of love, comedic relief, insecure and the list goes on. The constant generalized portrayal will lead people who consume the media to eventually believe what they are seeing, which can cause more discrimination and bullying toward fat people, and many problems to the fat people themselves who see people that look like them be treated in those ways. And this is merely one of the many instances of stereotypical displays of oppressed groups, many others like gay men being portrayed as only promiscuous and immoral, women being seen as sexual objects and no real substance, Black people as criminals and dangerous, Asian people as either extremely intelligent or have an exaggerated accent when speaking English that makes them seem unintelligent, and there are many more.
All of these stereotypes have existed for decades and stuck with people that end up treating and talking about real people from different communities in discriminatory ways. Additionally, the way non-White people are depicted in the media affects the ways minorities view other minorities as well; for example, immigrants who come to Western countries will consume Western media that portray black people involving in crimes and violence which will lead to them carrying out that belief in the real world and treat black people according to what they have seen (Usufzy, 2020). This, however, results in the “representation” in the film industry, Hollywood, where they capitalize on having a diverse cast while still portraying the minority characters as stereotypes or having only one or two minority characters as tokens just to appear “diverse”. Nevertheless, there are great films that have positive and authentic diversity in showcasing the real struggles of minority characters and depicting them as real people with in-depth dimensions so the viewers can understand and relate to the story, and this is due to having writers and directors that actually belong to the community that the media is depicting.
To conclude, media has its pros and cons, although the cons seem to be more prominent, changes are emerging as time advances. People now have developed critical thinking skills so they tend to criticize what they see in the media, however, it is not enough for the consumers to be aware companies should proactively choose to portray positive and realistic standards in their advertisements, and a law that protects people from false advertisements and the spread of misinformation that harm people’s health should be put in place due to how common they are nowadays. Moreover, true diversity is to include what real people look like in the media and stop portraying minorities as stereotypes and opportunities should be given more to minorities to tell their own stories; this will provide positive representations of minority communities, which then will result in a decrease of discrimination and prejudice ideas and create a sense of solidarity for people who belong to the communities to see their stories and people who look like them be humanized instead of caricatures.
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