One of the most powerful sources of information in society today is the media. The media not only reflects society but also drives it. It guides and shapes every single one of us in believing what is right, good and successful. Media-driven ideals regarding success are worshipped: we aspire to the examples of successful living they create. If we cannot achieve similar success we are deemed a failure and, even worse, made to feel a failure.
Hand-in-hand with success and failure comes criticism. Today's society is also one of criticism. We love to criticise; to build people up then knock them down. Perhaps the negative feelings we all felt when criticised as a child find expression later in life by such means.
The media is extremely powerful; TV sits there in the corner of the room, day in and day out, bombarding us with messages, many of which are negative. (An interesting aside: many psychotic problems involve 'hearing strange voices' - well we all hear strange voices everyday, they travel through the air as radio waves and come out of small electronic boxes in our homes). Bad role models abound (their 'badness' often celebrated), ratings of the more base TV shows soar and sex and violence rules - perhaps reflecting the true human instincts rebelling against society's constraints?
Culturally defined ideals are often shaped by the media and one of the most insidious, negative influences in our lives comes from advertising. Here, human nature is often prayed upon: we are deliberately made to feel inadequate and that nothing we have is quite good enough. But we can feel better, indeed we can be perfect and have perfect lives, just like those attractive people we see in the adverts - if only we buy the product!
The effect of advertising can lead to every single one of us feeling constricted and pressurised by an invisble force constantly driving us to have more in order to be better, in order to feel better.
One of the most disasterous effects of media on people's lives (particularly women's lives) is the preoccupation with body image.
Society is now obsessed with body image. Most adverts play on our deep instincts relating to attraction and procreation. We all have instinctual concepts of beauty (even infants) for it is seen as an indicator of health and good genes and advertisers use this for profit. Combining winning and losing and possessing with attractiveness and beauty, the media and society forge a strong bond between body image and success in our minds. One study in 1999, by Anne Becker (an Anthropologist at Harvard Mecical School) reported a five-fold increase in the symptoms associated with eating disorders among Fijian girls (normally robust and happy about it) since the arrival of TV to Fiji in 1995.
In Western society today, 80% of women are unhappy with their bodies and girls of nine and ten are going on diets.
If we don't conform to these society-and-media-imposed standards of attractiveness, age and weight we feel different and are treated differently and may feel 'not good enough' - our inner feelings enhanced by manufactured images and ideals. And how we feel about ourselves, deep down, flows through all anxiety disorders and depression.
By Terry Dixon B.Sc.
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