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Health and weight (young people)

The media, weight and body image

The media is known to influence young people, especially over the way they look. Looking at famous people online, in newspapers, magazines and on TV were said to put ‘pressure’ on young people, especially young women, to look a certain way.
 

Rachael talks about her ideal size and which celebrity-look she prefers.

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Sex: Female
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I think dress size wise I'd love to be a size ten or twelve but I think I'm meant to be a size fourteen or sixteen, you know. I don't think that I'll ever be really thin because I don't think my body expects me to be really thin because, I know, I know it's a bit cliché but I've got big bones. I actually do have big bones, I've got massive wrists.
 
But you know, again, I think that a size fourteen or sixteen is a healthy weight considering. I'm relativity tall, and so I think that it would be quite a normal size for me to me a size fourteen or sixteen. It's not perfect you know, but what is? What is classed as perfect? I think, like celebrity-wise a right size would be something like Myleene Klass or someone like that you know, who has got curves in the right places but isn't like someone like Nicole Richie who’s like that big, you know.
 
But you know I think a lot of the time especially in the media, you've got things where you have one minute, “Oh so-and-so is too thin, she must be anorexic and got bulimia and those, these horrible things are happening to her.” And then next week it's, “Oh my lord look at the size of them, they're like beached whales. No!” So you know, the media is always swinging it one way or another. And they'll never be happy. 
 
 

Duncan thinks that the 'starved' look of models in the media puts pressure on women.

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Do you think the pressures are the same for men and women to lose weight or to be a certain weight?
 
 
There’s more pressure on women to be a certain weight because if, you know, the size zero super models and they’ve got to be as super skinny as attractive type the media image that gets put out which I don’t really believe in, you know, super skinny is too skinny. so I mean that’s the sort of pressure that is, well more on females than it is on males so, you know, because sports men tend to be more, well sports men tend to be more ideal idols for men whereas super models seems to be what women tend to sort of aim for. Sort of the sports man for men is sort of the more muscular one than skinny. Whereas you know super models are stick thin. Sort of quite boney really, sort of that ‘starved look’ really rather than the ‘healthy look’.
Some young people, particularly girls with eating disorders like bulimia, said magazines seem to present ‘an ideal body’ which they felt they were supposed ‘to aspire to’. Victoria Beckham’s small size was mentioned several times by various people. One young woman had conflicting thoughts; on the one hand she thought ‘Wow she’s amazing, she’s so thin’ but her common sense told her that it wasn’t right to be able ‘to see bones hanging out everywhere’.
 
Several young women said they thought models who were size zero (US size 0 = UK size 4) were ‘pretty disgusting’. Certain TV programmes had taught them that being too thin was unhealthy ‘in the long term’.  Even if they disliked thin celebrities, young people still connected being thin to wealth and glamour. They felt that magazines sent out a message to women that if they wanted to be seen as attractive or sexy they had to be ‘thin’.
 

Olivia explains how she feels when she looks at herself in the mirror and says she tries not to...

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It’s like with the size zero models I’ve never, I’ve never once wanted to be a size zero model. It, it’s just I don’t want to be thin and unhealthy, it’s just, yeah. ‘Cause at the time yeah, I wanted to be thin but I never did always want to look like a size zero model. You just don’t see it when you look in the mirror and. And you’re down to, you know, five stone or something you just don’t see that. You don’t see someone who’s looking really ill. You just see someone who needs to lose weight.
 
I’ve just totally stopped looking at the kind of magazines now anyway.
 
Really?
 
So, yeah. If I did pick up a magazine, I’d focus on the women and kind of not the men really. So because trying to look at I because I guess I look at yeah, I’d look at the thinness of women and think. I guess I still compare myself, which is why I try and not look at the magazines at the moment.
Parents felt sad and rather powerless about the effect the media had on their children. Others talked about chat rooms and websites where photos were posted for people to see and comment on. Another mother said she felt outraged by one actress who had recently become ‘skeletal’ and told reporters that her thinness was inherited from her family.
 
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Sara thinks parts of the media give very conflicting messages to young people.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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And the stuff that Jamie Oliver’s doing now I think that’s very exciting and good on him that he’s trying it. I think he’s being very brave the way he is quite openly, you know, telling people this is terrible. You should change and I’m going to change you and we’re all going to improve. But then you get the other thing where you look at magazine covers and of course they like buying their little teen magazines and the Sunday supplements have got their fashion sections and so forth. I feel so sorry for anyone who is in the public eye. You get on the front of the same cover it will be, “Ooh Keira is getting too thin. J-Lo is getting too fat.” And nobody can just be them, that you’re criticised whatever you are. Nobody is ever perfect. Nobody’s ever just nice. Nope, either too thin or too fat. And they’re looking, you know, my daughters, that’s part of what they see all the time. And it’s constantly, “How I lost, you know, three stone. My bikini shape-up diet.” That’s always what’s on the front of all these magazines on the shelves. And it’s, it must have an influence on what they think.
 
And I know my younger daughter, not her herself but one of her friends was talking about people being a size 0 and I was just thinking, and she is skinny. I mean if she was my daughter I’d be panicking because she’s too thin [laugh]. And I’m just thinking this is terrible. We’re talking about pre-pubescent little girls talking about wanting to be a size 0. That’s just scary. Because this is also the trouble that you’ve got girls in that build-up to puberty and their nutrition is terribly important. You want them to be eating sufficiently and off the right foods. You don’t want to be curtailing what they’re eating because that is their future strength, it’s their future ability to have children, everything is building their bones, everything is building there. And it’s exactly that stage when they’re just get so aware of it and they get so many conflicting, mixed up messages.
 

Anna thinks media stories about celebrities and their weight make people feel worse about themselves.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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I think the media plays a detrimental part in people’s self-image. Well I mean there’s recently been a big thing in , I wouldn’t say so much here, but Jessica Simpson who’s a singer, and, you know, she wasn’t a skinny, skinny girl, nice, nice figure, and she’s put on a few pounds, and they’re blasting this poor woman for having put on a few pounds. She looks, still looks wonderful, you know, and that’s sad. And then you’ve got the extreme of someone like Keira Knightly and she comes out with some nonsense about, oh, you know, it’s ‘a natural thing in her family’. Huh? Excuse me. When she first came to our attention she did not look like skeleton, and now she does. And she has no chest, she has no hips, I mean women are meant to have, you know, a bust and hips. And I just find that there’s something a bit, any man who finds a woman who looks like a pre-pubescent boy, I find it’s quite distasteful.
Most young people thought the media, especially celebrity and teenage magazines, were guilty of ‘glamourising thinness’. Magazines were criticised for being sexist. Women’s magazines concentrate on weight loss, diets, liposuction and cosmetic surgery whereas men’s magazines were about being physically and mentally fit.  
 

Huw says the media promotes low self-esteem. He thinks there are more interesting 'large' role models around.

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And it, it’s more going down to the whole shallowness of today’s society kind of thing, where everyone’s just like, ‘Oh celebrities’ and just really, and there’s so much emphasis on it now and there’s so much like going around about it, and in young people it’s just everywhere. Everywhere, everywhere everyone wants to be like a model, who eats barely anything and size zero, and it’s like, I think it’s decreasing now, because I’ve got quite a lot of friends who really don’t give a damn, and look amazing whatever they wear, but it’s more, it’s that it’s more that kind of thing where society says you need to be attractive to do things, it sounds really stupid but it’s like, if you have a look at some newspapers and magazines, their sent to make you feel really bad, because beauty magazines promote low self esteem.That’s what, that’s all they do really.
 
Queen Latifah, my idol, I love Queen Latifah, and Dawn French, I love Dawn French. Dawn French - my favourite person in the world. So there is an increased number of people who are not stick figures, it’s people who aren’t really, they really shouldn’t be like celebrities, like I don’t know, models or old fashioned celebrities where they think to be famous they have to stick, stick thin like everyone wants to be like. And I think that’s what’s really bad, because new one’s they realise that they don’t care whether they’re bigger or not.
 
Do you think things are changing then?
 
Changing very slowly, but nowhere near enough.I think it needs a lot more work.And a lot more to get away from the, “Ooh she’s put on a bit of weight, or ooh she’s lost a bit of weight.” That, that kind of thing where everyone’s just being slandered because that’s just make's you feel crap. 
 

Rachael thinks the media is sexist in how it represents celebrities and that the focus is always...

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It always seems to be women’s magazines that are always going on about weight. For some reason lads’ mags weight never seems to be an issue, you know, but I mean a lot of the time I think that in the media there are it’s always footballers, rugby players, people like that who are like the main stars. I mean, you don't really get that many, there's not that many like actors and singers, male actors and singers in the media that are getting like slagged off for their weight or what not. But you do have these footballers and ‘Hollyoaks’ hunks’ calendars and fireman calendars and you know, you do have this image of really hunky men who are every woman's dream, I'm sure. You know, you get this kind of like really stereotypical alpha male, really muscley, which the media portray to be every woman's dream. But, you know, you know that from the average people that you’re seeing, and the average girls that you're seeing, that, you know, it's not about whether you've got a six pack, it's about your personality at the end of the day.
 
You know, a lot of people just seem to bypass that these days, especially in the media.You know "We don't care if you're doing orphan work, we don't care if you're raising money for charity, you're two dress sizes too big we're going to slag you off", you know. It does feel like that and it does seem to overshadow some of the great things that celebrities do. But you know it never seems to be, it never seems to be perfect.
 
And do you think they’re healthy images that they portray; you know the male ones and the female ones?
 
I think with the male images it's very idealistic to be quite honest, you know. Not every boy is going to have rippling muscles, you know, but with women I think that they do show that being too thin is not a good thing, such as the famous pictures of Nicole Ritchie where she was wearing a bikini and it was like, it all looked like it was literally just hanging off her. But you don't get any pictures of like, what I would class to be fat celebrities being slagged off. They’re always like your size eighteen, sixteen sometimes even fourteens and that just seems absolutely ridiculous to me. You know, you’ve got an inch of fat and you’re automatically fat. It seems crazy. 
Several said the focus on fitness was healthier than the interest in thinness; ‘you don’t hear about footballers going on diets’
 
Positive role models 
People who made young people feel good about themselves came from the world of music and certain singers and bands were a far stronger influence on some than celebrity magazines. Certain ‘curvy’ celebrities were admired, particularly if they didn’t lose weight or go on diets.
 

Naz and Anaan admire the singer Beth Ditto because she’s confident and funny and makes being big...

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Naz' On the news the other day, they say there’s a new singer, who’s made it think….
 
Anaan' Beth Ditto, oh she’s fantastic. I love Beth Ditto because she’s so funny.
 
Naz' Exactly. You know what she’s actually made fat look actually normal, obesity. And they are saying now that’s not good what she’s done. Being fat is not a good thing. And for her to go on the news, I mean with her band and stuff being fat. Showing, that, you know, she’s fat and she’s a celebrity and stuff now. Its, for her it will be good, but for the rest of them it isn’t good. It is not a good thing being fat, the way she’s supporting it.
 
Anaan' I mean she is big, she’s like fifteen stone or something. She’s, she’s massive. But its not about her being big that makes people attract her so much. It’s that fact that seems so confident with it and she seems so comfortable in being the size she is, the way she is. She just doesn’t seem to care. And that, I think, is that people latch on to the fact that she’s got this brazen ‘I don’t care’ attitude. Whereas all the skinnier celebrities or whatever, always seem like, you know, they exercise too much, always dieting, they’re always not eating something, they always look really, some of the look really ill sometimes. But her, she just seems to not care and that’s the bit that appeals. The fact that she doesn’t care and I think for people to, you know, to say that, oh she’s a bigger role model and it’s not good blah blah blah. I think that’s really narrow minded and negative, because oh yeah, she might have weight issues, but at the end of the day that’s her business. Do you know what I mean? It’s not for other people to comment on. And I don’t know, I find that really horrible. That other people, I don’t care if they are medical professionals or whatever. At the end of the day if she has weight issues, that’s for her to talk about, or for her deal with. Not for some moron in the news to point it out in a newspaper article and say she’s not good, because she’s making bigger people think it’s okay to be bigger. I mean what’s his problem, it’s nothing to do with him.
One mother said she thought Jamie Oliver was doing a good job, as was Gok Wan who tells women ‘You’re gorgeous. Love your curves. Enjoy your body’. 

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated February 2012.

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