On this page you’ll find: facts about media, mainstream American culture, and how it can make us feel about ourselves. You can use these facts in presentations, school papers, and other public uses.

Media Consumption | Representation | Body Image and Body Dissatisfaction | Objectification and Self Objectification | Mental Health | Cosmetic Surgery | What Helps

Media Consumption

American teenagers spend:

  • 31 hours per week watching T.V.
  • 17 hours per week listening to music
  • 3 hours per week watching movies
  • 4 minutes per week reading magazines
  • 10 hours per week online

That’s about 10 hours & 45 minutes of media consumption a day.

  • Teens who spend more time than average on-screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy: Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. (Twenge, 2017)
  • The American Psychological Association estimates that teens are exposed to 14,000 sexual references & innuendos per year on TV.


  • The Hispanic population in the United States is about 18%, but only about 5% of people in popular movies are Hispanic. (USC Annenberg’s MDSC initiative and Kaiser Family Foundation, 2014)
  • In 2015, just 17.5% of major studio films had LGBT characters; less than one-fourth (23%) of them were female characters. (GLAAD, 2015)

Body Image and Body Dissatisfaction

  • Body dissatisfaction is common for teenage girls and is associated with dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors. The idealization and pursuit of thinness are seen as the main drivers of body dissatisfaction, with the media primarily setting thin body ideals. (Hill, 2006)
  • In a longitudinal (long-term) study of adolescents, frequent reading of magazine articles about dieting and/or weight loss was associated with weight-control behaviors and other psychological outcomes 5 years later. (Van den Berg et al., 2007)
  • For female adolescents, the frequency of healthy, unhealthy, and extreme weight-control behaviors increased with increasing magazine reading. (Van den Berg et al., 2007)

Objectification and Self-Objectification

Objectification also encourages girls to look at their bodies rather than attend to their feelings. It teaches them to treat their bodies as objects to be decorated and made desirable for others; as they mature into adolescence, such looking becomes sexualized. (Lamb, 2002; Lamb, 2006; Tolman, 2002)

  • Studies also show that self-objectification is associated with negative mental-health outcomes in adolescent girls. In early adolescence, girls who had a more objectified relationship with their bodies were more likely to experience depression and had lower self-esteem. (Ward, 2002)
    • Girls and young women who more frequently consume or engage with mainstream media content also support the sexual stereotypes that paint women as sexual objects. (Ward, 2002; Ward and Rivadeneyra, 1999; Zurbriggen and Morgan, 2006)
    • In one study, white and African-American girls (ages 10 to 17 years) threw a softball as hard as they could against a distant gymnasium wall. The researchers found that the extent to which girls viewed their bodies as objects and were concerned about their bodies’ appearance predicted poorer motor performance on the softball throw. Self-objectification, it appears, limits the form and effectiveness of girls’ physical movements. (Van den Berg et al., 2007)
    • While college students who were alone in a dressing room were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity in young women. (Fredrickson et. al., 1998)
      • This impairment occurred among African-American, Latina, and Asian-American young women as well as white young women. (Hebl et al., 2004).
      • This impairment extends beyond mathematics to other cognitive domains, including logical reasoning and spatial skills. (Gapinski et al., 2003)
    • Facebook usage and magazine usage were positively correlated with self-objectification and that these relationships were mediated by appearance comparisons in general. In addition, the relationship between Facebook usage and self-objectification was mediated by comparisons to one’s peers on Facebook. These findings suggest that appearance comparisons can play an important role in self-objectification among young women. (Fardouly et al. 2015) 

Mental Health

Depression and Anxiety

  • The number of girls who suffer from depression is twice as many as the number of  boys after puberty.
  • Girls’ depressive symptoms increased by 50 percent from 2012 to 2015: (following are all from Twenge, 2017)
  • Three times as many 12-to- 14-year-old girls committed suicide in 2015 as in 2007.
  • Girls are more prone to overusing social media (and they use it at higher rates than boys).
  • Girls are bullied 22 percent more often than boys are — much of which happens via text message and social media.
  • Appearance anxiety increased after viewing advertisements featuring idealized images. Participants’ body shame increased after exposure to idealized images, irrespective of advertisement type. (Monro and Huon, 2005) 

Body Image

  • Body image refers to the way we perceive our own bodies and the way we assume other people perceive us. “Body image involves our perception, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations of and about our bodies. It’s not static, but ever-changing; sensitive to changes in mood, environment, and physical experience. It is not based on fact. It is psychological in nature, and much more influenced by self-esteem than by actual physical attractiveness as judged by others. It is not inborn, but learned. This learning occurs in the family and among peers, but these only reinforce what is learned and expected culturally.” (Lightstone, 1991)
  • When girls begin to view fashion models and celebrities as icons, it is called media internalization. Media internalization refers to the extent to which an individual invests in societal ideals of size and appearance (thin ideal for girls and muscular for boys) to the point that they become rigid guiding principles. (Thompson et al., 2004)
  • Media internalization is a risk factor for body dissatisfaction, dieting, negative affect, binge eating, and increases in eating-disorder symptoms. (Vandereycken, 2006)


  • The weight-loss industry brings in at least $66 billion in revenue per year. (Marketdata Enterprises, 2017)
  • Dieting is the most important predictor of new eating disorders. Differences in the incidence of eating disorders between sexes were largely accounted for by the high rates of early dieting in the female subjects. (Patton et al., 1999)
  • The dietary-supplement industry represents a substantial and growing segment of the consumer health-care market. Industry sales for 2001 were estimated at $17.7 billion and by 2016, had jumped to $41.1 billion. The supplement category encompasses a broad range of products, from vitamins and minerals to herbals and hormones. (Nutrition Business Journal, 2017)
  • Many girls do not recognize how advertising evokes emotional responses or how visual and narrative techniques are used to increase identification in weight-loss advertising. Girls react in the following ways (Hobbs et al. 2006):
    • By responding to texts emotionally by identifying with characters.
    • By comparing and contrasting persuasive messages with real-life experiences with family members.
    • By using prior nutrition knowledge and recognizing obvious deceptive claims like “rapid” or “permanent” weight loss.
    • In this study, girls were less able to show skills to recognize persuasive media strategies including message purpose, target audience, and awareness of economic factors such as financial motives, product credibility enhancement, and branding. 

Eating Disorders

  • Eating disorders rank among the 10 leading causes of disability among young women (Mathers et al., 2000).

Cosmetic Surgery

  • Extreme Makeover: Primetime Cosmetic Surgery. Cosmetic surgery went prime-time, with ABC’s Extreme Makeover and other series.
    • In episodes of the program, participants chosen from the ranks of hundreds of thousands of willing “patients” undergo multiple surgical enhancements before a national audience of millions of voyeurs. (Turner, 2004)
    • Other, similar offerings have included Fox TV’s The Swan and MTV’s I Want a Famous Face, on which young men and women undergo cosmetic “enhancements” to make them look like stars such as Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lopez, and even Elvis Presley. 
  • Given that most images in everyday media are computer-manipulated to create completely unrealistic bodies, it is no wonder more and more people are turning to cosmetic surgery to get the body the media portrays. And since the images’ creation is artificial in the first place, it follows that no one can attain this body through natural—or healthy—means. (Plastic Surgery Research.info, 2015)
  • Nearly 12.8 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2015, according to statistics released by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
  • The Aesthetic Society, which has been collecting multi-specialty procedural statistics since 1997, says the overall number of cosmetic procedures for women has increased 538 percent since the collection of the statistics first began.
  • The most frequently performed non-surgical procedure was Botox injections and the most popular surgical procedure was liposuction.
  • The number of cosmetic procedures performed among men has increased by over 325% since 1997, when the collection of these statistics began.
  • 25 percent of the aesthetic procedures were performed on racial and ethnic minorities. (Plastic Surgery Research.info, 2015)

What Helps

  • A study examined the effects of adding disclaimers to ads and subvertising (ad tweaking) portraying a thin ideal. Disclaimers and subvertising did not improve body image relative to unaltered media.
    • “We found that simply viewing subvertised images was not effective. Instead, research shows that other approaches, such as media literacy programs and individual therapy appear to be more effective interventions. Even if viewing the actual subvertisements does not benefit most women, the act of creating them may be a positive experience for women experiencing body dissatisfaction.” — Dr. David Frederick, researcher (Frederick et al., 2016)
  • Teens who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time. (Twenge, 2017)
  • Intervention and education that involves empowerment may assist in battling against both societal objectification of women’s bodies and self-objectification. (Barnes, Rachel & P. Grippo, Karen & Tantleff-Dunn, Stacey, 2008)
  • Experiences of collective efficacy (working on a team for a common goal) can lead to higher levels of individual self-efficacy and leadership skills. (Sherrod, 2007)