The Effects of Modern Media on the Cultural Perception of Beauty.

The Effects of Modern Media on the Cultural Perception of Beauty.

By: Tessa McAuley

October 6, 2013


In today’s modern world, we have been accustomed to the images and media that surround are being on a daily basis. When driving down the road, we see millions of images that influence our perception of not just ourselves but the reality we believe to be true. With the growing advancements in technology, our ideal image of beauty has also changed due to the influence of Westernize beauty. It has become a social norm to view Westernize media through Internet sources, television shows, magazines and public ads. This technological boom of mass media however, has caused the human mind to view beauty in an unrealistic light because the images that we now view have been altered and transformed into images that depict an “ideal skinny”. Girls of all ages now see women in size 00 clothing being depicted in fashion as the ones who are beautiful when the normal body type of a woman is about a size 12-14. This image of being skinny has cause a growing epidemic of eating disorders all around the world that has made many experts question how media and social comparison theory relate to the human psyche.

The article entitled  Rethinking Visual Ethics: Evolution, Social Comparison and the Media’s Mono-Body in the Global Rise of Eating Disorders written by Sheila Reaves goes into detail of the evolutionary factors that contribute to the modern view of social comparison. For example, the Victoria Secret Annual Fashion Show. Does evolution have an impact on how we analyze images? Does social comparison to models create a lack of self worth?


“Homo sapiens has rightly been called Homo ludens; perhaps another appropriate name would be Homo pingens, the image maker.”—Erich Harth (1999, p.107)

In the article, Reaves uses the quote above which I believe describes the entire entity of her study. It explains how humans use the medium of images to create a sense of reality and then use the images they see, to creating meaning. To me, it is truly amazing how natural the thought process of the human mind can be in order to create the intellectual society that we are in today. However, the power images have on our society can cause both positive and negative influences on our being because of the evolutionary factors contributed with the human brain.

The use of evolutionary factors can be explained by the brain’s plasticity, which has remained constant since the being of human existence. Reaves explains how the brain allows signals to be transmitted throughout the brain to increase the knowledge of social events, cognitive skills, memories, etc. This allows the modern human to process images and new information with rapid speed based upon the information they receive from the technological sources. Our brains now receive information that we were once not able to have, due to us having to wait for biological adaptation to occur. This has thus created an issue of receiving information in mass qualities at an unnatural rate, which then makes the human mind believe the images they see multiple times to be the norm. This can be related to the issue of body image because now, most individuals are exposed to the Photoshop images of models that make us believe that being skinny amounts to beauty.

Reaves also explains how social comparison, which is defined in our book as “people (having) an innate need to compare themselves with others”, relates to the growing epidemic of eating disorders around the globe (Festinger, 1954). She uses statistics from outside sources that show the startling rise of eating disorders based on public image of the “ideal skinny”. Reaves further explained how people of all cultures are being exposed to the Western way of body image based upon the rise of tourism, technology and urbanization. People who were once okay with their personal appearance were now contemplating eating disorder behavior based upon the influx of images being sent by the Western world.

The information given in the article correlates to the nonverbal communication definition of social comparison because the study describes how skewed images of media makes an individual compare himself or herself to the unrealistic perception of beauty. It is has become evident that many people have become overwhelmingly dissatisfied with themselves because they believe they are “fat” compared to the models on TV. In my opinion, I truly believe the theory of social comparison to be very real in my life today. I see many girls my age debating on eating and working out multiple times a day because they have this idea that they aren’t skinny enough. The article written by Reaves is an important issue that I believe all people should be aware of because it allows one to realize that it’s okay not to be extremely thin. Overall, it is vital that the images in our Western culture be changed to images of those who are healthy before the self-worth of many individuals meets their demise.


Reaves, S. (2011). Rethinking Visual Ethics: Evolution, Social Comparison and the Media’s Mono-Body in the Global Rise of Eating Disorders. . Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 26(2), 114-134. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from the EBSCO Host database.

Harth, E. (1999). The emergence of art and language in the human brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, 97–115.

Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.


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