Sunday, February 1, 2009

Body Image and Cultivation Theory

Hi everyone. My blog entry is going to discuss cultivation theory, but rather than focus on how it relates to violence, I’m going to address how I feel it is visible in the portrayal of body images in the media.

In chapter 11 of our textbook, Baron and Davis define cultivation analysis as a “theory that television ‘cultivates,’ or creates a worldview that, although possibly inaccurate, becomes the reality because people believe it to be so.” (B&D 324) This theory, initiated and studied by George Gerbner, becomes implanted in our brains and lives through our constant and prolonged exposure to media. The text refers to the exaggeration of violence on television programs in relation to real-life violence. Violence occurs far more on television than it does in reality, causing people to believe what they see on TV and assume that violent acts in the real world take place in similar frequency.

Not only has the overestimation of violence come as a result of cultivation theory, but so has the portrayal of an inaccurate body image. For years celebrities and models, the people who cover the television channels and magazine pages, are photographed and depicted as having thin bodies and few imperfections. Seeing as nearly 100% of American households own televisions (McQuail 399), these are the images that surround the public. It makes sense, then, that audiences would believe this is how many, if not all, people truly are- fit, trim, and near perfect. These body images have become ingrained into our psyches as what is normal and common.

However, the majority of Americans do not even come close to these portrayed body images. The average American woman is a size 14, not a 2 or a 4 like most celebrities are shown as. Males, as well, typically do not have bodies resembling those of actors, singers, models, etc. Cultivation has skewed the American people into thinking that the average body image is much smaller than it actually is.

Recently, as I’m sure many of you know, Jessica Simpson and her body have become the subject of media scrutiny for a recent public appearance.

Tabloids, blogs and the like have bashed Simpson for her curves, weight gain, and getting “fat.” Now call me crazy, but fat would not be one of the first hundred words I would use to describe Simpson. Sure she may not be a size 0, but there’s nothing wrong with that. She breaks the Hollywood status quo and much more accurately represents the American public.

My question is, how do you all feel about this? Do you think media should make more of an effort to expose the truth and break cultivated views like these?


  1. In chapter 11 of our textbook by Baran and Davis, Gerbner states "the repetitive pattern of television's mass-produced messages and images forms the mainstream of the common symbolic environment that cultivates the most widely shared conceptions of reality" (B&D 326).

    A prime example of this is how the media affects our idea of what a beautiful body looks like. The media twists and molds our brains to think that we are not perfect unless we are stick thin. I strongly dislike the fact that the media has this much control over how we think and act. It is depressing that we don't seem to have a say in what should be accepted. Ad after Ad and movie after movie, audiences just see thin and cut actors, actresses and models. However, like Angela Russo said, the average size for an American woman is 14.

    What most people are unaware of, especially kids is that most of those same actors, actresses and models do not even look like their pictures. Technology is so advanced these days that editors can crop, shape and airbrush anything. So they are sending out a false message that even those celebrities look like that.

    The biggest concern I have with this idea of body image being portrayed to the public is the harm that it causes through out the world. Not only in children but adults also. These ideas seem to establish a norm for everyone to be stick thin and it further plays a toll on peoples self esteem. Even people who are already thin think they should be even thinner. This is when the bigger issues start to occur; such as kids starving themselves and becoming bulimic and anorexic. They do this to fit in, and they believe that they will be happier and more accepted. However, these people are doing this at a costly price; their life. The media has taken these ideas of body image too far.

    Instead of breaking people’s spirits, I believe the media should be building peoples self- esteem and allowing them to have more confidence within themselves. That in itself is the most attractive quality to posses.

    I think the media should take a stand against these false values. Instead of tearing apart a celebrity who may have gained a little bit of weight like Jessica Simpson or Eva Longoria Parker, the media should be praising how gorgeous they are. This will show people that no matter what your size, you are still beautiful.

    Another issue is that the media is very hypocritical in this area as well. They will scrutinize Parker and Simpson for a few extra pounds. But they also do the same to Nicole Ritchie and Angelina Jolie for being too thin.

    So what really is the perfect body? Is there any such thing? When will the media stop blurring, blending and bending reality with false pretenses of being happy can only be achieved through a thin body (B&D 329)? What happened to the days of Marilyn Monroe when being thicker was accepted?

  2. It is very interesting to me to relate cultivation theory to other themes in media besides violence, especially body image. It is so clear that our society’s immense consumption of media has created this “inaccurate reality” of physical perfection in our culture.

    In uncovering the direct effects of this unrealistic worldview on consumers of media, perhaps mainly on young women, I think it is helpful to go back to the basics of social learning. In my opinion, it is specifically identification, or “wanting to be and trying to be like an observed model relative to some broader characteristics or qualities” (Baran & Davis 183) which becomes so detrimental.

    The media praises celebrities and other “stars” for their beauty, fame, and success, obviously desirable traits to any average person. If a celebrity possesses these characteristics, the path of thought for someone ingesting all of this media propaganda is that being thin, gorgeous, big-chested, tan, blonde, etc. will potentially lead an average person back to these enviable qualities. This is of course an oversimplification; it is, however, fair to say that when physically ideal people are so much at the forefront of our culture, it is hard to maintain a realistic view of what is beautiful.

    I think that the danger in these depictions of supermodels and movie stars is not only the subsequent belief that this is the reality of how people look, but then the desperate desire and tangible efforts by an average person to actually be like these observed models. The actual striving for such unattainable perfection seems to me to be even more harmful, frustrating, and inevitably hopeless.

    I definitely think the media should make more of an effort to break the cycle of unrealistic portrayals. I obviously would not expect that magazines will start putting size 12 women on every one of their covers or that America’s Next Top Model becomes America’s Next Top Plus-Size Model. A simple start would be for the media to stop criticizing a celebrity when they’ve gained weight, Jessica Simpson at the Chili Cook-off, Jennifer Love Hewitt in that now-famous black bikini, Oprah for the last 20 years. In a media centric society such as ours, it really is the media’s responsibility to stop creating and spreading negative messages about body image.

  3. The consistent results of the cultivation theory left the theory’s creator Gerbner, to indentify in chapter 11 of Baran & Davis the 3 Bs of television which is the “idea that television blurs, blends, and bend reality” (329). This implies that television does not always show the most accurate information to the public. This is including discussion on celebrity’s weight of being fat or to skinny. Last year Tyra Banks was scrutinized for gaining weight after an unflattering picture of her in bathing suit surface. According to the article in People magazine under headlines that screamed, "America's Next Top Waddle" and "Tyra Pork chop." Tyra Bank has always been on the heavier side as a model and for her to get scrutinized on her weight gain after being retired from modeling. That is ridiculous especially since she made millions of dollars on her body. She is now 160 pounds. Thirty five pounds heavier then when she was a model. Most women in America are Tyra Banks weight and size. So why is the normal weight being punished? This is because the media has a warp image of what the perfect body image is. I feel like the media does need to make more of an effort expose the truth on weight and size issue in America. There are many young girls who look to television, celebrities, models, and magazine to see what body image is beautiful. So the media needs to take more an effort to show more average size American. Obviously most children in today’s world “grow up in a mass-mediated world” (193). So in return the mass media should take a stronger position on showing accurate body images on television for the youth.

    I agree with both the lead blogger and Michaela the cultivation theory has major effect on America’s image of the body. But I also think that social learning also plays a major effect. The idea of social learning came from psychologists Miller and Dollards. According to chapter 7 in Baran & Davis, “social learning is encompasses both imitation and identification to explain how people learn through observation of others in their environment” (183). Since everybody learns through the aspect of imitation and identification which are two major components of social learning. I feel that young men and women learn about the body image though imitating the images in television among other mass mediums. This is how young male and females see “what hot” in American society. Most of the body images on American’s television are portrayal women as a size 0 -2 and men as tall, muscular, and handsome. This is not an accurate portrayal of body image for the youth to be forced to follow and imitate. Identification is a special form of imitation which, “springs from wanting to be and trying to be like an observed model relative to some broader characteristics or qualities” (183) I think that identification applies to the youth watching television and believing the size zero body image is accurate. Then the young male and females try to identify and inmate that image from television. When the youth reaches for unrealistic images can lead to the extreme eating disorder like anorexia and bulimia. When will media break the vicious cycle? When will normal body images be the perfect body image?

  4. Seeing now that it is Monday night and I just turned off E News! after one of its lead stories was STILL this Jessica Simpson weight gain issue-I thought it was most appropriate to comment on this blog.

    Anyone can correct me if I am wrong but this story broke almost a week ago and yet we still have a large variety of media sources reporting on “Jessica’s troubles” or “Ashlee, the sister, speaks”. I saw reporters asking Oprah, Heidi Klum and even our famous Miley Cyrus to comment on the recent “weight gain” of J. Simpson. The issue even reached our newly inaugurated President in a pre-superbowl interview!

    The comment I would like to make that this issue clearly has been dominating the news cycles for days. It has not only reeled in the members of its original scrutiny but now has attracted the audiences of our president?

    Angela wrote “In chapter 11 of our textbook, Baron and Davis define cultivation analysis as a “theory that television ‘cultivates,’ or creates a worldview that, although possibly inaccurate, becomes the reality because people believe it to be so.” (B&D 324) This theory, initiated and studied by George Gerbner, becomes implanted in our brains and lives through our constant and prolonged exposure to media. “

    As many others commented too-the cultivation theory leads to develop the topics in our everyday conversations, thoughts and headlines. All of this talk about Jessica Simpson gaining weight must mean that this society believes that skinny girls are beautiful. That thin is in and fat is ugly? That is certainly true of the model industry, fashion industry, and the world of celebrities. But how many of us actually think Jessica Simpson is fat? Probably, very few of us.

    All of this talk about being skinny would lead us to believe that the cultivation theory is proven by this Jessica Simpson issue. That everyone’s perception of beautiful includes the word “skinny.” But the lashing back of celebrities, the constant news stories, and all of the comments defending her-wouldn’t that show that media is not entirely determining how we think? Many of us think she is not fat-not even close-yet the media is demanding she has gained too much weight. The cultivation may be in effect-but are we resisting it?

  5. well as i guy, i would like to state "thank god! at least we don't have to hear about jessica simpson and tony romo anymore." seems like Jessica found another mode to enter into the news headlines. Too bad this news came during the time of the superbowl, is it coiincidence? she seems to be linked to football all over lately. And to comment on Obama speaking about Jessica Simpson's weight issue...that is a little wierd.

    Of course Jessica Simpson is not fat, i think that media people who are linked to this kind of news need something to talk about constantly. Who knows maybe quarterback Tony Romo felt like stirrin up some revenge, because he isnt included in the superbowl...and won't be for a while because the cowboys love to choke in big situations. I think not too many people actually care about such issues, it is messed up to hear these kinds of stories. Sometimes the media is cruel, o well. I prefer real news. Plus the superbowl was very entertaining last night! Don't really care about Jessica Simpson news at the moment, leave her alone, she aint fat.

  6. In Chapter 11, Baran and Davis discuss how the different theories for information processing. In Mind, Self, and Society, Mead (1934) argues that our understanding of ourselves is influenced by society and in this case our society who are avid media consumers. “In other words, symbols mediate and structure all our experience because they structure our ability to perceive and interpret what goes on around us.”(p301)
    In a majority of societies today, the pressure is put on women to be thin. This often causes distorted body image and feelings of low self-esteem. The words “I’m fat” or “I’m so ugly” are constantly being used in our everyday vocabulary. Women gain these negative perceptions of their bodies as a result from the influences surrounding them. These influences include the media, advertisements, and supermodels. The media pressures us to feel that we must have the perfect body, great hair, fabulous clothing, and flawless skin. The effects that society and culture have over women and their idea of a ‘perfect body’ are misconstrued because of the media and advertisements, and the models depicted in these.
    It’s unfortunate that the media scrutinized Jessica Simpson for just one unflattering picture. It sends a mixed message to impressionable teens that look up to these celebrities and demonstrates the repercussions that one gets with a little weight gain.

  7. To have the opportunity to discuss the cultivation theory in regards to an issue aside from violence helps me to understand the concept of the theory, and also makes learning about it more interesting. I feel that the most serious issue, and the saddest outcome, of this obsession with body image is the focus that the media has created on outer beauty over inner. Not only has this driven society to have a skewed vision, but it has also created a shallow, one-dimensional mentality within the minds of people who are, in reality, average size Americans to begin with. There is no denying that our society has become victimized by the portrayal of how the average person is “supposed” to look.
    Many young girls have become reliant on television and other forms of media to show them what “perfect” means. They look to models, actresses, and airbrushed pictures to define who they are and how they should appear in order to be beautiful. Also, running parallel to the praise that thin people receive, is the public scrutiny that people who are either average or slightly overweight, or “too” thin, must suffer through. The media should stop completely focusing on these well-known societal figures for how they look, and instead, focus mainly on what they do and how they perform their jobs. I realize now that I have heard endless criticism and seen harsh headlines about Jessica Simpson’s “weight gain,” and I have heard nothing about where and why she was performing, what song she was singing, and who she was singing to. Shouldn’t the singer/entertainer’s performance and talent be the interesting aspect to discuss, rather than the fact that she is not a size 0 this week?
    In reality, I think the media will never completely shift their focus away from beauty, perfection, and this obsession with body image. However, by reaching a little further beyond and acknowledging that there is more than one way to be viewed as beautiful without forming unrealistic expectations and false mentalities, the media would be able to expose the truth and break cultivated views like these. If the media have shaped so much of our portrayal of body image up until this point, I believe they are capable of taking this ability to turn things around and cultivate ideas for the greater good.

  8. I agree with Christine, above, where she stated that, sadly, I do not think the media will ever shift away from these altered views of beauty and body image. We are too far deep into these cultivated views that it's really all our society knows. Especially as a young woman, I would love to say that I am not effected by them. But it is hard to say that when we are surrounded by the scrutiny of celebrities every day. I know that all of the models and celebrities we see every single day through every single form of media are photoshopped or have a team of beauty experts working behind the. It's hard not to compare yourself, or think a little harder about what you look like. We just experienced an amazing moment in our country's history, yet a few weeks later, we are back talking about Jessica Simpson's latest photos. If celebrities gain weight they get scrutinized, and if they loose weight they do as well. Where is the healthy ground and when does it stop?

    In the "Mass Communications Theory," Baron and Davis explain a few terms on how cultivation occurs, which is relatable to the portrayal of body image in the media. Mainstreaming is where television's symbols and ideas monopolize and dominate other sources of information (328). Because children are being exposed to media at younger and younger ages, what they see on tv can very well shape their minds and thoughts. If they only see stick-skinny models, or people being criticized if they are not a size 2, this will stick with them. Unless they have people in their lives explaining that this is not healthy, they wwill not know any better. Baron and Davis also mention cultivation through resonance, "when viwers see things on television that are most congruent with their own everyday realities" (328). If we are non-stop exposed to the media's poor portrayal of body image, we might just start looking for it, even when the media does not feed it to us. Every time we see a woman is the first thing that you concentrate on their weight or beauty? The media has almost trained us to think like this. Also, if all young girls grow up to this type of thinking, when they hang out with their friends, who all have the same mind set as well, they never escape it. It is continually with them because the media is also continually with us no matter where we go.

    Meagan Finnegan

  9. I will be the first to admit that I am an avid People Magazine reader. I do not particularly care about celebrities’ live, but for some reason I check everyday. So it was no surprise to me that three out of the “Top Five Most Read Stories of the Week” pertained to Jessica Simpson and the media’s recent portrayal of her weight. A handful of celebrities, including Simpson, have responded to the media’s latest “body watch” by supporting Simpson and defending her curves.

    It would be within anyone’s right to assume that many women would be negatively affected by this sudden popular headline considering the existence of the thin ideal. When thinking in terms of the thin ideal I immediately relate the aggressive reactions to two ways in which cultivation occurs through mainstreaming and resonance (Baran & Davis, 328).

    The constant images of thin woman of all ages and the correlation of young Hollywood and fashion create a mainstreaming effect. This means, according to Baran and Davis, “that television’s symbols monopolize and dominate other sources of information and ideas about the world” (Baran & Davis, 328). With resonance, “viewers see things on TV that are congruent with their own everyday realities” (Baran & Davis, 328). The connection I make to the Simpson issue is this: Society, specifically our celebrity friends, recognize how monopolized the thin ideal is and that negative reactions to a seemingly normal body may fulfill a skewed reality that thin is in.

    I believe that we recognize that it is ridiculous to criticize a person because of their weight, but we still fall into a trap that forces us to consider it is right to criticize. The cultivation theory is just one way of understanding this trap. I interpreting that what we see on television is confirming that it is a struggle to keep up with the ideal body image.

  10. Cultivation analysis is the theory that suggests, what is shown on television is interpreted as what the world is really like. The text discussed the fact; people who view excess amounts of violence on television tend to believe that there is more violence, in the world, then in reality. In addition, heavy viewers of violence believe they are more susceptible to becoming the victim of a crime. For example the middle aged housewife who spends everyday watching multiple episodes of “Law and Order” is more likely to think that this is the reality of the criminal justice system in America.
    Cultivation analysis of violence compared to cultivation analysis of body image in the media was a good comparison, because they each contribute to viewers distorted images of society. Cultivation analysis can be used to assert many points about the impact of media on society. The fact is true that we are bombarded by images of stick thin, picture perfect, actors and actresses on an everyday basis. By viewing images like this everyday several problems arise. One we become overly critical of our own appearances and secondly, we become overly critical of the physical appearances of others. For this reason I do believe the media has a responsibility to show a more diverse image of people on television. The media should not criticize Jessica Simpson for not possessing the same body type as Katie Moss.
    When thinking about the theory of cultivation I felt another important issue on television today is underrepresentation of minorities on television. What stands out in my mind most is the show “Friends”, a decade as one of the most popular shows on television “Friends” was openly criticized for lacking diversity. I can’t help but wonder if a “Friends” fanatic from the mid west thinks that no African Americans or Hispanics live in New York City. The show exhibits such little racial diversity I can’t help but wonder if people who have never visited New York believe this to be a true representation of the racial breakdown of New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world.

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