10 Ways TV Has Changed American Culture


Distorts Body Image

asian woman looking in mirror
Has TV affected the way you see yourself in the mirror? Let's hope not. Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Whether we're talking about the impossibly thin actresses on shows like the new "90210" series or models in TV advertising, it's clear that TV changes how women see themselves, and often it's not for the better.

Media-driven body dissatisfaction may actually begin as early as age 5, and it can continue into a woman's teens and beyond. Preteen and teen girls often want to look like the models and actresses they see on TV, and that drive for the perfect body leads not only to low self esteem and an unhealthy body image but can contribute also to serious health issues, like eating disorders [source: Heubeck].

I can't think of a more quintessential example of how TV affects body image than Tracey Gold's story. Gold played teenage daughter Carol Seaver on the hit TV show "Growing Pains." At age 19, after she put on a little bit of weight, the writers started slipping "fat Carol" jokes into the script. After a few years of these on-screen jabs, Gold -- who had overcome anorexia at age 12 -- suffered a dangerous relapse. She weighed in at just 90 pounds (41 kilograms) and ended up having to leave the show [source: Ackerman].

Portrayals of the "ideal" female body have gotten progressively thinner since the 1940s, and these increasingly thinner women on television have warped the way we see our bodies. A 1996 study found that 10-year-old children were more unhappy with their bodies after watching music videos or a clip from "Friends" [source: University of Washington].

Less reported is the fact that TV can affect male body image too. A 2006 study of male college students found that the more media they consumed, especially music videos and TV shows, the worse they felt about their bodies [source: Associated Press].