Media Effect and Body Image
Media is the fastest way to disseminate messages using television, radio, magazines, movies, Internet and music. In Kuwait, there is a strong nationalistic identity, which coexists with an overabundance of foreign new media technology. These media sources have become not only ways to access information and entertainment but have become sources of status and national pride. The American mass media is widely exported to other nations such as Kuwait and the concern is that these countries, many being developing, will have their own cultural values and traditions eroded and replaced with American viewpoints. This phenomenon leaves room for inquiry and research on the impact these messages are having politically, for example, the influence on democratic movements or socially, including impact on music, fashion, art, language, and lastly body image, which is the focus of our inquiry.
Body image dissatisfaction is when individuals are unhappy with how they look in relation to their body. Researchers have been holding the media responsible for the rise in body image dissatisfaction in accordance with the sociocultural theory, which posits that people learn from social interaction. Moreover, when one speculates how the media emphasizes unrealistic and aesthetic ideals, an image of a tall thin woman with perfectly groomed hair with unblemished skin often comes to mind, but studies have revealed that also there has been an increase in emphasis on male aesthetic ideals in the media.
Media both Arab and Western images positively correlate with how people view their body image. As the young adults consume more TV, they will probably use both western images and Arab images as the barometer of the ideal body type. The biggest impact would be Overweight Preoccupation. Keep in mind, Western media images may be eroding the traditional cultural norms of what is considered overweight, with TV shows often depicting thin female models or athletic males. This transmission is also more readily available from Western programs than Arab shows because Arab shows often feature characters dressed in cultural attire, which precludes displaying the body. It appears in cultures such as Kuwait where there is tendency to view the west as being more progressive and setting trends, that the citizens, especially the youth, are turning to western media images. In countries like these where leisure time and disposable income is high, the population often turns to the west as the trendsetter of where they should be shopping, how they should be dressed, where they should vacation etc. To facilitate this they often turn to TV shows where their favorite characters are clad in the latest designer clothes, drink the latest cocktails and drive the latest trendy car. As Kuwait is a collectivist society with limited individualism, citizens and residents may depend on these characters as an outlet and seek to imitate their way of life. Through media, individuals may be asking, “What I am missing?” “Why don’t I have that?”, or “Why don’t I look like that?” Western images now represent the archetype of beauty, thinness and athleticism. The more we obsess over the western images, the higher our perception becomes distorted.
Dr. Juliet Dinkha is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and an Associate Professor at the American University of Kuwait. If you have any questions or comments for Dr. Dinkha, feel free to contact her via Instagram or email.