Ten Ways to Be Media Savvy
In today’s world, we constantly encounter the media-when we drive down the highway and see a billboard, when we see an advertisement on a bus, when we read a magazine at home or in a waiting room, when we watch TV. Therefore, it is important to learn to be media savvy.
Being media savvy means knowing how to look critically at the images and messages in the media. It means understanding that media are created through conscious, specific decision-making processes that are primarily part of for-profit ventures. It also means being less vulnerable to manipulation by the media. Below are ten ways to be media savvy.
- Step inside the minds of media image creators
Study the ways that images in the media are created, realizing that the people who create these images want to make you feel and think a certain way so that you will buy their products and consequently further their cause or fatten their pocketbook. They may not have your best interest at heart.If you are a parent, study media literacy with your children. Decoding commercials is a fun and educational way to tune in to what is happening on television. Inquire whether media literacy is being taught at your child’s school. Media literacy can be taught to all school-aged children.
- Do not believe that all the images you see are real
Seeing is not believing! The images we see today are created with all sorts of technology that make it difficult to know what is real in what you see. Because of the impact of technology in representing-and often inventing-reality, seeing is no longer believing.Be a skeptical consumer. Remember the Body Shop quote: “There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only eight who do” (The Body Shop, Full Voice, Issue One).
- Listen to your gut reactions
Stay connected with your gut reaction to images. The media are often about trying to get you to feel a certain way so that you will buy a certain product. If looking at a fashion magazine leaves you feeling depressed, do not just run to the mall to go shopping. Pay attention to your feelings.Ask yourself whether you are receiving depressing messages that make you believe you need to look different in order to be successful and loved. Think about canceling your subscription to a magazine that makes you feel bad about yourself. Try subscribing to a magazine that doesn’t have commercial ads (for example, New Moon, Teen Voices, Ms., or Jeans) and that is more empowering and uplifting to read.
- Step back and rationally evaluate image claims
Marketing and image making are very often about money-your money! Every ad you see represents a point of view (why you need a certain product), a pocketbook (yours), and a desire on the advertiser’s part to prevail (for you to buy the product). Look at what images are symbolically trying to sell to you. Will you really have a perfect life if you buy one brand of jeans over another?
- Do not fall into the trap of never-ending material
Enough is enough! We live in a culture of consumption in which it is very difficult to know when you have enough. Part of the marketing game is to play on our human vulnerability, to make us think that we need more “stuff” on the outside to feel that we are good enough on the inside.Having friends who love us and living a balanced, healthy life in which we define who we are and what matters to us from the inside are more important. This feeling can seem impossible to develop when you pass a car with a bumper sticker that says, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”
- Learn the truth about dieting and dieting ads
The diet industry is one of the few industries that do not have to comply with truth-in-advertising laws. This means that the advertisements located at the back of women’s magazines that read, “This diet helped me lose 150 pounds in 150 days!” do not have to tell you if, for instance, the two bodies actually belong to the same head or that approximately 98% of non-medically-supervised fad diets fail.Moreover, most diets cause women to end up with a net gain in weight, as well as with new health problems along the way. What you can be sure of is that the consumer lost not weight, but money, and that by paying for the program, and she likely lost her spirit in the demoralizing process of yo-yo dieting.
- Do not believe stereotypes
Watch out for gender stereotypes that make you think you must have a perfect body in order to get a perfect boyfriend, and that once that happens you will be perfectly happy and have a perfect life. Remind yourself about the people who hug you at Thanksgiving, about people you love and respect, and about real people with real lives that you admire.
- Understand that “weightism” is a form of prejudice similar to racism
Look at the ways in which this prejudice is communicated through the media. With “weightism,” people are judged by the size and shape of their bodies. This is similar to racism, when people are judged by the color of their bodies. Weightism idealizes people who come in tall, thin bodies and looks down on people who come in short, round bodies.Weightism is reinforced by media messages that if you “work on your body” you can dramatically alter its size and shape. Realize that the most powerful determinant of your size is your genes! Realize that only 5% of the female population is genetically predisposed to look like today’s fashion models. This means that 95% of us are left out of the picture.
- Identify media message myths
Learn to identify the myths in media messages. Here are some examples that have to do with body image:
- “If I look perfect, I’ll feel perfect.”
- “Thin is good, fat is bad.”
- “We have tons (!) of control over our body shape and size.”
- “You are what you look like.”
- Actively practice self-acceptance
Practice the radical act of body- and self-acceptance. When you wake up, start your day with a loving check-in with your body. Give yourself a booster shot to inoculate yourself against sickening cultural messages that will leave you feeling bad about yourself. Do not bond with others through “fat talk.” When you hear friends putting themselves down because of their looks, help them stop. As the Eating Disorders Awareness Program recommends, “Don’t weigh your self-esteem!”