Cedric Centre for Counselling Inc.


Media Messages: Why Do We Keep Buying Them?

Media advertisements on weight loss, the media takes a lot of flack for the messages they portray of the “thin ideal.” The focus placed on weight loss and appearance by the media far outweighs the air time given to the concept of health, wellness and balance. The underlying message than many of us draw from this imbalance is that, regardless of how healthy and happy you are, if you do not look like the ideal you are not acceptable. Put another way, the core message of our media is that the image you portray to the outside world is far more important than who you really are at your core or what you do in relationship with yourself or others.

Consider that many of us have grown up to trust, without question, the messages put forth by the media. We have been raised to assume that the perception of the media is “right” and that their recounting of events is “the truth” and therefore we put our faith in those messages and live our lives accordingly. Now consider that most newspaper and magazine articles and many documentaries and news shows are thrown together at the last minute by journalists who have to fill air time, often know nothing about the issues they are reporting on and who are trusting a source, which they may have found in the yellow pages, or through a friend of a friend, to be providing them accurate and unbiased information. And keep in mind that a great many of the articles in your local paper that actually seem like “reporting” are actually paid for by the person being written about. Thus the article about the latest diet centre in town happens to coincide with that same centre purchasing a large block of advertising in that very paper.

Now consider the marketing psychologist. There is an inherent belief in most human beings that we are not good enough. No, you are not alone in that one. Certainly it is there in all those who struggle with food and body image issues; the story that there is something in us that needs to change in order for us to be acceptable and loveable. Marketing psychologists and the media they work for have exploited this undermining belief for decades and used it to make us believe that owning their product or using their service will make us “good enough” and finally provide us with the fundamental sense of peace and security that we all believe we lack. Thus we are bombarded with messages and images that are at best, simply an attractive image that we can enjoy amidst other images, and at worst completely unrealistic (ie. airbrushing and graphic engineering of photo images) ideals that we are meant to spend our hard earned money to emulate.

The frequent media message that there is “one way” to be and only “one way” simply reinforces the all or nothing thinking that is so rampant in our society. All or nothing thinking is also one of the key underpinnings of a disordered relationship with food. It sets us up to believe that there is a “right” way to look and the unspoken message is that if we don’t look that “right” way, we are wrong, bad, flawed, and just plain unacceptable. This meshes perfectly with that part of ourselves that believes deep in our core that who we are is not good enough and we often buy those media messages about “the right way” to look without even questioning them simply because they match our core belief so well that they feel like “the truth.”

The media has spent millions of dollars researching human behaviour and psychology and coming up with just the right phrases and images to spur us into a buying frenzy. We’ve all had the experience of seeing food marketed on T.V. and, even though we aren’t hungry we begin craving that food or a reasonable facsimile and find ourselves eating, where before that moment we had been perfectly content. Or, likewise, we see a show about the latest top model or hot actor and begin to inspect our body to see how closely it compares.

Our “not good enough” belief ensures that we will always come out on the bottom end of any such comparison and we will often conclude that something about us needs to change in order to be acceptable to society at large. As long as we believe we aren’t slim enough, attractive enough, smart enough, wealthy enough etc. we are vulnerable to the media and its promises and comparisons.

That’s the power of effective marketing. It elicits a sense of need which creates a thought (“hmm, that looks good, I want that!”), which creates a feeling (desire, longing, discomfort) which leads to a behaviour (foraging in the fridge for the closest thing to the image on the screen, or perhaps hopping in the car and zooming off to the closest D.Q., or shopping mall).

According to visionary psychologist Abraham Maslow, and his Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs, one of the most fundamental basic human needs is for love, acceptance and belongingness. Next only to core needs for food, air and water and a roof over our heads this need for love and acceptance will drive our every behaviour (often unconsciously) until we find a way to feel secure in our connections with others.

Media Advertisements on Weight Loss, Why Do We Keep Buying Them?

With such strong messages in the media about the importance of matching that ideal physical appearance (regardless of the methods used to achieve it) and the fundamental human need for external approval, is it any wonder that 80% of girls have already tried a diet by the time they are 10 years old? Likewise, is it any surprise that at any given time in North America 25% of women are just ending a diet; 25% are just starting; and 25% are on one!? That translates to 75% of the female population of North America constantly in some stage of the dieting cycle. And you must have heard by now the statistic that only 2% of people who lose weight on a diet actually keep it off. 2%!! Now consider that over 90% of eating disorders begin with a diet and things start to get rather scary.

To summarize, we all have the same basic need for approval from others. We have also all been raised in a society where, just like Doctors, the media is considered by many to be above us and an authority on all things and therefore, to be believed without question. This same media, in whom we have put our faith, constantly bombards us with the message that there is but one right way to look and that if we fall short of that ideal our lives will be filled with sub-standard people and things and experiences. That message when coupled with our basic need for approval and belongingness leads us to compromise our health and wellness, our quality of life, and in some cases, our very lives in the pursuit of the thin ideal and the sense of love, acceptance and happiness we believe it will bring.

We don’t have to look very far to find someone who was at one time their “ideal” weight and who still didn’t feel “good enough.” I see many clients in my practice who remember with anguish that very situation in their own lives. It is proof positive that our happiness does not come from what we look like or what we weigh but from how we perceive ourselves; from the beliefs we carry about ourselves.

This is great cause for celebration. It means that everything you need to be truly happy and peaceful and to feel accepting of your body is within you at this very moment. While this excites me to no end, many clients groan when they hear this even though they see the truth of it. They groan because they see the number they’ve been doing on themselves all this time, and because they realize that they truly are responsible for the quality of their life and that means that no person or thing outside of them can or should do it for them.

These clients now see that it is their thoughts and perception of themselves that need to change in order for them to ever be truly content. In other words, they are beginning to realize that they must learn to meet their own need for love, acceptance and belongingness. This is actually very simple.

What can be difficult initially is letting go of the story that you need anyone else’s approval in order to be okay. Let it be okay to no longer buy in to the messages from the media and other people in our lives that we must look or be a certain way in order to be acceptable. Realize that “the media” are really just people like you and me who were raised in families like yours and mine, often with some dysfunction and confused messages about what is healthy and about how to gain the much needed love and approval that they sought from the key people in their lives. They too were raised in a society that focused on external image as paramount to inner values and principles and many of the media personalities and marketing psychologists themselves are caught up in the diet mentality and truly believe, regardless of the depressing statistics, that diets are the solution and that there really is an “ideal body.”

I am not for a moment suggesting that the media are not responsible for their actions. I am suggesting that, just like us, they can only do the best they can with the knowledge they have at this moment. They have no more knowledge and wisdom on how to be in the world in a healthy, honoring way, than the average person. Given the number of people with harmful coping behaviours like alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and retail therapy, the average person clearly struggles just to get through the day, let alone live in a conscious and honoring fashion. And just like us, the members of the media can only continue to do what they know until they become aware of another way.

It is important for you to allow yourself to become a skeptical viewer of the media. Remember their own blind spots or unconsciousness, like each of our own, limit their capacity for perspective and open-mindedness. Also, remember that it’s a business. The media is all about selling things and often what sells is sensationalism and extremism. This means that the majority of the stories that make it to the paper or on the T.V. are going to be the most far out, the most attention grabbing, and not what is truly representative of society at large.

Allow yourself to question the conclusions of the columnist or reporter. Ask yourself if the message that they are putting forth creates a sense of peace and ease within you or a sense of resistance and anxiety. A sense of peace means that the message is in alignment with your inner self. A sense of resistance and anxiety means that the message is in direct opposition to what your inner self knows to be true. Cultivate your consciousness of your feelings and allow yourself to respond first and foremost to your feelings and needs and not to the messages from anyone or anything outside of you. Lead by example. Or as the Dalai Lama (among others) said “Be the change you seek.”

Have a wonderful day out there!

Love Michelle

Posted in: Relationship with Self

Leave a Comment: (0) →

Leave a Comment