Consider movies, TV shows, or advertisements that you have recently seen. How is the act of eating depicted, particularly among ethnic, regional, or socioeconomic groups? Similarly, how is being thin depicted? How is being overweight depicted? How could these depictions influence young persons’ views of food? (Chard & Roth, 2015)
Broadcast media and digital media has been a major influence in people’s life. Movies, TV shows, and advertisements have become such an integral part of life, we often fail to recognize the impact it can have on our choices. Numerous movies and TV shows have scenes with characters eating food. It can be characters of TV series ‘Friends’ celebrating Thanksgiving by eating turkey, character Marie from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ cooking food for her family or casual dinner dates in every other movie or TV show. Popular TV shows like ‘Friends’, ‘Big Bang Theory’ and ‘How I met your mother’ repeatedly portray their characters consuming the ethnic food. TV show ‘Friends’ characters Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing are often portrayed consuming Chinese food as their favorite food. TV show ‘Big Bang Theory’ characters have assigned days for consuming a variety of cuisine every day, including Thai, Chinese, and Indian. In a way, this promotes ethnic food consumption as young people usually follow the likes and dislikes of their favorite characters in movies and TV shows. Considering the fan following of these TV shows, these scenes offer a medium for introducing various cuisines.
The type of food, its availability, and preparation is heavily influenced by geographic region. Coconut, for example, thrives on sandy soils, requires warm conditions, and are intolerant of cold weather. As a result, most of the world production of coconut is in tropical Asia. The blue crab is an important symbol of coastal Maryland, and people socialize with friends and family at crab feasts eating a pile of steaming crabs together (Chard & Roth, 2015). As a result, food advertisements, movies, and TV shows illustrate geographical regions with emphasis on locally unique and popular food culture. For instance, serving food on a banana leaf would associate the southern region of India while using chopsticks would remind East Asia primarily Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines. However, using stereotype food choices in the TV movies and TV shows as per character’s country of origin is common. Italians are repeatedly portrayed eating only Italian dishes like pasta or meatballs, Asians eating noodles or rice with chopsticks, and Indian food is often depicted to be very spicy.
Television is arguably the most influential form of mass media. It plays a critical role in encouraging body dissatisfaction. Media has been criticized for depicting thin women as ideal (Holmstrom, 2004). The movies, TV shows and advertisements constantly portray an ideal and beautiful body for women as one that is thin. When young women look at such images, they self-assess, often resulting in dissatisfaction with their own body. Consequently, reducing their self-confidence, leading to low self-esteem and at times leading to eating disorders. Females are far more likely than males to be depicted wearing tight or alluring apparel, showing some exposed skin, thin and referenced by another character (verbally or non-verbally) as physically attractive or desirous (Smith, Choueiti, Prescott, & Pieper, 2013). In a segment titled ‘The Dangerous Pressure on Teens to Be Thin’ by Katie Couric, Dr. Cyntha Bulik, Ph.D. (Director, UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders) participated in a discussion along with young female students. The female students described the pressure they feel to be thin. One student explained how the media plays a significant role in changing their perception of own body. Being constantly bombarded with images of women who look unnaturally perfect can have a negative impact on the minds of young people. In this video, Dr. Bulik and others also discuss how professionals use Photoshop software to portray perfect bodies of models and actors.
(Source: Katie Couric YouTube Channel )
TV shows often stereotypically portray overweight characters as either comedic, lonely characters or crazy individuals. On The Drew Carey Show, the main character repeatedly joked about and expressed disappointment about his weight; his main “nemesis,” Mimi, was portrayed as being unattractive partially because of her weight (Whyte, 2010). The overweight characters are depicted not having control over their diets and frequently eating unhealthy food. In TV series ‘Friends’, one of the main characters in her teen years is shown overweight, always consuming unhealthy food and being shamed by her parents and friends because of her body. In 2016, Sports Illustrated magazine featured a plus size model Ashley Graham in their swimsuit edition, stirring a controversy. Former model Cheryl Tiegs expressed her disapproval for featuring ‘overweight’ model on the magazine cover. She claimed that being overweight is unhealthy and should not be promoted. Of course, news channels and social media made sure of spreading this news to the whole country. Consequently, after receiving a backlash, the former model apologized for her criticism. Episodes like this have a potential for reducing the self-worth of those who are overweight and struggling with obesity.
There are some advertisements which downright humiliate the overweight individuals. In 2009, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released an advertisement on a billboard to promote the vegetarian diet. The billboard reads “Save the Whales – Lose the Blubber: GO VEGETARIAN” with a picture of an overweight woman. This created a lot of controversy about the insensitive approach of PETA to address a good cause with an insulting advertisement.
Also, there are extensive numbers of advertisements which promote unhealthy fast-food. For instance, celebrity Beyonce promoting Pepsi soft drink, other sugary beverages and cereals being promoted, and fast food restaurants promoting unhealthy food. All of these advertisements can negatively affect young person’s view on food. Movies, TV shows, and Advertisements are going to be in our lives forever- introducing new foods, cuisines, and culture. The harmful portrayals of the thin or overweight body will also continue. Teaching generations after us that what we see in the media is not necessarily what they should aim for is required.
Chard, S., & Roth, E. G. (2015). Food, Culture, and Society. In R. A. Neff (Ed.), Introduction to the US Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity (pp. 215-236). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Couric, K. (2014, July 14). The Dangerous Pressure On Teens To Be Thin [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bP05Cx0Css
Holmstrom, A. J. (2004). The Effects of the Media on Body Image: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(2), 196-217.
PETA [Image]. (2009). ‘Save The Whales, Lose The Blubber’ Billboard. Retrieved from http://www.nutritionunplugged.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/whalebb4.jpg
Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., Prescott, A., & Pieper, K. (2013). Gender Roles & Occupations: A Look at Character Attributes and Job-Related Aspirations in Film and Television. Retrieved February 29, 2016, from http://seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/key-findings-gender-roles-2013.pdf
Whyte, J. (2010). Media Portrayal of People Who are Obese. AMA Journal of Ethics, Formerly Virtual Mentor, 12(4), 321-323. Retrieved from http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2010/04/msoc1-1004.html