Certainly members of the French government think so. I read an article some time ago that a new legislative bill has passed one of the houses of government in France prohibiting the use of ultra-thin models, and requiring touched up photos to be labeled as such.
There is evidence that suggests the constant barrage of images we receive from the media affect how we view ourselves. In light of professionally done make-up, photoshop adjustments made to pictures, most models being young and beautiful, and a glamorization of physical perfection, it’s really easy to feel “not good enough.” Many young girls are especially impressionable when it comes to images put out by the media.
Here is my personal opinion on why adolescent girls are so deeply affected by how thin models are in advertisements: Your adolescent daughters aren’t necessarily sure of who they are. It’s hard to define yourself by internal characteristics as a teenager. So many of the actions they take show they use external factors to make a statement about identity. They dress in a certain way, want to look like a certain person, and wish to have a certain body type. These are things other people can see that give your daughter a sense of self. As they get older, they will begin to use internal factors to create identity, but that’s not necessarily developmentally possible for an adolescent.
Because so much of how they define other people is based on looks, they want to be the best looking person possible. And, since our society truly glorifies thinness, your daughter wants to have the “ideal” body type.
In my office it takes an incredible amount of work for a girl with an unhealthy body image to change her “ideal” body type. At first this is usually based off models. She wants to look extremely thin, extremely fit, or some combination of both. She honestly believes if she can accomplish this she will feel as happy as the models in pictures appear to be. She thinks she will then feel complete, confident, lovable and attractive.
After A LOT of hard work, some girls are able to truly change what they see as an “ideal” body type. They stop using images in advertising, and start to assess themselves based on a medical “ideal” body type. This means they try and have an appropriate weight for their height, allow their bodies to find a set-point (where it naturally wants to be given a healthy diet and appropriate amount of exercise), and eat until they feel content and energized. They stop comparing themselves to others, and they recognize how unhealthy the fashion industry seems to be in how it portrays the ideal female. Essentially, your daughter can learn to embrace looking like a woman after she’s gone through puberty instead of still wanting to look like a young girl.
While there are definitely a host of complicated factors that lead to anorexia, the media has its part. I am appreciative of the efforts the French government is making to curb this. Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating struggles are dangerous, overwhelming and extremely challenging to overcome; every little bit helps.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT
PS- If you’d like to read the NY Times article, here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/world/europe/french-bill-barring-ultrathin-models-clears-a-hurdle.html?_r=0