Historically, it appears to be widely accepted as fact that women wrestle with a lack of confidence or lowered sense of self-esteem. The perception has been that females have a underlying lack of trust in their own merit and this gender-based, diminished self-esteem has restrained females success. Whether this perception is accurate and, if so, investigating the underlying causes for lowered female self-esteem have been a major topics for researchers.
While debate about levels of self-esteem as it relates to gender differences persist, an increasing number of peer-reviewed, scientifically sound studies have recently examined the implications of nature versus nurture, or inborn versus environmental factors, on the development of self-esteem. To this point, self-esteem differences in the youngest of children do not appear to be inherently gender related. The self-esteem of children under the age of 5 is usually comparatively high, regardless of gender, primarily because their societal interactions are narrower and lack significant input. (Robins and Trzesniewski, 2005, p.158-162) As females age, both males and females seem to follow essentially the same life span trajectories: For both genders, self-esteem is relatively high in childhood, drops during adolescence, rises gradually throughout adulthood before it tends to decline in old age. (Bleidorn et al., 2015).
Despite these findings, men are generally regarded as having higher self-esteem than women. If true, the sources that contribute to lowered levels of self-esteem among females must become more evident with age. Without intrinsic differences, research looks to external influences and stimuli from the cultural environment to account for differing gender related self-esteem levels. According to Becker et al (2014), within any given cultural context, individuals evaluate themselves in culturally appropriate ways, deriving feelings of self-esteem particularly from those identity aspects that fulfill values prioritized by others in their cultural surroundings. (p. 673)
If the female self-esteem gap is more evident in American culture, as has been speculated, studies have attempted to zero in on the underlying factors influencing the variance. Gender stereotyping factors appear to be a factor.
Josephs, Markus and Tafarodi’s (1992) study found the following: Although in our society gender roles seem less clearly defined and enforced than ever before, these data suggest that American women and men still differ in their self-concepts, perhaps because they differ in the requirements that must be met to become good members of their respective gender groups.
Media exposure has historically had a clear affect of how females perceive body image. The media, such as television, magazines, Internet, and movies has traditionally portrayed an unambiguous reflection of how society endorses a certain body image. The media depicts girls and women as either thin or curvaceous so they can display the viewer’s expectations and standards. In addition, females who do not meet these seemingly stereotypical body image standards, often feel less self-assured about themselves and, therefore, try to uphold the perceived societal ideal by any means necessary. According to Tiggemann (2006), First, women and girls’ own reports clearly indicate that they hold the media at least partly responsible for their negative feelings toward their bodies (p. 524). By having these negative thoughts, women can harm their bodies by doing whatever they can to fit the expectations that the media seems to portray. The opinion of the public eye states that the norm of the mass media plays an essential role in the progression of eating disorders and the displeasures of ones own body (Tiggemann, 2006, p. 524).
Low self-esteem in females correspondingly comes from the media depiction of body image. According to Haas, Pawlow, Pettibone, & Segrist (2012) Media exposure to female images that are thin and air-brushed is also associated with depression and lower self-esteem in the women who view them (p. 405). The norm for the modeling expectations has and always will be stick skinny women. Modeling agencies prefer the skinnier type because the clothes that the designers create would look more presentable and more appealing to the public eye when worn by this body style. As a result, it lowers self-esteem because most of these women do not fall into that certain physique paradigm that the modeling agencies look for. Most modeling agencies enhance their models’ physique to make them look skinner then they really are.
Haas, Pawlow, Pettibone, & Segrist (2012) suggest that: Women should be informed of the measures that are taken to alter many images in advertisements in order to clarify that humans typically do not naturally look like those illustrations, and therefore women should not compare their bodies with the illusions of perfection depicted in the media (p. 406).
The authors are implying that women should strive not to identify themselves within these parameters or try to connect their body image to specific models due to the fact that the embellishments that have been designed into the images are unrealistic.
Media advertising has a profound effect on how girls and women see their own bodies. According to Haas, Pawlow, Pettibone, & Segrist (2012), for instance, one magazine ad for a cigarette lighter shows a picture of a thin woman with the headline reading, “Express your lighter side (p. 406). The main message of this advertisement implies that it is desirous for women to be slim and by consuming this product it will help them to accomplish that goal. This advertisement’s underlying message is subtle and subliminal, negatively affecting girls and women by exposing them to an arbitrary body image standard.
Today, people are beginning to view curvy bodies as being thin, but the general, historical standard in America has been to view curvy as being overweight. Through the mainstream media, women with curvier bodies continue to be labeled as overweight and unhealthy.
As a result, according to Haytko, Parker, Motley, & Torres (2014): Their results indicate that these study participants were equally likely to suffer from eating disorders, regardless of ethnicity findings suggest that members of these ethnic groups are feeling and responding to the pressure to be thin and are willing to take drastic measures to achieve this goal (p. 2).
Ultimately, the culpability for overall body discontent and the incorporation of the slender stereotype into our culture’s psyche cannot be blamed solely on the media when other societal or personal influences may also impact adverse bodily mindsets. This aspect of the effects of environmental influences on self-esteem and body image was the focus of Van Vonderen and Kinnally, Although specific significant correlations between media and both internalization of the thin ideal and body dissatisfaction were observed in regression analyses, it is important to remember that all of these variables interact in a much larger context. It is nearly impossible to find the exact origin of body image attitudes. Instead it may be more useful to consider that the variables serve to reinforce one another and strengthen existing attitudes, despite where they originate. Therefore, all of the variables noted herein should be considered significant influences on body image attitudes, and the knowledge should be applied to eating disorder prevention/intervention and media literacy campaigns to help attenuate the negative effects. (2012, p. 53)