Impact on Youth

As we look at the powers of the media and the influences on the human mind, researchers have confirmed that children are the most vulnerable to messages sent by the media.  At their young stage of life, children’s minds are like sponges and develop their perception of reality from past experiences. Using the cognitive information-processing model, children will program “scripts” to decide their behavior and life choices. Unfortunately, some of these messages that are decoded provide negative effects on the youth in society today. 

With young girls, there are several ways that the media influences their lifestyle ranging from magazines, commercials and even Barbie dolls.  Once young girls are old enough to watch television, the floodgates are opened, drowning young girls in images of the perfect body, insisting that they must do anything and everything necessary in order to attain it. Our ReThink Beauty campaign will combat this problem by serving as a form of intervention for female youth as the target audience, breaking down the media messages that they have idolized for years and exposing them for their truly deceptive nature.

One of the most powerful symbols that derived from the pop culture genre is in the form of plastic. When the Barbie doll launched in 1959 by Mattel, it began a craze that has thrived to this day. It has also set a role model for girls to live an unrealistic lifestyle and put pressure on obtaining the perfect body.  These falsehoods have been proven to impact the mind and instigate eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.  In a 2006 Times magazine article, “researchers from Sussex and the University of the West of England looked at the effects of images of two dolls on almost 200 primary school-age girls aged five to eight…..They were shown images of different figures, including Barbie and Emme, a new American doll whose body proportions represent a larger body shape. The results showed that girls aged five to six were more dissatisfied with their shape and wanted more extreme thinness after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other pictures. For those aged six to seven the negative effects were even stronger”.
Cleary, the “Barbie Doll Effect” has served as a false cornerstone for young girls perception of the female body.

The younger the child, the more exposed they are to the persuasion of advertising.  Marketers understand this as well and are at the brink of crossing the fine line between ethical advertising and false advertising.  It is imperative for parents and children to realize the dangers of the exposure to aggressive marketing schemes and help prevent any false realization in the advertisements.  Brian Wilcox, a professor of Psychology and Director of the Center on Children, produced a report for the American Psychological Association (APA) in regards to the power of advertising on a child’s mind.  In the report, “
it is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year”. A major portion of these commercials contain various advertisements that portray unattainable lifestyles and body images that children look up to as guidance.  When looking at the shows seen on channels like Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, children are looking at a Hannah Montana for example as a role model.  This culture icon has almost brainwashed the minds of youth into looking like her and pressuring young to physically look like their Hollywood heroine.  Wilcox and other researchers with APA discuss the harmful effects of these messages and conclude that the government should take the initiative to regulate the content in child marketing.  Lastly, it was recommended by the APA to take the following action:

  • Restrict advertising primarily directed to young children of eight years and under. Policymakers need to take steps to better protect young children from exposure to advertising because of the inherent unfairness of advertising to audiences who lack the capability to evaluate biased sources of information found in television commercials.
  • Ensure that disclosures and disclaimers in advertising directed to children are conveyed in language clearly comprehensible to the intended audience (e.g., use “You have to put it together” rather than “some assembly required”).
  • Investigate how young children comprehend and are influenced by advertising in new interactive media environments such as the internet.
  • Examine the influence of advertising directed to children in the school and classroom. Such advertising may exert more powerful influence because of greater attention to the message or because of an implicit endorsement effect associated with advertising viewed in the school setting.
Today it is clear that images have been cropped, chopped, and photoshopped by the media to the point that the real model may not resemble the final product. In response to this deceptive behavior, there have been recent movements demanding advertiser disclosure of the photoshopping that occurs on models after their picture is taken. Additionally, there is support for Mattel to redo its Barbie doll proportions and change its image. This campaign fully supports this movement and as a result our website will help inform society on the issues we face with the next generation of Americans and leave a legacy of responsible guidance.