Ten Ways to be Media Savvy
In today's world, we constantly encounter the media - when we drive down the highway and see
a billboard, when we see an advertisement on a bus, when we read a magazine at home or in
a waiting room, when we watch TV. Therefore, it is important to learn to be media savvy.
Being media savvy means knowing how to look critically at the images and messages in
the media. It means understanding that media are created through conscious, specific
decision-making processes that are primarily part of for-profit ventures. It also means
being less vulnerable to manipulation by the media. Below are ten ways to be media savvy.
- Step inside the minds of media image creators
Study the ways that images in the media are created, realizing that the people who create
these images want to make you feel and think a certain way so that you will buy their
products and consequently further their cause or fatten their pocketbook. They may not
have your best interest at heart.
If you are a parent, study media literacy with your children. Decoding commercials is a
fun and educational way to tune in to what is happening on television. Inquire whether
media literacy is being taught at your child's school. Media literacy can be taught to all
- Do not believe that all the images you see are real
Seeing is not believing! Be a skeptical consumer. Remember that supermodels only look like cover girls after
meticulous make-up application, manicuring and coiffing; indeed, many models undergo plastic surgery to obtain the so-called ideal body. In addition, photographs are often computer-enhanced and this makes it difficult to know what is real in what you see. Because of the impact of
technology in representing - and often inventing - reality, seeing is no longer believing.
- Listen to your gut reactions
Stay connected with your gut reaction to images. The media are often about trying to get
you to feel a certain way so that you will buy a certain product. If looking at a fashion
magazine leaves you feeling depressed, do not just run to the mall to go shopping. Pay
attention to your feelings.
Ask yourself whether you are receiving depressing messages that make you believe you need
to look different in order to be successful and loved. Think about canceling your
subscription to a magazine that makes you feel bad about yourself. Try subscribing to a
magazine that doesn't have commercial ads (for example, New Moon, Teen Voices, or Ms.) and that is more empowering and uplifting to read.
- Step back and rationally evaluate image claims
Marketing and image making are very often about money - your money! Every ad you see
represents a point of view (why you need a certain product), a pocketbook (yours), and a
desire on the advertiser's part to prevail (for you to buy the product). Look at what
images are symbolically trying to sell to you. Will you really have a perfect life if you
buy one brand of jeans over another?
- Do not fall into the trap of never-ending material
Enough is enough! We live in a culture of consumption in which it is very difficult to
know when you have enough. Part of the marketing game is to play on our human
vulnerability, to make us think that we need more "stuff" on the outside to feel
that we are good enough on the inside.
Having friends who love us and living a balanced, healthy life in which we define who we
are and what matters to us from the inside are more important. This feeling can seem
impossible to develop when you pass a car with a bumper sticker that says, "Whoever
dies with the most toys wins."
- Learn the truth about dieting and dieting ads
The diet industry is one of the few industries that do not have to comply with
truth-in-advertising laws. This means that the advertisements located at the back of
women's magazines that read, "This diet helped me lose 150 pounds in 150 days!"
do not have to tell you if, for instance, the two bodies actually belong to the same head
or that approximately 98% of non-medically-supervised fad diets fail.
Moreover, most diets cause women to end up with a net gain in weight, as well as with new
health problems along the way. What you can be sure of is that the consumer lost not
weight, but money by paying for the program; and she likely lost her spirit in
the demoralizing process of yo-yo dieting.
Recognize the mixed messages implicit in media displays such as the one to your right, which headlines both weight control and rich desserts. Remind yourself that it is important to eat a variety of foods and to avoid extremes.
- Do not believe stereotypes
Watch out for gender stereotypes that make you think you must have a perfect body in order
to get a perfect boyfriend, and that once that happens you will be perfectly happy and
have a perfect life. Think about the people who hug you at Thanksgiving, about
people you love and respect, and about real people with real lives that you admire.
- Understand that "weightism" is a form of prejudice similar to racism
Look at the ways in which this prejudice is communicated through the media. With
"weightism," people are judged by the size and shape of their bodies. This is
similar to racism, when people are judged by the color of their bodies. Weightism
idealizes people who come in tall, thin bodies and looks down on people who come in short,
Weightism is reinforced by media messages that if you "work on your body" you
can dramatically alter its size and shape. Realize that the most powerful determinant of
your size is your genes! Realize that only 5% of the female population is genetically
predisposed to look like today's fashion models. This means that 95% of us are left out of
- Identify media message myths
Learn to identify the myths in media messages. Here are some examples that have to do with
- "If I look perfect, I'll feel perfect."
- "Thin is good, fat is bad."
- "We have tons (!) of control over our body shape and size."
- "You are what you look like."
- Actively practice self-acceptance
Practice the radical act of body- and self-acceptance. When you wake up, start your day
with a loving check-in with your body. Give yourself a booster shot to inoculate yourself
against sickening cultural messages that will leave you feeling bad about yourself.
Do not bond with others through "fat talk." When you hear friends putting
themselves down because of their looks, help them stop. As the Eating Disorders Awareness
Program recommends, "Don't weigh your self-esteem!"
Feel free to visit Be Your Own Best
Spread from magazine
I Believe In: Poppy Thomas-Hill
Shoes, Shoes, Shoes
"DIET UR 2 FAT"
"Which is it? Eat or Lose Weight?"
"Beauty Magazines Make My Girlfriend Feel Ugly"
"Central Park, Memorial Day 2009"
This page was last updated on September 16, 2011.