Social Comparisons, Reflected Appraisals, and Mass Media: The Impact of Pervasive Beauty Images on Black and White Girls' Self-Concepts

  • Milkie M
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Content analyses and experimental studies often indicate strong, usually negative effects of media on the self In contrast, qualitative work suggests that individuals may exercise considerable influence in selecting, interpreting and criticizing media content. This literature, however, does not adequately consider or specify how "interpreted" media content still might affect self-concept negatively. Incorporating social compari- son and reflected appraisal processes, this study shows how media affect self-esteem indirectly, despite criticism, through beliefs about how others use and are affected by media. In-depth interviews with 60 white and minority girls, complemented by quanti- tative measures from a larger study, help to clarify how girls are affected by promi- nent images of females pervasive in media. Most girls see the images as unrealistic; many prefer to see "real" girls. White girls, despite their criticism, are still harmed by the images because they believe that others find the images important and that others in the local culture, especially boys, evaluate them on the basis of these images. Minority girls do not identify with "white" media images, nor believe that significant others are affected by them; thus their critical interpretations succeed in thwarting negative feelings. The study increases our understanding of media effects on the self- concept and suggests that researchers consider how media images may be part of social comparison and reflected appraisal process

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  • Melissa A. Milkie

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