The subject of media’s impact on women has been a big issue for several years now. However, how does self esteem or one’s concept of oneself really develop? Does the media really have any influence on this? No, the media does not influence women’s development of self image. Women’s self-images come from a number of internal sources, including their natural role as nurturers, how their needs are met, and other personal things.
First of all, a person develops as a part of a family. A little girl will learn, based on her family’s actions, to either trust or mistrust peoples’ intentions, as per Erik Erikson’s series of crises. This will tell her, in time, whether she is worthy of positive attention or not. If she is worthy of positive attention, then she will begin to develop good self esteem and a positive self image. If, however, her family is cold or neglectful towards her, she will develop a negative self image and poor self esteem.
As the girl grows into a teenager, these early experiences will prove far more important than any outside sources. A teen who was raised in a loving household will be far more likely to have a positive self image than one who was not. This has nothing to do with the media, only with personal influences. As the teen grows into a woman, she will come to see her role in life based on these experiences. If her experiences were positive, she will see herself in a positive light, and will probably want to give to others. If her experiences were negative, she may be selfish and will see herself in a negative light.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will affect a woman’s self esteem, too. A woman who cannot even get her basic needs met, or who hasn’t had them met since childhood (food, water, shelter) will develop a negative self concept, because she may believe she was not worthy of anything. She will also be far more concerned about getting these needs met than anything else, which doesn’t allow for higher needs. If a woman’s need for love and belongingness aren’t met (through friends, family, lovers, etc.), she may also have a lower self-esteem.
A woman who has many friends and loved ones, who is well liked, will have a higher self esteem. A woman who is having all of her needs met and who is striving towards self-actualization should have very high self esteem, because she feels fulfilled in all areas of her life, and is able to strive towards betterment all the time. This also allows for a solid self concept.
Women who have met challenges in their lives and won will tend to have higher self esteem than those who have not been challenged or who have lost. A woman who has always had good friends, who has always had her needs met, and who has always excelled in some area will have a much better self concept than one who has had few friends, has sometimes not had her needs met, and has infrequently, if ever excelled at anything. These individual influences determine much more about a person’s self esteem than does anything as elusive as the media.
Women traditionally have a role as nurturers. Even if an individual woman does not necessarily feel like a nurturer, this will still have to play into her identity as a woman. A woman who accepts her role as a nurturer and a caregiver will likely be less conflicted, and more likely to have high self esteem. A woman who is a nurturer is meeting her role in society and in life, and therefore would feel more fulfilled. A woman who is not a nurturer may feel guilty, and may have lower self esteem. Some women who are not nurturing are able to get beyond their feelings of guilt and be happy and have high self esteem anyway, but it is a conflict that almost all women must face in their lives.
Outside sources are not nearly as important to women as their own internal conflicts and their personal lives. A woman who is secure in her family and friends, and in her own power (as an individual with intelligence and talent) is less likely to care what the media or any ‘unknown’ source says. The media may portray women any way they wish, but women who have a solid personal life are not going to be swayed by it. Women who, on the other hand, do not have a strong self concept, are probably also not swayed by the media. They already feel like they are bad, stupid, ugly, etc., and what the media portrays is not going to change that, either. Outside sources are not big influences.
With all of the internal sources, it is clear that the development of self esteem is a lifelong process, one that starts in very young children and continues into adulthood. People who have their needs consistently met and who face challenges and win them will develop healthy self esteem. Those who do not have their needs met or who lose challenges will not develop healthy self esteem. This happens regardless of anything that goes on in the media. In general, people vastly overestimate the importance of the media in the development of self esteem. It is assumed that the media can actually change anything in a girl’s life, when in reality, her own life experiences are what guides her in developing her self esteem and self concept.
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