The impact of sexualized media on body image and self-esteem

The Impact of Sexualized Media on Body Image and Self-Esteem

In today’s world, media plays an increasingly prominent role in shaping how young adults understand self-image and body image. As media – especially in its digital form – has become a part of our lives, so too has the prevalence of sexualized media, which has direct implications for how youth view and perceive their own bodies.

Sexualized Media and Body Image

There is a long history of media representations of the male and female body. In recent years, these representations have become increasingly sexualized, ranging from seemingly-innocuous images of men and women in bikinis and underwear to more explicit pornographic images of people engaged in sexual activities. It is important to distinguish between media that features healthy representations of sex as an act of love and respect and media that objectifies people as sexual objects. Objectification of the body, as well as unrealistic body ideals, has been linked to issues of self-esteem in men and women, especially among the young, who are particularly vulnerable to negative media effects.

Effects On Mental Health

Young people are particularly vulnerable to negative body image issues and self-esteem due to sexualized media. Exposure to images of airbrushed models or athletes with perfectly toned physical appearance can lead people to form unrealistic body ideals, leading to a negative self-image and body dissatisfaction, poor self-esteem and depression, and even to eating disorders.

Managing Exposure To Sexualized Media

Given the prevalence of sexualized media and its negative effects, it’s important for parents, teachers, and caregivers to help young people manage their exposure to such media. Here are a few tips:

  • Set limits – adult caregivers should set limits on the amount of time and type of media that young people are exposed to, along with appropriate filters and guidelines on the types of content they are allowed to watch or access.
  • Encourage critical thinking – it is important to encourage young people to think critically about what they see in the media and how it affects their body image and self-esteem. This can be done through conversations and discussions about how media impacts us and what media messages are healthy versus unhealthy.
  • Promote self-acceptance – caregivers should encourage young people to find the beauty in the diversity of bodies and support them in learning to accept and love their bodies, regardless of the unrealistic ideals promoted in the media.

Ultimately, with the rise of social media and its prevalence in the lives of young people, it is more important than ever to be aware of the effects of sexualized media and to take proactive steps to protect young people from its negative implications.


  • Burling, Emily. (2018). The influence of media on body image and self-esteem. Psychology Today. Accessed from:
  • Barlett, Christina P. and Wagner, Patricia L. (2018). Mass-Media Influences: Media Images and Impact on Health. The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology. Accessed from:

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