Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

BOARD CERTIFIED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST • RESEARCHER • AUTHOR • SPEAKER

cortney warren

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

BOARD CERTIFIED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST • RESEARCHER • AUTHOR • SPEAKER

Self-Deception and the Mass Media

Media and Self DeceptionWe don’t often think about how profoundly the mass media influences the lies we tell ourselves. On television, in movies, and in advertisements, we are fed information about who we should be in our culture.

As a woman living in mainstream American culture, for example, attaining the perfect appearance is fundamental to our value. Specifically, we need to look eternally 18 years old with perfect skin, big eyes surrounded by long eyelashes, white teeth, and a very thin yet feminine figure. If we do not meet this ideal and are deemed unattractive, there is nothing we can do to make-up for it.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot be smart enough, funny enough, nice enough to compensate for our imperfect looks—we will never be as valuable as the “beautiful woman” sitting next to us.

As a man living in mainstream American culture, your gender-role is most tied to money, intelligence, and your physical strength. Not only do you need to be muscular and fit, but you also need to make a lot of money, be educated, and be smart. Although you have slightly more flexibility than women around how to be culturally valuable—you can be valued for your money or brains instead of just your physical appearance—you are still evaluated and scrutinized on the basis of these culturally imposed characteristics.

From a very early age, we begin learning what is most valued in our culture for our sex. Walk down the aisle of toys at any major store. What does the girls section look like? What does the boys section look like? Even a cursory glance shows that girls should be princesses dressed in pink tiaras, while boys should be strong, car-loving men of action, dressed in military fatigues.

Over time, we consciously and unconsciously internalize these cultural norms, evaluating ourselves and others in comparison to them.  Usually without conscious awareness, we grow up trying to emulate whatever culture deems to be most valuable because we all want to be desired, loved, and wanted.

In fact, the goal of most mass marketing and consumerism is to make us feel badly about ourselves. We are encouraged to lie to ourselves about our true value because the worse we feel, the more we will buy! For after convincing us that we are less than ideal, the media will offer us endless products that claim to fix our prescribed faults. For example, if marketers convince us that we are not good-looking enough and then offer us products to fix our flawed appearance—make-up, anti-aging products, dieting aids, hair growth serums, plastic surgery—we are more likely to buy them.

A large body of research suggests that the mass media is doing an exceptional job of making us feel badly about ourselves. As we internalize cultural values and ideals of appearance, we become more dissatisfied with ourselves. That leads us to spend enormous amounts of our personal resources—including money, time, and energy—trying to fix our flaws.

The Naked Truth is this: We need to become more critical consumers of the mass media. We need to think about the messages that we learn from a very early age about what makes us valuable or not valuable. As we become more aware of our surroundings and the cultural messages we learned, we must determine whether we aspire to be a certain way because we believe it is right or because we were culturally conditioned to believe it is right. The next time you watch television or a movie, ask yourself: What messages is this show promoting about my fundamental value as a human being? Have I internalized this message? If so, perhaps it is time to change.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

Selected References:

Cafri, G., Yamamiya, Y., Brannick, M., & Thompson, J. K. (2005). The influence of sociocultural factors on body image: a meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Science and Practice, 12(4), 421–433. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpi053

Thompson, J. Kevin, Heinberg, Leslie J., Altabe, Madeline, & Tantleff-Dunn, Stacey (1999). Exacting beauty: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment of Body Image Disturbance. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

Exposed to a diversity of cultures and lifestyles from an early age, Dr. Warren was intrigued by the ways cultural and environmental conditions affected the psychological well-being of individuals, groups, and even whole societies.

5 Comments

  1. Karen Warren on March 21, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    This blog is such a concise, insightful and helpful commentary on how the mass media influences the lies we tell ourselves!

  2. Sara on April 2, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Such immediate and applicable insight! This is a great reminder not to internalize all the messages we hear on a daily basis from the media, and to challenge the limits and comparisons we set for ourselves based on societal pressures communicated through the media.

  3. Lianda Ludwig on April 6, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    The Diet Industry also benefits from selling a product that fails 95% of the time. Diets fail – dieters don’t! Eat less and exercise more is a HOAX designed to keep people coming back.

    The media is actually creating a generation of sickly, starving young women all for their monetary gain. More people die from anorexia nervosa than any other mental illness.

    We need to JUST SAY NO to conforming to ridiculous and unattainable standards of beauty. This should an major focus of Feminism.

  4. Dr. Deah on April 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Well done! Such an important topic! Thanks for writing this!

  5. ASUstudent on April 29, 2014 at 4:00 am

    CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG BUT THE PURPOSE OF MEDIA IS CONTROL? WE WATCH TELEVISION AND SEE THE HAPPY THINGS IN LIFE ON THE REGULAR SHOWS. THEN THE NEWS COMES ON AND YOU SEE THE CRIMINALS WHO ARE PREDOMINANTLY MINORITIES, YOU SEE THE WAR IN OTHER COUNTRIES; THE ETERNAL WAR ON TERROR, OR YOU SEE THE HELPLESS COUNTRIES THAT NEED OUR HELP AWW. “MANUFACTURING CONSENT IS THE NAME OF THE GAME…”. THERE IS A DOCUMENTARY ON NETFLIX CALLED “ZEITGEIST” IF YOU QUESTION RELIGION OR “ETHOS” IF YOUR STANCE ON RELIGION IS STRONG. IT’S ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE, I LIKED IT, LIKE MEDIA AGAINST MEDIA.

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