Navigating the digital world comes with its own unique set of pressures. It can be challenging to understand how media can contribute to weight concerns. With the widespread use of social media platforms, it is becoming increasingly important to recognize potential triggers.

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is an approach rooted in the education field with a strong grassroots heritage. It has been used to teach young people how to consume and critique the media around them (Jolls & Wilson, 2014).

There are five core principles of media literacy: authorship, format, audience, content, and purpose. With these principles from the Center for Media Literacy (CML), we can critique media messages centered on bodies (Jolls & Wilson, 2014). When consuming media (e.g., television, advertisements, social media posts), we can consider the following questions: Who created this message? What techniques are being used to capture and hold my attention? How might different people interpret this message differently? What values, lifestyles, and points of view are included and excluded from this message? Why is this message being sent?

Why does it matter?

We are constantly consuming targeted, curated media meant to capture our attention and influence us – usually to buy something or shape how we feel. It can be difficult to get a sense of what is real.

How does this connect to weight concerns and body image?

People (and companies) want to put out their “best” so they can attract their target audience, show them ads, and influence purchases. In their systematic review, McLean et al. (2016) found that many academic articles suggest that people who actively use their media literacy skill set are less likely to be dissatisfied with their body. With media literacy tools, we can question for whom content is made, who it benefits, and how it makes us feel.

So what now?


  • Craft your feed wisely. Be discerning about where (and from whom) you get your information.
  • Be mindful of content that seems “healthy” but perpetuates diet culture or has a Health Halo. There is little (financial) incentive for people to be completely honest. We typically see the best of the best.
  • Do a media review. Think about how you would like to feel. What can be kept? What can be let go for now? What can be let go for a long while? What brings you joy?


Jolls, T., & Wilson, C. (2014). The core concepts: Fundamental to media literacy yesterday,  today and tomorrow. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 6(2), 68-78. Retrieved from

McLean, S. A., Paxton, S. J., & Wertheim, E. H. (2016). The role of media literacy in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating: A systematic review. Body Image, 19, 9–23.

By: Bridgette Agbozo

Bridgette is a 1st year MSW student at the School of Social Work, UNC-Chapel Hill. This is their first year as a research assistant in the Living F.R.E.E. Lab.

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