Figures show that British teenagers spend an average of five hours a day in front of a screen. This includes televisions, computers and phones - the majority of which provide access to the media. For those who don’t spend hours glued to a screen, in its place there are magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. As the World Wide Web expands, the media is becoming more accessible. While this allows people to access news and information more easily, there is also an incredibly damaging side effect: the impact of the media on the mental and physical health of young people; in particular, on their body image.

Between 600,000 and 725,000 people in the UK are affected by some form of eating disorder. Officially, there is no overarching reason for this, but an undeniably large influence on a person’s discomfort with their appearance, and development an eating disorder, is the media. The average fashion model (seen on advertisements, magazines and displayed all over social media) is a size six or eight while the average British woman is – and this may surprise you - a size 16. This unrealistic portrayal of body image sets an impractical expectation for young women and leads to low self-esteem.

In addition to this, adding to the false body image is the fact that many photos of models are heavily edited. The outcome of this is simple: fake photos which set unrealistic expectations. Photos that aren’t even real are allowed to be published in order to encourage people to buy something or follow a trend when, realistically, that look will never be achieved because it simply doesn’t exist. The effect of this portrayal of the ideal body has effects that are more far-reaching than we realise. We have a tendency to trust things we see on social media and a barrage of images of perfect women with perfect hair and skin encourages feelings of inadequacy. The body image being portrayed seldom looks like the people the advertisement is aimed at. This can then lead to serious repercussions, such as the development of eating disorders. The media care more about earning money and gaining popularity than the physical and mental well-being of society.

Although people of all ages are affected by this form of false advertising, it has an especially strong grasp on the teenage population. Being a teenager is already a time of having fragile self-esteem, and often a lot of confidence issues exist around body image. Everyone wants to look like the skinny model they follow on Instagram or the cover girl of their favourite magazine. Naturally, we always compare ourselves to others; the problem lies where those others are just a product of Photoshop and the determination to achieve this ideal look goes too far. Figures show that 60% of adults say they are unhappy with their appearance; cosmetic surgery rates have gone up by 20% since 2008. I spoke to 15 year old Uma Lawson who told me, ‘the pictures I see every day on social media and in magazines make girls in my age range think they have to look like’ and she went on to tell me that consequently ‘their self-esteem is instantly damaged by these fake images’. Young women are not the only ones falsely represented by the media: the image of aging is also portrayed unrealistically. Advertisements of aging creams and remedies show older women with perfect, tight, clear skin. This just isn’t realistic. There is no escaping time, and it is shocking that our society expects women to try to do so.

The stigma exists also for men, with the expectancy for them to follow the masculine expectation of being tall and muscular. Magazines and social media’s depiction of male body image does not signify the true body composition of the majority of men.

With levels of eating disorders increasing and more and more people lacking confidence in their body, this issue is only getting worse. Running alongside this, models are becoming less and less realistic and the technology of enhancing photos is rapidly developing. Unless action is taken to stop false body image portrayal, we need to educate young people on how the images they see all around them in everyday life are simply not real. If this doesn’t work, we can only expect to see the mental and physical health of the future generation deteriorating speedily.