4.4.0: Influences on Self-Perception

Recall from our earlier discussion of self-concept that we develop a sense of who we are based on what is reflected back on us from other people. While interactions we have with individuals and groups are definitely important to consider, we must also note the other influences on our self-perception. In this section, we will examine how family and the media play a role in shaping who we think we are and how we feel about ourselves.


4.4.1: Family Influences

Various forces help socialize us into our respective social and cultural groups and play a powerful role in presenting us with options about who we can be. While we may like to think that our self-perception starts with a blank canvas, our perceptions are limited by our experiences and various cultural identities. Feedback that we get from significant others, which includes close family, can shape our self-perception and self-esteem in significant ways and lead to either positive or negative views of self (Hargie, 2011). For example, a parent who constantly criticizes their child about their weight or looks may cause the child to internalize a negative self-perception. On the other hand, a parent who praises their child will more likely have a child with a positive self-perception. However, it is important to note that too much praise can lead people to have a misguided sense of their abilities.

4.4.2: Media

Although most people recognize that media has an effect on others, people often mistakenly believe they are not personally influenced. However, the representations we see in the media do affect our self-perception. The vast majority of media images include idealized representations of attractiveness and physical abilities. Despite the fact that the images of people we see in glossy magazines and on T.V. shows are not typically what we see when we look at the people around us in a classroom, at work, or at the grocery store, many of us continue to hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard of beauty and attractiveness. Movies, magazines, and television shows are filled with beautiful people, and less attractive actors, when they are present in the media, are typically portrayed as the butt of jokes, villains, or only as background extras (Patzer, 2008). Aside from overall attractiveness, the media also offers narrow representations of acceptable body weight. Researchers have found that only 12 percent of prime-time characters are overweight, which is dramatically less than the national statistics for obesity among the actual US population (Patzer, 2008). 

In terms of self-concept, media representations offer us guidance on what is acceptable or unacceptable and valued or not valued in our society. Mediated messages, in general, reinforce cultural stereotypes related to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, and class. People from historically marginalized groups must look much harder than those in the dominant groups to find positive representations of their identities in media. As a critical thinker, it is important to question media messages and to examine who is included and who is excluded. Advertising in particular encourages people to engage in social comparison, regularly communicating to us that we are inferior because we lack a certain product or that we need to change some aspect of our life to keep up with and be similar to others. For example, advertising targeted to women instills in them a fear of becoming old or unattractive, selling products to keep skin tight and clear, which will in turn will make them happy.

Back to: I.C.A.T Interpersonal Communication Abridged Textbook > Chapter 4: Identity and Perception of Self