Idealized Media and Its Resulting Unrealistic Expectations

Advertising shows idealized images (Irving, 1990). Editing and modern recordings also present similar idealized and unattainable standards. This project sets out to examine how today’s modern media culture in music has changed our musical climate. This branch of the project draws on ideas about advertising media and how it affects the self-image of women from “Mirror Images: Effects of the Standard of Beauty of the Self and Body-Esteem of Women Exhibiting Varying Levels of Bulimic Symptoms” by Lori Irving (1990) in connection with how modern recordings could be connected to expectations and modern music.

So, why compare the circumstances of modern music media to modern advertising media? Music surrounds us constantly and is almost always manipulated and edited using editing software and other technologies. I searched for something else in our daily lives that also surrounds us and is heavily edited. Advertising media fit these criteria. Advertising media is also something that we are all familiar with and because of this, it provides a relatable framework for my ideas. It’s everywhere we go and tries to express something to us just like music does. My next step was to compare the effects of the two using work on advertising media and self-esteem published by Irving (1990).

An idea central to this project is that constant media bombardment with almost flawless recordings has created a musical climate in which anything less than perfection is considered undesirable by the listener and is also often cleaned up by technological means by the music producer. This circumstance is similar to the mindset of women involved in Irving’s study who reported differing degrees of bulimia (Irving, 1990). Both the ideas of Irving and the core of this project begin from the same hypothesis: that constant exposure to unrealistic and idealized media results in unrealistic expectations (Irving, 1990).

Irving worked with women who were showing various degrees of bulimic symptoms and explored how various influences (friends, family, media) affected their opinions of themselves (Irving, 1990). Participants in Irving’s study were shown images of different women and then were asked to complete a survey that gave Irving data on their opinions of themselves (Irving, 1990). Irving’s findings are very significant and relate to the findings of this project because they both show that manipulated media can affect how we view ourselves and the world around us (1990).

Irving explored several potential areas of influence that could have affected the participants in her study including pressure from family, friends and media. However, Irving’s finding about which of these factors had the most influence is telling


All subjects experienced the greatest pressure to be thin from media. (Irving, pg. 239).


If advertising media has the power to effect something as central to a human as self-esteem why couldn’t edited music do the same thing to our musical climate and culture?

Our musical culture and the advertising conditions that Irving (1990) works with are both artificial. What’s in the mainstream in both cases is unrealistic perfection. Musical recordings are edited and manipulated and spliced together just like beauty advertisements are retouched, airbrushed and photoshopped. Both cases present unrealistic expectations to us and both cases also result in a change in our attitudes about the world around us (Irving, 1990).

Irving also reports that some inconsistent findings in the study could have been related to previous exposure to images of idealized women and advertising outside of her study (Irving, 1990). Irving cites previous experience with falsified images because she acknowledges that repeated exposure to unrealistic expectations can change what we think about ourselves and the world around us (Irving, 1990).

We’re just as surrounded by music media as we are by advertising media. Music, just like modern advertising, is manipulated and presents unrealistic expectations and surrounds us almost constantly. The editor’s ability to manipulate a solo often far outweighs the musician’s ability to project their solo clearly, just like the advertiser’s photo editing software is far stronger than the average woman’s ability to make herself appear more attractive. These unrealistic expectations of music exemplified in modern media, instead of being involved in how we feel about ourselves like Irving’s work concludes about advertising media and women’s self-esteem, would most likely effect our opinions of musicians who would be compared to the edited and manipulated recordings from mainstream media.

Irving’s participants began to judge themselves more harshly after being exposed to the media around them (1990) and changes in our musical climate could be argued to be parallel to this phenomenon.

The average musician works very hard to make his or her work seem just as flawless as advertising tries to make women look natural, easy and flawless. In musical reality, even the slowest passages in music require not just technical ability but tone control, breath support, the appropriate timbre, intonation and many other skills. Today’s editing practices make making flawless music look easy and common without doing the work involved in the real thing. This has created an environment where what’s dominant and surrounding us is falsified yet is still shaping our ideas and expectations of musicians and their creations. The world of media, both shown by Irving (1990) and as explained here, is too highly manipulated and too far removed from the world of real people and real music to teach us anything meaningful about ourselves, our culture or our music.

Literature Cited

 Irving, Lori M. “Mirror Images: Effects of the Standard of Beauty on the Self- and Body-Esteem of Women Exhibiting Varying Levels of Bulimic Symptoms.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9.2 (1990): 230-42. ProQuest. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

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