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Love Your Body, Step 1: Kill Your TV…or Watch C-SPAN

April 6, 2010


For most of my life I scoffed at the, “we don’t own a TV” crowd–I’m the girl who watched four hours straight of Millionaire Match Maker last year while sick in bed. I’m the girl who once sat crouched in my room, endlessly adjusting the broken rabbit ears on my 10″ TV, so that I could catch a few static-filled moments of Desperate House Wives.

My name is Terra, and I love TV. 

So how did my conversion take place? It wasn’t so much that I decided to kill my TV, rather, its life was sucked out through a phenomenon known as the “digital switch” (yeah, I never got around to the whole converter box thing). But as the weeks and months of less TV exposure dragged on, a funny thing happened: I became more content.

“What Happy People Don’t Do”

Research seems to validate my own experience: happy people watch less TV than unhappy people do. According to a study of 30,000 American adults, TV viewing was the only activity that had a negative correlation with happiness.  Although engaging in the behavior was rated as enjoyable by happy and unhappy people alike (why else would we watch it?), the positive effects on mood were not lasting: “TV may provide viewers with short-run pleasure, but at the expense of long-term malaise,” explained researcher John Robinson.

The study did not probe the “why” question, and we can all guess at contributing factors which could explain such a phenomenon. In my own “case study”, much of the relief came from reducing access to that toxic stimulus which had subconsciously shaped my sense of “normal”.

Doritos Assault

In television programing, “if it bleeds, it leads,” and “sex sells”. In other words, the world presented on TV is dangerous, depressing, unpredictable, and full of really, really, hot sluts. (Vote me off that island…now!)

Of course, this is all old news–no one expects TV to be a beacon of shining cultural light. But somehow, I imagined myself immune–or believed that the enjoyment of ritualistic TV viewing made up for whatever degrading messages were subtly beating me down.

The simple answer would seem to be “don’t watch trash!”, and indeed, discerning viewing habits are part of the answer, but the problem with today’s entertainment is that trash increasingly finds us. You may be watching a late-night olympic curling competition, or National Geographic’s special on “The Mating Habits of the Praying Mantis” with the very best of intentions, when BAM!, out of nowhere you are assaulted by a scantily clad chick selling Doritos.

As a woman you are thinking, how can I compete with that? As a man you are thinking…

Never mind.

According to Dennis Prager, this hit-and-run imagery has caused great harm to men, women, and society as a whole: “the ubiquity of soft porn on television, on MTV, in sitcoms, in movies, has actually been more destructive [than hard-core pornography]”. The pervasiveness and “acceptability” of soft porn makes it impossible to avoid, and therefore more difficult to stigmatize and eradicate.

Toxic Comparisons

Socially acceptable smut is bad enough, but add in the female tendency to compare ourselves with others, and it becomes downright poisonous.  Let’s forget about physical beauty for a moment, and consider intellect. The Mensa society is all about celebrating abnormal intelligence: to join the club, your IQ score must be in the top 2% of the population. Now imagine for a moment, that every actor, every model, every news anchor on TV was required to be a Mensa member. Regardless of how bright you are, it would not take long before you became keenly aware of your gaps in knowledge.

The same goes for physical appearance. It would probably be fair to say that only the top 2% of physically attractive and charismatic talent have a chance of ever appearing on television. Through the effects of lighting and computer graphics, these figures are then enhanced to further perfection. More power to them. But instead of thinking, “wow, that person is abnormally good-looking”, we let those unrealistic standards become the new average.

C-SPAN…or Un-plug?

Of course, TV viewing does not have the same effect on everyone, and the type of programing makes a difference as well. (The History Channel, and C-SPAN are not as likely to flaunt the same level of sexual “perfection” as Dancing with the Stars, and Superbowl ads).

Here’s a quick test: if you notice your self-esteem slowly sinking (and imagine your thigh measurements increasing) in direct correlation with how much TV you are watching, it’s time to pull the plug.

The trouble is that many of us cannot sense the full effect that these images have while we are still under the influence of entertainment. I, for one, did not comprehend my own susceptibility until the plug was pulled for me: it took TV abstinence before I could realize how deeply the lust-obsessed culture has pervaded my self-image.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2010 1:26 pm

    I had the exact same experience when I moved to a new area and didn’t have many friends. I was watching lots and lots of TV. About 3-5 hours a night, in fact. I found myself sinking further into solitude, and my self-image plummeted as well. I would stay up late for no other reason than to watch more TV. I would make plans around which TV shows were on that night.

    Then, I made friends. I started missing shows to hang out with them. I made other people the priority in my life. Slowly, my desire to watch TV faded. So much so that I now have a hard time watching a full hour of TV. My energy increased, my sensitivity to sin increased and my desire to read and spend time outside increased.

    Man, was I missing out on life! Thank God for the way he works in our lives to remove the junk and show us what’s truly important.

  2. hannahruthie permalink
    April 6, 2010 7:33 pm

    I always love reading your blogs!
    I haven’t had a tv all year at college and it is awesome!

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