What kind of media makes an impact on girls’ body image?

Do magazine diet articles make an impact on girls’ body image?

In a 2007 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Minnesota suggest that when teen girls read articles about diet and weight loss, it could have unhealthy consequences years later.

Magazines feature impossibly thin supermodels next to “back-to-school” diet plans and tips for getting your body into “bikini-bearing” shape. Cover headlines scream; “50 Shortcuts to a Sexier Body” (Glamour) or “6 Ways to Thin — Easy Diets That Really Work” (Allure)

Articles might say “Embrace your curves” but the retouched photos of ultra thin models tell a different story. Suffice to say, some advertisers have their hands in more than one cookie jar.

Who was in the study? 2,516 middle school students that were surveyed, weighed and measures in 1999 and again in 2004. About 55% were girls.

The Scoop: Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles. This result was not influenced by whether the girls were considered “overweight” by medical standards or if the girls believed weight to be important to them.

Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.

“Forty-one percent of adolescent females report that magazines are their most important source of information on dieting and health, and 61 percent of adolescent females read at least one fashion magazine regularly,” –Eric Stice, Ph.D

The problem: Girls are being duped, but they don’t know it. Studies show that the average fashion model is much taller than the average woman—but weighs about 23% (one-fifth) less. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, while the average woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds, the average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. On top of already being think, advertisers and publishers use retouching techniques to make models seem even thinner and taller.

Note: Other studies have found that 69% of girls feel that magazine models influence their idea of the perfect shape (Field et al). Other statistics show similar body image problems, such as

the modeling industry standards suggest women should have waists no larger than 25″ and hips no larger than 35 1/2 inches, they also recommend measurements of 34-24-34;

women’s magazines have 10.5 times more ads and articles about weight loss then do men’s magazines;

60%+ of college students feel worse after reading magazines;

changes found in magazines between 1970 and 1990 include increase emphasis on fitness for attractiveness and a decrease in the model hip to waist ratio (becoming less curvy);

1 out of every 3.8 commercials sends a message about attractiveness;

the average person sees between 400-600 ads per day;

7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV

Do music video models make an impact on girls’ body image?

Researchers from the University of Sussex, leader by Dr Helga Dittmar, found that the use of ultra-thin models in music videos can lead girls to develop poor body image. The article was published in the Journal of Body Image.

Who was in the study? 87 girls ages 16-19 years were put in random groups. A third watched music videos featuring the Pussycat Dolls and Girls Aloud, known for being thin and attractive. Another third listened but did not watch the music videos. The final groups was asked only to learn a list of neutral words. All three groups were asked questions that asked them to recall what they heard or watched. Answers measured levels of self esteem, body satisfaction and mood.

The Scoop: After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.

The Problem: Girls look to these music video icons as what they should aspire to be. Seeing very thin celebrities can make the girls feel “less then” and make them wonder how they can ever look like their heroes. Girls are tending towards dieting, poor eating, and other more extreme weight loss behaviors.

Media is all around us. We see it everyday even when we don’t seek it out. The portrayal of very thin models, actresses, singers, and entertainers does indeed have an impact on the ways girls see themselves and their bodies.

Let’s help them-

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38 Responses

  1. Wow, this is so scary. Especially since, like you pointed out, it’s there even when we aren’t looking for it.

  2. Ambient advertising is HUGE in this realm…from billboards to avatars to dancing DDR silhouettes that are ‘wallpaper’ to kids’ eyes…not to mention more overt Victoria’s Secret mall displays straddling chair poses in garters and such…(gee, can you tell I write about this a lot??? So glad you’re coming aboard Shaping Youth!)

    —Ever notice how digital depictions online are even ‘mid-riff/hip-hugger, buxom body styles? From magazines to in-game representation, the ‘so sexy so soon’ sexualization message is coming through loud & clear. (which reminds me, fyi, the CCFC gang is speaking in Philly in June re: BOYS and girls alike, and how it tweaks their self-image: http://www.pointpark.edu/default.aspx?id=1902

    Oh! I think we should cross-post this as #2 in a ‘series’ for you next to introduce readers to you at Shaping Youth beyond the inaugural one as it’s sooooooooo relevant for our audience, AND our Preteen Alliance talk on 5/1 with the health pros…(excellent complement to all of our posts under our ‘body image’ category overall! ) Thoughts?!

    Hope to get the other one up today!! –Amy

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