Today in news sure to shock absolutely no female, groundbreaking new research suggests that we love to hate magazines who fed us a steady diet of overly photoshopped, super-skinny models. We might even unconsciously use the models as thinspiration.
But can being fed such a diet actually improve what we think of our own bodies? I want to say “oh hell no,” unless we’re talking models so worryingly thin that I’m
thinspired to eat the chip crumbs off my own shirt. But this study suggests it might be more complicated than that.
The study appears online in the journal Health Communication, and involved 51 female college students. Rather than having these young women consume only images, they were also given accompanying text in the form of magazine articles and advertisements. 16 pages of ads and articles were viewed per day over five days to more accurately reflect how we consume magazines. They were then asked questions about their reaction to the pages and their own body satisfaction, along with “self-improvement” questions such as “I would like my body to look like this woman’s body.”
At the beginning of the study, Professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, who helmed the experiment, collected data on the women’s magazine reading habits, their body mass index, body satisfaction levels, and their tendency to compare their physical appearance to that of others. At the end of the study they were also grilled on their dieting habits during the study. What she found, unsurprisingly, was that most of the women changed their diet habits. “Social comparison for self-evaluation makes these women less happy with how they look and more likely to want to diet,” she claims. “They look at the models in the magazines and think, ‘this person is so much thinner than I am; I should skip a meal’.”
Now for the weird part: the women who identified closely with statements such as “I would like my body to look like this woman’s body” actually rated their own body satisfaction as beinghigher. The prof. suggests that this is because over time we begin to affiliate with the models, thinking they are people we could like and be like. This is what marks the shift from hate-reading to #thinspo. “These women felt better about their own bodies because they imagined that they could look just like the models they saw in the magazines.”
I’m going to take this with a grain of salt, a) because it’s in the Daily Mail and b) because we aren’t told which “top women’s magazines” they’re digesting. Obviously wellness-themed mags like Self, which still prominently highlight the technical skills of their photoshopping department, are going to send out more YOU CAN DO THIS vibes than Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, which are a slightly different type of aspirational.
But, it is a useful warning about how we become unconsciously assimilated to unrealistic images of female bodies over time. The study was only five days long, so an extended period of time hanging out with two-dimensional BFFs constructed almost entirely on a computer screen is probably not going to be good for your mental health. These women are not going to be fun brunch dates.
And in case you were wondering, no, the women in the study did not lose any weight due to being “thinspired.” So you might as well save that subscription money for something that willactually make you feel good — like Beyoncé’s upcoming aethleisure Topshop collection.
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