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Body image

Images of body sizes influences perception of own body size

The outcomes suggest that a move towards using images of women with a BMI in the healthy range in the media may help to reduce body dissatisfaction, and the associated risk of eating disorders

A team of UK researchers has found that when women of ‘normal’ weight look at pictures of skinny women they feel less positive about their own bodies, according to the outcomes of two experiments they conducted with volunteers. Anecdotal evidence has suggested that negative body image is increased when women compare themselves to other, skinnier women, and some research has suggested that thinner-than-average women in advertising has a negative impact on women in general.

As a result, the researchers sought to test this notion by asking female volunteers to rate their bodies and then to look at pictures of other women. Afterward, each was given chocolate to eat and asked to rate their own body again. The paper, ‘Effects of exposure to bodies of different sizes on perception of and satisfaction with own body size: two randomized studies’, was published in Royal Society Open Science, by researchers from the universities of Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Birmingham and UCL, London.

The researchers ran two experiments. In the first, 90 young women with ‘normal’ bodies (those with a BMI22–23 range) were broken into three groups and looked at photographs of women of different sizes. The women in the photographs were actually the same women in the images from the first session - the team manipulated the images to make them look thinner or heavier. They also tested the degree of body dissatisfaction in the volunteers by measuring how much chocolate each of the volunteers consumed afterward.

The second experiment was identical to the first, except that only volunteers who self-identified as having high body dissatisfaction were included. They were also followed up a day later.

The researchers report that the women in both groups were more critical of their own bodies after viewing pictures of skinny women, but not after viewing ‘normal’ sized or heavier women. In fact, the women reported seeing their own bodies and those of others of ‘normal’ weight as being smaller in the latter cases. They also found no change in the amount of chocolate eaten regardless of what the women viewed.

The researchers suggest their findings indicate that advertisers using images of abnormally thin women contribute to body dissatisfaction in women. The outcomes suggest that a move towards using images of women with a BMI in the healthy range in the media may help to reduce body dissatisfaction, and the associated risk of eating disorders.

“In conclusion, our results put forward a strong public health message that increasing the number of normal and larger women in the media may reduce levels of body dissatisfaction in the population, and thus would have the potential to reduce rates of weight gain, obesity and eating disorder,” the researchers conclude.

To access this paper, please click here

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