Thin Models Cause Negative Body Image Problems


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A recent review of 25 studies with nearly 2,300 women confirmed that looking at pictures of thin models has a negative impact on body image compared with looking at pictures of average or large models, or inanimate objects. Women under the age of 19 and those who already felt less good about their body were worst affected by looking at the images of thin women.

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In one recent body image study, half of the 219 young women who took part were rewarded with a 15-month subscription to a teen women’s magazine. Overall, reading articles about losing weight and looking good had little effect on the group’s body image. But those who were dissatisfied with their appearance at the start of the study felt even worse about themselves by the time they’d read 15 issues of the magazine.

Those Who Internalise Socially Ideal Body Image

BAmong the most vulnerable are those who mentally ‘buy into’ – or internalise – socially defined ideals of attractiveness which are then reinforced by peer groups, families and role models, explains Dr Hill. People who internalise the thin-ideal are more likely to be dissatisfied with their own body, to diet and to develop bulimic symptoms. Also vulnerable are those who routinely compare themselves with people who are more attractive or thinner than themselves. These are often adolescent girls who perceive themselves as unattractive and are lacking in self esteem.

Positive Distortion of Body Image

Ironically, obese and overweight children who don’t care how they look may be able to provide some clues to helping those whose dissatisfaction about their body makes their life a misery. Some overweight children are remarkably resilient to society’s current obsession with thin, well toned bodies. They may blame their weight problem on factors beyond their control or they may discount its importance. Their perception of their size and shape may be distorted so they think they are thinner than they are. Helping vulnerable children to develop similar coping skills may make them more resilient to society’s pressures to be thin.

No Immunity from Body Image Feelings

Efforts to ‘immunise’ vulnerable young people against the impact of media images have focused on helping adolescents to analyse and become more aware of the messages contained in such images and to relate them to their own feelings and expectations. Such efforts may work in the short term, but the longer term outcomes are far less encouraging. Long term behavioural changes have been reported in only 3 out of 15 studies.

School Body Image Program

For example, in Australia, a school-based program tried to improve body image and self esteem amongst mainly girls aged 11-14. Initially, attitudes improved and only 2 percent of girls were dieting, compared to 8 percent of a control group who didn’t take part in the programme. But, a year later, there was a reversal, with 9 percent of the girls in the programme trying to lose weight compared to 6 percent of those in the control group.

Other studies have shown that it is possible to reduce internalisation of the thin-ideal but this doesn’t automatically change body dissatisfaction.

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