Psychological research has consistently shown that women feel unhappy with their body after looking at images of thin, idealized models, which are typically represented in the media. However, today’s consumer culture and media promote not only the ideal of perfect beauty, but also that of the material affluent lifestyle, both of which are commonly depicted together, and highlight the benefits of beauty and of owning material goods to one’s personal success and fame. A new study from the British Journal of Social Psychology is the first to examine the impact of materialistic messages and values – the desire for financial success and an affluent lifestyle on women’s feelings about their own body.
Lead author Eleni-Marina Ashikali: “Not all women are affected in the same way by looking at idealized media models, and it has therefore been important for research to identify factors that make some women more vulnerable than others to feeling negative about their body when exposed to such media images. We found that women focus more strongly on their appearance when materialistic values are highlighted momentarily to them through priming. At the same time, their awareness of how their bodies fall short of the idealized image is heightened during this priming process, particularly for women who are already materialistic. This means that the influence of materialism is a further factor that makes women more vulnerable to negative body image.”
This research suggests that materialism, both as an internalized value and as a depiction in the media, should be taken into account for media literacy interventions and policy changes in the advertising industry. Ashikali: “Women would benefit from gaining greater awareness of current marketing strategies, as well as becoming more critical of the images and messages conveyed by materialistic media. Our work highlights the need for less emphasis on materialistic messages in the marketing of goods and products, as well as on the promised unrealistic benefits of owning a particular good.”
Full citation: “The Effect of Priming Materialism on Women’s Responses to Thin-Ideal Media.” Eleni-Marina Ashikali & Helga Dittmar. British Journal of Social Psychology. Published Online: April 5, 2011 (DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2011.02020.x).