A recent study suggests that viewing ideal female body types can initially provide improved body image satisfaction. However, some notable behavior changes occurred in the women reporting significant increases in body image satisfaction: These participants made dietary alterations during the course of the study, including methods such as decreasing carbohydrate intake and meal skipping.
The co-author of the study, Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University, theorized that viewing these ideal body type images may prompt the women to attempt to improve their own body image by making them hopeful that this ideal body can be achieved. This same hope is the reason why the media is filled with similar images.
The study was conducted by showing 140 female participants magazines containing both text and the idealized images to properly simulate magazine viewing. This was a 10-day online study, and the participants were told that the purpose of the study was about journalism and advertising. An initial questionnaire gathered height and weight for the purposes of calculating body mass index, as well as information regarding media exposure, body satisfaction, satisfaction in other aspects of life, demographic information, and questions that were not related to the study that were used to distract participants from the true purpose of the research.
The women were asked to answer some of these questions each day when they logged on to the study. They were also asked to view 16 magazines, and questions were asked following the viewing. After 5 sessions, the women were asked to self-report body satisfaction and dietary alterations. The participants were divided into 3 groups. Two groups viewed magazines featuring ideal bodies, but one of the groups was asked questions requiring the women to compare themselves to the ideally thin women in the magazines. The third group viewed magazines featuring women of average body types.
The results of the study opposed previous findings that the use of ideal body imagery by the media damages personal body image. However, the present study acknowledges that the improvement in a woman’s body image is only temporary. The failure rate of popular diets and weight loss plans eventually lead to the decline in body imagery that is expected. The positive effects of viewing these ideal images are very short-term.
No change was seen in the third group over the course of the study. The improved body satisfaction was noted in both of the groups viewing ideal images. The women who were not asked questions that compared them to the ideal women, as well as overweight women in the group that was asked questions that compared them to the ideal women, showed an increased in dietary alterations.
The use of these images in some magazines may explain why these publications maintain popularity despite the eventual damaging effects on personal image. Once the initial short-term satisfaction wears off or the diet fails, women may continue to seek advice from these publications.