There's a new study out from researchers at Ohio State University. It finds that when young women spend time looking at thin, idealized models in magazines, it briefly lifts their self-esteem. Does it sound counterintuitive? There's a bit more to it than that.
The study had 140 female college students peruse magazine pages for a few days. Many of the students were given magazines with pictures of "the thin-ideal body type," in the words of the Ohio State press release. Later, these students were asked how they felt about their own bodies, and researchers found that they "showed an increase in body satisfaction."
People feeling good about themselves--that's great! Except that a lot of the students who reported higher body satisfaction also reported an increase in dieting behavior, like "skipping meals or cutting carbohydrates." Ohio State professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, who co-authored the study, suggests that women get inspired by the images of thin bodies, and then they get a boost in self-esteem when they launch their own diets. But she calls it "a losing battle ... Research shows that most diets fail and they're eventually going to be back being unsatisfied with their bodies."
The press release for the study says the findings "contradict hundreds of previous studies suggesting that the media obsession with promoting ideal bodies only damages women's satisfaction about their weight and their body." It doesn't sound like looking at pictures of unrealistically thin women is helping anyone accept themselves for who they are--which is what all of those hundreds of studies concluded, too. So, the "media's focus on ideal body shape can boost women's body satisfaction"--the headline of the OSU release--seems a bit like saying "breaking your arm can lead to decreased feelings of pain." Which is only true if you break your arm and then take some painkillers.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.