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Do scantily-clad media icons impact girls' body image?

posted 24 Feb 2013, 08:00 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Feb 2013, 08:00 ]
Do scantily-clad media icons impact girls' body image?

Researchers are finding that what girls see on the pages of
their favorite magazines and what they see dancing in front
of them in music videos can affect how they feel.  Why?
These media outlets paint an unrealistic picture of what a
girl's body should look like and these everyday girls
aren't fitting the bill.

Do magazine models influence the body esteem of girls?

In a 2007 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers
from the University of Minnesota suggest that when teen
girls read articles about diet and weight loss, it could
have unhealthy consequences years later.

Magazines feature impossibly thin supermodels next to
"back-to-school" diet plans and tips for getting your body
into "bikini-bearing" shape. Cover headlines scream; "50
Shortcuts to a Sexier Body" (Glamour) or "6 Ways to Thin
— Easy Diets That Really Work" (Allure)

Articles might say "Embrace your curves" but the retouched
photos of ultra thin models tell a different story. Suffice
to say, some advertisers have their hands in more than one
cookie jar.

Who was in the study? Over 2500 middle school students that
were surveyed, weighed and measured in 1999 and again in
2004. About 55% of the participants were girls.

The Scoop: Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine
articles that featured articles about dieting were more
likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss
practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such
articles. This result was not influenced by whether the
girls were considered "overweight" by medical standards or
if the girls believed weight to be important to them.

Middle school girls who read articles about dieting
(compared to those who did not read such articles) were
twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by
fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three
times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such
as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.

"Forty-one percent of adolescent females report that
magazines are their most important source of information on
dieting and health, and 61 percent of adolescent females
read at least one fashion magazine regularly," 'Eric Stice,

The problem: Girls are being duped, but they don't know it.
Studies show that the average fashion model is much taller
than the average woman—but weighs about 23%
(one-fifth) less. According to the National Eating
Disorders Association, while the average woman is 5'4" tall
and weighs 140 pounds, the average model is 5'11" and
weighs 117 pounds. On top of already being think,
advertisers and publishers use retouching techniques to
make models seem even thinner and taller.

Note: Other studies have found that 69% of girls feel that
magazine models influence their idea of the perfect shape
(Field et al). Other statistics show similar body image
problems, such as

--the modeling industry standards suggest women should have
waists no larger than 25″ and hips no larger than 35
1/2 inches, they also recommend measurements of 34-24-34;

--women's magazines have 10.5 times more ads and articles
about weight loss then do men's magazines;

--60%+ of college students feel worse after reading

--changes found in magazines between 1970 and 1990 include
increase emphasis on fitness for attractiveness and a
decrease in the model hip to waist ratio (becoming less

--1 out of every 3.8 commercials sends a message about

--the average person sees between 400-600 ads per day;

--7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character
on TV

Do music video models make an impact on girls' body image?

Researchers from the University of Sussex, leader by Dr
Helga Dittmar, found that the use of ultra-thin models in
music videos can lead girls to develop poor body image. The
article was published in the Journal of Body Image.

Who was in the study? 87 girls ages 16-19 years were put in
random groups. A third watched music videos featuring the
Pussycat Dolls and Girls Aloud, known for being thin and
attractive. Another third listened but did not watch the
music videos. The final groups was asked only to learn a
list of neutral words. All three groups were asked
questions that asked them to recall what they heard or
watched. Answers measured levels of self esteem, body
satisfaction and mood.

The Scoop: After just 10 minutes of exposure, the
researchers found that the groups that had watched the
music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the
largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to
those who simply listed to the songs of completed the
memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and
perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the
girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they
were all equally affected.

The Problem: Girls look to these music video icons as what
they should aspire to be. Seeing very thin celebrities can
make the girls feel "less then" and make them wonder how
they can ever look like their heroes. Girls are tending
towards dieting, poor eating, and other more extreme weight
loss behaviors.

Media is all around us. We see it everyday even when we
don't seek it out. The portrayal of very thin models,
actresses, singers, and entertainers does indeed have an
impact on the ways girls see themselves and their bodies.

About the Author:

Known as "The Character Queen," Dr. Robyn Silverman is a
body image coach and parenting expert. Her tips-based style
makes her a favorite among parents and teachers. She's the
creator of the Powerful Words Character Toolkit, a
character education system used in children's programs. For
more information or to contact Dr. Robyn, visit her
Parenting Blog at or her body
image blog;