60-Second Mind

Images of Thin Bodies Impact Body Preferences

A recent study shows that images of thin women do in fact alter women's body preferences. Christie Nicholson reports

Advertising and media companies often get lobbied to use models that represent the average woman’s body—rather than ultra-thin models, whose images may influence some women to have an unhealthy relationship with food. Now a study supports that idea that observed images affect what people consider to be acceptable body types. The report is in the journal PLoS ONE.


Researchers surveyed subjects about their opinions of their own bodies and those of others. Then they presented the subjects with photos of large or thin women. Some photos were of beauty queens in evening gowns or other high-status clothing. Other photos were of women who were either very large or very thin, wearing neutral grey leotards. Following those viewings, the subjects were again surveyed about their body preferences.


Subjects who originally preferred thin bodies only increased their preference for thinness after being shown photos of thin women. But they decreased their preference for thin bodies after being shown photos of larger women. The attire of the women in the photos made no difference to the subject’s latter preference.


The researchers say that this study provides strong evidence that images of female bodies promoted by the media and ad agencies could have a real impact on women’s preference and subsequent thoughts about body type.


—Christie Nicholson


[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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