A team of researchers from various institutions in the UK has found that women of "normal" weight look at pictures of skinny women when they are less responsive to their own bodies. In their publication in the journal Royal Society Open Science the group describes two experiments they did with volunteers and what they found.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the negative body image increases as women compare with other, thinner women. This topic has been making headlines in recent years, as some have pointed out that the use of women above average has negative effects on women in general. In this effort, researchers tried to test this notion by asking female volunteers to rate their bodies and then look at pictures of other women. After that, everyone was provided with chocolate to eat and asked to re-evaluate their own body.
The researchers performed two experiments. In the first, 90 young women with "normal" bodies (with a BMI in the range of 22-23 kg -2 ) were divided into three groups and photographs of women of different sizes were considered. The women in the photos were actually the same women in the pictures from the first session – the team manipulated the images to make them look thinner or heavier. They also tested the level of body dissatisfaction among the volunteers by measuring how much chocolate each of the volunteers consumed afterwards.
The second experiment was identical to the first except that only volunteers with high body dissatisfaction were identified. They were also tracked a day later.
The researchers report that women in both groups looked more critically at their own bodies after seeing pictures of skinny women, but not after seeing "normal" or heavier women. In fact, the women reported that they perceive their own bodies and those of other "normal" weight as smaller in the latter cases. They also found no change in the amount of chocolate eaten, regardless of what the women saw.
The researchers suggest that their findings show that advertisers who use images of abnormally thin women contribute to body dissatisfaction in women. Switching to models of normal weight, they suggest, would probably help women feel better in their bodies. Such a change, it concluded, could help curb rising obesity rates.
Researchers measure the impact of images of skinny women
Helen Bouldet al. Effects of exposure to different sized bodies on perception and satisfaction with one's own height: two randomized trials, Royal Society Open Science (2018). DOI: 10.1098 / rsos.171387
Body dissatisfaction is widespread in women and is associated with subsequent obesity and eating disorders. Exposure to images of bodies of different sizes has been proposed to alter the perception of "normal" body size in others. We tested whether exposure to different sized (otherwise identical) bodies alters perceptions of one's own body size and height, satisfaction with body size, and the amount of chocolate consumed. In study 1, 90 18-25-year-old women with normal BMI were randomized into one of three groups to perform a 15-minute two-back exercise with photographs of women with either "normal weight" (BMI) 22 to complete -23 kg m-2) or altered to show either underweight or overweight. Study 2 was identical except that the 96 participants had high baseline dissatisfaction and were followed up after 24 hours. We also did a mega-analysis combining both studies. The participants assessed the size of the bodies of others, their own size and satisfaction with the size before and after the task. Post-task scores were compared between the groups, with scores adjusted before the task. Participants who were exposed excessively or with normal weight found the bodies of others later than smaller in comparison to the underweight bodies (p