Debate over promoting ideal body images continues

By Nikki Bruce - 16 Mar 2011 18:20:0 GMT
Debate over promoting ideal body images continues

There have been many theories regarding the effects that promoting the ideal of having a perfect body in the media has on its recipients. Is it detrimental to the average persons' mental health and well being? Are these images that bombard us every day unobtainable? A new study suggests rather controversially, that these images can in fact be helpful to us.

Previous research in this field has indicated that showing these 'perfect' images to people who are uncomfortable and dissatisfied with their own body image only intensifies these feelings. Some experts have even suggested that these images and ideologies can lead to conditions like anorexia and bulimia in vulnerable groups such as teenagers, urging the need for caution to be exercised when including these images in the media.

The latest research into these ideas was carried out at Ohio State University by Professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and was published in the latest issue of the journal 'Media Psychology'.

Knobloch-Westerwick used a new technique to carry out her investigations where the length of time spent by magazine readers on viewing pictures of models with ideal bodies was measured.

This was found to be a less intrusive method of examining the readers, as they were not being asked direct questions about their feelings towards the images. The subject of the investigation consisted of a group of 169 young adults, some of whom were happy with their body images whilst the others were not.  The readers were then given 21-page magazine with 16 advertisements to look at, where half of the advertisements featured models with ideal body shapes whilst the rest showed models with average body shapes.

The results of the research found that on average, the test subjects who had indicated that they were unhappy with their body image spent a longer amount of time looking at the images which promoted an ideal body shape. However, this was only the case when that image was accompanied by an editorial which suggested that the reader could also achieve this 'perfect body'.

Knobloch-Westerwick argues that if the articles and pictures tell their audience that an ideal body is obtainable and realistic then they could prove to be inspirational rather than harmful. The readers will be inspired to exercise or go on a diet so they too can achieve their desired physique and in doing this they will also become happy with their body.

This sounds great in theory, however questions have been raised about the negative effects of people becoming motivated by these articles and pictures and then being unable to reach their goals. This is an issue which will be part of Knobloch-Westerwick’s next research program.