Features

Fashion Models in the Media Take a Toll on Women's Body Image, a New Study Finds

You may not be shocked by the findings, but you may be surprised at how immediate the effects are.

Fashion Billboard
David Bank / Getty

Most women know that aspiring to look like a runway model isn't the most attainable (or healthy) fitness goal, but that doesn't mean seeing those models doesn't change the way many women feel about their own bodies. In fact, a lot of women feel worse about their bodies when they see media images that include bikini or fashion models, according to a new study from Chapman University.

With so much of the media promoting thin as the "ideal" body type, it's not surprising that many women still feel unsatisfied with their own bodies. Although researchers have debated just how much media affects the way women feel about their appearances, the new study, published in the journal Body Image, showed that seeing fashion and bikini models makes many women feel worse about their physiques.

Researchers had 1,426 women react to 10 images of bikini models, fashion models, paintings, and products, and found that immediately after seeing the models, most women felt insecure about at least one aspect of their bodies. They did the study twice, and in the first study these were the percentages of women who felt worse about each aspect of their bodies:

  • stomach: 57%
  • weight: 50%
  • waist: 50%
  • overall appearance: 50%
  • muscle tone: 46%
  • legs: 45%
  • thighs: 40%
  • buttocks: 40%
  • hips: 40%
  • arms: 39%
  • breasts: 34%

Nearly half of the women said that seeing those images made them "less interested in wearing a swimsuit in public". And that's a shame, since everyone should feel great strutting their stuff on the beach.

“Our results show that seeing slender and bikini-clad models had an immediate and direct impact on how women feel about their own bodies—and that impact was mostly negative,” said lead author David A. Frederick, an assistant professor of health psychology at the university. “Our findings highlight the important role of media in shaping women’s feelings about their bodies.”

When researchers asked women how the thin-ideal media affected the way they view themselves, responses included things like the following:

  • “The images made me feel worse about myself because the models’ bodies were all so toned and beautiful. They were tall, skinny, had smooth skin, and had perfect breasts. Compared to them, I felt ugly and not attractive.”
  • “They all look so fit and healthy. I look much worse in comparison. I feel worse because there is nothing that I could do to look like them.”

Luckily, anyone with a social media account knows that there's been an obvious shift, especially on platforms like Instagram, toward a more body-positive outlook on fitness and health. Despite that shift, images of unhealthily thin models still populate popular media—and, let's be real, that look is still the norm in the fashion industry, although that's slowly changing, too. That's not to say there's anything wrong with being thin, but the idea that one specific body type defines "beauty" and that we should all do whatever it takes to look that way is definitely outdated.

So next time you feel worse about your own body because you don't look like a "perfect" runway model, remember that there's no cookie-cutter mold for a "beautiful" body, and that nothing can give you an instant self-esteem boost like a quick workout.

Topics:
Comments