Warning: Advertisements May Be Hazardous to Your Health
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Holland, S.C., Kossen, S.M, & Faris, S.J. (2002). Warning: Advertisements May Be Hazardous to Your Health. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved August 21, 2019
HOLLAND, S.C., KOSSEN, S.M, & FARIS, S.J.
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY
Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (firstname.lastname@example.org)
|The primary purpose of this study was to identify what role the mass media plays in maintaining stereotypic beliefs concerning idealistic physical appearance amongst women in society. Specifically, it set out to determine whether or not body satisfaction of women is influenced by or simply reinforced by the media. It has been suggested by previous research that an upward social comparison explains the decrease in women’s body satisfaction after viewing idealistic images of the ultra-thin woman. This study challenged the existence of the above relationship. Additionally, the study attempted to show that a downward social comparison also exists. It was hypothesized that after viewing images of corpulent females the body satisfaction of the participants would increase. Students enrolled in both Introductory, and Intermediate Psychology sections participated in this study. In order to manipulate the independent variable into its respective levels, three video clips were used. The absence of a video clip comprised the fourth, and final level. The productions that were used for the purpose of this study were: Me, Myself, and Irene, Jerry Maguire, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. This was a pre and post-test design in which the participants completed the Mendelson and Mendelson Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults. The scale was completed by the participants both prior and subsequent to exposure to one of the four conditions. The study showed that female students from each of the four conditions did not differ significantly in their change in body image. Although the study failed to obtain a significant difference between the experimental groups it was found that the video clip containing the ultra-slender Renee Zellweger did, in fact, induce a negative change in body image. Implications are discussed.|
INTRODUCTION She is skinny, perfectly proportioned-with beautiful hair, glowing skin, fabulous makeup, and the best clothes that money can buy. Although this may be an ideal that some strive to achieve, it certainly sets a standard that leaves most feeling inadequate and unsatisfied with their bodies. Whatever the beliefs about the exploitation of women, all must be aware that society, especially the media, portray an image of women that is both unrealistic and potentially unhealthy for the vast majority of women. As the media try, on the surface, to sort through the weight debate, what is being communicated underneath, in many cases, is society’s strongly held moral and aesthetic prejudice against being heavier than a thin ideal (Hofschire, 2002). It has been suggested that pressure to be thin from one’s social environment encourages body dissatisfaction because repeated messages that one is not thin enough would be expected to produce discontent with physical appearance (Thompson, 1999). These pressures to be thin can emerge from a variety of sources, such as parents, peers, dating partners, and the media. These pressures can be direct, such as a parent encouraging a daughter to diet, or indirect, such as a peer voicing admiration of ultra slender models (Stice & Whitenton, 2002). Most believe that the media have been the primary causal agent for this shift toward the thin-ideal (Anderson & DiDomenico, 1992). Magazines may write about the fact that you do not have to be runway thin to be healthy, but they stop short of picturing anyone with a little extra weight. Media images are coded to reinforce the dominant beliefs of a society (Harrison, 2001). Advertisers often emphasize sexuality and the importance of physical attractiveness in an attempt to sell products, but researchers are concerned that this places undue pressure on women to focus on their appearance. In a recent survey, it was found that 27% of girls felt that the media pressures them to have a perfect body, and that certain ads made them fear being unattractive or old (Forehand, 2001). Researchers suggest advertising media may adversely impact women’s body image, which can lead to unhealthy behavior as women and girls strive for the ultra-thin body idealized by the media (Henderson-King, 1997). It is suggested that exposure to thin-ideal figures in the media may account for the increasingly high levels of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders among women in Western societies (Thompson & Heinberg, 1993). The average woman sees 400 to 600 advertisements per day, and by the time she is 60 years old, she has received 40 to 50 million commercial messages through the media (Milkie, 1999). Only nine percent of commercials have a direct statement about beauty, but many more implicitly emphasize the importance of beauty. On television, for the most part, corpulent people are as invisible as in fashion magazines. One study of Saturday morning toy commercials found that 50% of commercials aimed at girls spoke about physical attractiveness, while none of the commercials aimed at boys referred to appearance (Zinkan, 1995). Other studies found that 50% of advertisements in teen girl magazines and 56% of television commercials aimed at female viewers used beauty as a product to appeal (Milkie, 1999). Television commercials influence female self-concept and achievement aspirations, and television often depicts situations in which thin people prosper and larger people are ridiculed (Field, 2000). This constant exposure to female-oriented advertisements may influence girls to become self-conscious about their bodies and to obsess over and consider their physical appearance as a measure of their worth (Heinberg, 1995). The shift in society to a preference for thin-figured women has been well documented (Davis & Oswalt, 1992). The ideals of female beauty have not always been embodied in the figure of Kate Moss whose shape resembles that of a young boy, not a woman. Figures like that of Marilyn Monroe, which today are considered heavy, were the ideals of the time 40 years ago. In the past 40 years, for example, the dominate body shape of fashion models, Playboy centerfolds, and Miss America Pageant winners has changed from a full, hourglass figure to a thin, tubular one (Morris, Cooper, & Cooper, 1988). Between 1970 and 1990, there was an overall increased emphasis on weight loss and body shape in the media, as well as change in the portrayal of female models to a thinner and less curvaceous shape (Owen, 2000). Before the 1970’s, women were complimented on their full figures, and thin was considered unattractive. Shortly after the decade began, the number of women at risk for eating disorders doubled, many said they felt too big or too heavy, and 62% said they had dieted in the past month (Polivy, 2002). Despite an American public with increasing body weights, however, Playboy magazine increased the promotion of thinness over the period from 1979 to 1988 (Crouch, 1998). Miss America Pageant contestants were also found to be thinner over time, and winners of the pageant since 1970 consistently weighed less than the other contestants. Essentially, society has witnessed a switch from the hourglass shape of the fifties to the boyish shape of the new millennium (Sherwood, 2001). In magazines, TV, and movies, women see models who are increasingly and, for most women, unrealistically slender. As advertising and entertainment has shifted toward thinner and thinner models a rise in eating disorders and a universal dissatisfaction among women about their body size has developed. Advertisements emphasize thinness as a standard for female beauty, and the bodies idealized in the media are frequently atypical of normal, healthy women (Gibson, 1991). In fact, today’s fashion models, opposed to the eight percent difference 20 years ago, weigh 23% less than the average female, and a young woman between the ages of 18-34 has a seven percent chance of being as slim as a catwalk model and a one percent chance of being as thin as a supermodel (Tiggemann, 2000). However, 69% of girls in one study said that magazine models influence their idea of the perfect body shape, and the universal acceptance of this unrealistic body type creates an impractical standard for the majority of women. The steady exposure of extremely thin women featured in the media sets a standard for thinness that most women internalize but few can meet (Nemeroff, Stein, Diehl, & Smilack, 1994). Theoretically, the rigid pursuit of an ultraslender body that is unattainable promotes dissatisfaction with one’s physical appearance (Stice & Whitenton, 2002). Thinness not only comes to represent attractiveness in our society but also has come to symbolize success, self-control, and higher socioeconomic status (Forehand, 2001). In addition, heightened internalization of the current thin ideal adopted for females and the belief that achieving thinness will result in a surplus of social benefits, such as acceptance and academic success, is also thought to promote body dissatisfaction (Stice & Bearman, 2001). It is interesting to note that women who read fashion magazines such as Vogue, Bazaar, Elle, and Allure report more body dissatisfaction than those who read news magazines such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News Report, and Business Week (Crouch, 1998). Some researchers believe that advertisers purposely make unrealistically thin bodies normal in order to create an unattainable urge that can drive product consumption (Cusumano, 1997). Essentially, the media markets desire, and by reproducing images that are absurdly out of line with what real bodies really do look like, the media preserves a market for frustration and disappointment (Grodin, 1996). Its customers will never disappear. Considering that the diet industry alone generates $33 billion in revenue, advertisers have been successful with their marketing strategy. Essentially, the media sell consumers to advertisers. Members of society are nothing but products to be sold. Women frequently compare their bodies to those they see around them, and researchers have found that exposure to idealized body images lowers women’s satisfaction with their own attractiveness (Posavac, 1998). One study found that people who were shown slides of thin models had lower self-evaluation than people who had seen average and oversized models, and women reported that very thin models made them feel insecure about themselves. In a sample of Stanford undergraduate and graduate students, 68% felt worse about their own appearance after looking through women’s magazines (Stice & Shaw, 1994). Consistent with these ideas, a correlational study by Stice, Spangler, and Agris (2001) found that greater exposure to media (television and magazines) was associated directly with more eating disorder symptoms and indirectly, through greater internalization of the thin-ideal stereotype, with body dissatisfaction. Various research regarding social comparison theory might be one explanation for the media’s effect on body dissatisfaction. Festinger (1954) suggests that when people make upward comparisons (i.e. compare themselves to others who are better off on a particular dimension), the result tends to be a decrease in reported self-regard or well-being. The negative impact of media depictions of slenderness seems, then, to depend on the occurrence of social comparisons (Wilcox & Laird, 2000). A number of studies have in fact demonstrated that when women are shown either still photographs or TV commercials with super-slender models they report shifts toward negative moods and increases in various measures of dissatisfaction with their bodies(Pinhus, Toner, Ali, Garfinkle, & Stuckless, 1999). Others found no effects of media on general self-esteem (Sedon & Berry, 1996). In sum, there is ample evidence that supports the proposition that media depictions of slender models do cause bad moods and diminished body satisfaction. There have been a number of experimental studies that have examined the effects that comparisons with thin-ideal members of the media have on body satisfaction(Lin & Kulik, 2002). Irving (1990), for example, exposed college women to sets of slides depicting thin fashion models, and found those who viewed the thin fashion models reported lower overall self-esteem and body satisfaction with their weight than those who viewed either the average or oversize models. Interestingly, however, the self-esteem and body satisfaction level of those in the thin model condition were actually quite similar to those of a control group that viewed no photos. This suggests, then, that the thin model condition did not lower self-regard so much as the average and oversize-model conditions enhanced feelings about the self (Lin & Kulik, 2002). This also suggests a downward social comparison. Many health professionals are also concerned by the prevalence of distorted body image among women, which may be fostered by their constant self-comparison to extremely thin figures promoted in the media. Seventy-five percent of “normal” weight women think they are overweight and 90% of women overestimate their body size (Grodin, 1996). Women are more embarrassed when asked about their weight than when they are asked about their masturbation habits or homosexual affairs. Dissatisfaction with their bodies causes many women and girls to strive for the thin ideal. The number one wish for girls ages 11 to 17 is to be thinner, and girls as young as five have expressed fears of getting fat (Tiggemann, 1996). Eighty percent of 10 year-old girls have dieted, and at any one time, 50% of American women are currently dieting (Stice, Spangler, & Agris, 2001). Some researchers suggest depicting thin models may lead girls into unhealthy weight-control habits because the ideal they seek to model is unattainable for many and unhealthy for most (Field, 2000). One study found that 47% of female participants were influenced by magazine pictures to want to lose weight, but only 29% were actually overweight. Although these advertisements have long-term negative effects on most adolescent girls and women, they do tend to affect those who already have a body-image problem more adversely (Stice, Spangler, and Agris, 2001). Those who were already dissatisfied with their bodies showed more dieting, anxiety, and bulimic symptoms after prolonged exposure to fashion and advertising images. It is obvious, for many, the fear of not losing weight and the fear of gaining even a few pounds is far more important than the fear of poor health or preventable illnesses (Sherwood, 2001). The primary purpose of this study was to identify what role the mass media plays in maintaining stereotypic beliefs concerning idealistic physical appearance amongst women in society. Specifically, it set out to determine whether or not body satisfaction of women is influenced by or simply reinforced by the media. It has been suggested by previous research that an upward social comparison explains the decrease in women’s body satisfaction after viewing idealistic images of the ultra-thin woman. This study will attempt to further clarify the existence of the above relationship. Additionally, the study will attempt to show that a downward social comparison also exists. It is hypothesized that after viewing images of corpulent females the body satisfaction of the participants will increase.
Forty-five undergraduate students enrolled in both Introductory and Intermediate Psychology sections participated in this study. The volunteers were given extra credit by their professors for participation in the study.
In order to manipulate the independent variable into its respective levels, three, one and a half-minute video clips were used. The absence of a video clip comprised the fourth, and final level. The productions used for the purpose of this study were: Me, Myself, and Irene, Jerry Maguire, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Each clip contained a scene from a Hollywood movie featuring the actress Renee Zellweger in three roles in which she portrays either an ultra-slender, average, or corpulent female, respectively. In order to measure the effects of the four different levels of the independent variable the Mendelson and Mendelson (1997) Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults was used (See Appendix).
This study was a pre and post-test design in which each participant was asked to complete the Mendelson and Mendelson (1997) Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults both before and after being exposed to the independent variable. Each Introductory and Intermediate Psychology section was randomly assigned to a different level of exposure to the independent variable. Before any exposure to the independent variable, however, each section was given the scale to assess their current level of body satisfaction. Two weeks later, section one was exposed to level one of the variable, section two was exposed to level two, and section three was exposed to level three. The one and a half-minute clip from Me, Myself, and Irene was used as level one, Bridget Jones’s Diary as level two, and Jerry Maguire as level three, and a non-video group served as the control group. Immediately after viewing their respective clips, each section was given the scale to determine the effects of the independent variable.
RESULTS The change in body image of female students in each of the four conditions was compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F(3,41) = 1.92, p = .14). The female students from each of the four conditions did not differ significantly in their change in body image (See Figure 1).
DISCUSSION Although this study failed to obtain a significant difference amongst the four groups, the movie, Me, Myself, and Irene, containing the ultra slender woman, did induce a negative change in body image. The data were in the right direction; the study simply did not contain enough subjects to reach statistical significance. This would support previous research that there is, in fact, a positive relationship between ultra slender women in the media and negative body satisfaction. As women portrayed in the media continue to shrink in size, so does the self-esteem and body satisfaction of women everywhere.Thompson (1999) found that pressure to be thin from one’s social environment encourages body dissatisfaction because repeated messages that one is not as thin as the ideal would promote unhappiness with one’s own physical appearance. Forehand (2001) found in a recent survey that 27% of females felt that the media pressures them to have a perfect body, and certain ads made them fear being unattractive or old.This study did not reach statistically significant results because of its limitations. Due to time constraints, an adequate sample size was not obtained. Essentially, increasing the sample size would have also increased the statistical power of the study. If, in fact, there were significant results to be obtained, a more powerful study would have increased the likelihood that those results would have been uncovered. The three movies used for the purpose of this study contained the actress, Renee Zellweger. It is important to note that her specific physical appearance could have affected the participants in a way that could have varied if another actress would have been chosen. In each clip she is featured kissing a different male actor (e.g., Tom Cruise, Hughe Grant, and Jim Carrey). The participants could have reacted not only to Renee Zellweger and her body size, but also to the different male actors featured in the film along with her. The fact that the two were kissing romantically in each clip could also have affected the reported level of body dissatisfaction of the participants. The atmosphere presented in each movie scene varied dramatically. Jerry Maguire was a dramatic comedy. It featured a very romantic kissing scene as opposed to the light-hearted and comical kissing scene featured in the comedy, Me, Myself, and Irene. The kissing scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary was sweet and romantic. These differences in mood between the movie clips could have influenced the mood of the participants and also their reported levels of body dissatisfaction.Two different professors, one male and one female, taught two of the four classes each. The different professors’ presence in the room during the experiment could have affected the level of body dissatisfaction reported by the participants. The participants used in the study were from four different courses. The control group was comprised of honor students. This may have influenced whether or not an adequate control was used because honor students may be individually different from the participants who are not honor students.For future research in this area, one could use video clips featuring a different actress. Drew Barrymore, for example, is another actress who has been known to dramatically change her body size for movie roles. The participants in this study were all female. Future research could attempt to determine if men are as susceptible as women to ideal body images in the media. Lastly, a different scale with less face validity could also be used to determine if that would affect the reported level of body dissatisfaction.
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APPENDIX Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and AdultsDirections: For questions 1-21 indicate how often you agree with the following statements. Circle the appropriate number beside each statement. For items 22-25, fill in the blanks with the appropriate information.Never=0 Seldom=1 Sometimes=2 Often=3 Always=41. I like what I look like in pictures. 0 1 2 3 42. Other people consider me good looking. 0 1 2 3 43. I am proud of my body. 0 1 2 3 44. I am preoccupied with trying to change my body weight. 0 1 2 3 45. I think my appearance would help me get a job. 0 1 2 3 46. I like what I see when I look in the mirror. 0 1 2 3 47. There are lots of things I’d change about my looks if I could. 0 1 2 3 48. I am satisfied with my weight. 0 1 2 3 49. I wish I looked better. 0 1 2 3 410. I wish I looked like someone else. 0 1 2 3 411. People my own age like my looks. 0 1 2 3 412. My looks upset me. 0 1 2 3 413. I’m as nice looking as most people. 0 1 2 3 414. I’m satisfied with how I look. 0 1 2 3 415. I feel I weigh the right amount for my height. 0 1 2 3 416. I feel ashamed of how I look. 0 1 2 3 417. My weight makes me unhappy. 0 1 2 3 418. My looks help me to get dates. 0 1 2 3 419. I worry about the way I look. 0 1 2 3 420. I think I have a good body. 0 1 2 3 421. I look as nice as I’d like to. 0 1 2 3 422. Height: __________23. Weight: __________23. Age: __________24. Sex: __________
Submitted 11/9/2002 11:34:13 AM
Last Edited 11/21/2002 9:18:26 AM
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