INTRODUCTION The Influence of Media Images upon Body Esteem From Barbie to Victoria’s Secret, women are exposed to media images of “the thin ideal” from a very early age. Television, movies, and magazines all perpetuate the idea that an ultra thin woman is the ideal. So much so, that a recent issue of GQ digitally morphed actress Kate Winslet’s body into a much thinner, shapelier form for the cover. This striving for an unattainable ideal has had a negative effect upon a woman’s body image. Body image is the way people perceive themselves, and the way they believe others perceive them (Cash, 1990). Why is “the thin ideal” so sought after? Why does society perpetuate this unrealistic body type? What effect is this ideal having upon women today? From Miss America to Playboy centerfolds, the ideal female has become thinner while the average American woman has become heavier over the last forty years. In the 1960s television and fashion magazines became the authority upon image. Fashion photography wanted stick thin models that did not compete with the clothing (Hesse-Biber, 1996). This emphasis upon thin has lead to an extreme increase in diet articles and advertisements which all encourage weight loss. This weight loss is not promoted for health reasons but rather for aesthetic purposes. Body image and self esteem has been measured by a number of scales. Franzoi’s Body Esteem Scale, The Feel-Ideal Discrepancy, The Body Shape Questionnaire, and The Shape and Weight Based Self-Esteem Inventory are all scales used to identify the increasing dissatisfaction among women about their body image and self esteem. This dissatisfaction comes from a combination of internal and societal influences because the societal image of “the thin ideal” has become internalized(Dorian, 2002). Social Comparison theory claims that people compare themselves and their significant others with other people and images that they see as being representative of realistically attainable goals. What happens when the influence of media images has women now making the comparison of themselves and unrealistic goals? Why has society placed such importance upon physical beauty so much so that women begin to see their self worth as dependent upon the physical?(Dorian, 2002). For example, societal values changed drastically in Fiji when satellites and television was introduced. After 38 months of exposure to these media images, females, of average age 17, changed their societal values and body image to reflect the western values of which they had been exposed. The girls were now more body conscious and more into dieting whereas before there was little talk of dieting and body satisfaction was much higher. Similarly, the same effect was found in Iran where western television was banned. Women were only shown on television with almost all of their bodies covered. It was found that Iranian women had higher body satisfaction than their American counterparts(Dorian, 2002). Other studies have found an effect of media images upon body image. Lin and Kulik’s Social Comparison and Women’s Body Satisfaction, found that social comparisons and exposure to thin model media images did have a negative effect upon body satisfaction (Lin, 2002). Jung, Lennon, and Rudd’s Self-Schema or Self-Discrepancy? found that for some types of women, exposure to thin media images produced a negative body image (Jung, 2001). Henderson-King’s Media Effects on Women’s Body Esteem found that identification was an important factor when studying if media images have an effect upon body image (Henderson-King, 1997). Wilcox and Laird’s Impact of Media Images of Super-Slender Women on Women’s Self-Esteem concluded that those women effected by facial cues had a negative body image when exposed to super slender media images (Wilcox, 2000). Wilcox and Laird studied the reactions of forty-one women exposed to images of normal weight models. These reaction were recorded on scales measuring body image and self esteem. The researchers also had the women adopt different facial expressions of emotion to see if their feelings were influenced by the facial expression of emotion. If the woman was more responsive and influenced by the facial expressions they were told to adopt, the images of slender models produced feelings of lower self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. If the women was unresponsive to these facial cues, the images of slender models increased the woman’s self-esteem and body satisfaction. Those influenced by facial cues were similarly influenced by super slender media images, and exposure to the super slender media images produced a negative body image (Wilcox, 2000). Henderson-King researched whether or not social factors of individual factors were related to a woman’s body esteem. They found that media images do not similarly effect a woman’s body esteem. When exposed to media images, they found that women who matched “the thin ideal” media image had a more positive self image. Women who did not match “the thin ideal” reported a more negative self image. Participants either overheard a conversation about people judgmental about a person’s weight or about a friend’s move. Then the participants viewed slides of either neutral or “ideal” images of women. Their research found that the women were not influenced by a conversation about weight before viewing media images. Their research found that body image was related to how closely the participants body image matched the ideal (Henderson-King, 1997). Jung, Lennon, and Rudd explored if self -schema or self-discrepancy explain body image.Self-schema is a generalization about the self. It is the traits that make a person an individual. These individual characteristics are developed from observations of their own behaviors, reactions of others to the self, and social cues. Self-discrepancy is the finding of traits possessed by the ideal self an not the actual self. The researchers used a convenience sample of 102 college women. The participants were exposed to 40 media images and then responded to questionnaires. A two week interval was used between sessions. They found that women with higher self-discrepancy had lower self-esteem and body satisfaction (Jung, 2001). Lin and Kulik researched how social comparisons effect self-esteem, body satisfaction, confidence, and anxiety. Participants were shown computer manipulated images of the same woman with either a thin or oversize body shape. The results found that this did not effect general self-esteem, but for those exposed to the thinner shape, it did negatively effect body satisfaction, confidence, and anxiety for those without a boyfriend (Lin, 2002). All of these studies found at least some correlation between media images and a woman’s body image and self-esteem. Media images have been shown to produce a great effect upon a woman’s self worth. All of the studies used convenience sampling and studied available college students. Were these studies generalizable? This study of the influence of media images upon a woman’s body image explored the effect of media images, and if the findings of past studies were also relevant among females at Loyola University. If a woman was exposed the media images containing “the thin ideal”, there would be a negative effect upon a woman’s body image as opposed to women exposed to media images of average, normal sized models.
Participants A convenience sample of 36 college females between the ages of 18 to 25 were surveyed. Most were from other Psychology classes. Some participants received course credit for participating, and others volunteered. Announcements were made in Psychology classes and sign up sheets were provided for different times. Materials Two paper surveys were handed out. See appendix for complete surveys. A consent form for each survey was provided. If the participants did not have their own pen or pencil, one was provided. Each group viewed 10 different media images. Each image was a color 8 by 10 transparency viewed on an overhead projector. Group A viewed images of lingerie and catalog models. Group B viewed normal average sized models. In the first survey, participants rated the attractiveness of the images on a Likert scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most attractive and 1 being the least attractive. The next survey was a self-perception survey. Participants answered 54 questions about their academic skills, body image and personality traits. This self-perception survey included parts of the Body-Esteem Scale by Franzoi. The academic and personality traits were filler items. On this scale, participants used a Likert scale to rate their satisfaction of their body.Design and Procedure This study explored the effect of thin model media images as opposed to average sized models upon body image. This was an experimental study. The independent variable was the types of media images shown, and the dependant variable was the effect of the media images upon the women’s’ body image. There were two levels of the independent variable. Group A was shown 10 media images of only thin models then were asked to rate each pictures attractiveness. Group B was shown images of normal average models. One control were the types of images chosen. If one image in Group A was a full body shot, than one image in Group B was a full body shot. If one image in Group A was a head shot, than one image in Group B was a head shot. After they viewed the media images, both groups were given another survey containing the Body Esteem Scale. The independent variable is the media images shown, and the dependent variable is the effect upon body image. Participants signed up for different times. One day was the group exposed to “the thin ideal” media images, and on another day, a different group was exposed to media images of average, normal sized models. Each group filled out the same surveys after exposure to the media images. Once participants arrived at the designated meeting place, they were seated. Consent forms were administered and the first picture perception survey was passed out. Each group was told they were to view 10 different media images and told to rate each picture. The only difference between the groups were the types of media images shown. A bit of deception had to be used to accurately find if the media images effected the participant’s body image. Participants were then told that a separate study was being done about self-perception. This was done so the participants would not be have any bias concerning the images they viewed that would effect their responses on the second survey. Consent forms were signed and participants were administered the self-perception survey. This survey contained 54 questions. 32 questions were the Body-esteem scale. The other questions in the survey were filler questions. Participants were told to turn their surveys over and leave it on the desk when they were finished. Once all participants were finished the surveys, they were debriefed and the slight deception was revealed. Participants were told that this was actually one study researching the effects of media images upon women’s’ body image, and that the purpose of the deception was to get an accurate measure.
RESULTS Results The research did not find any significance to support the hypothesis that a negative body image was the result of viewing media images of “the thin ideal” body image. The descriptive statistics are shown in the table below.Table 1: Descriptive Statistics______________________________________________________ n Minimum Maximum Mean s.d.BIMAGE 36 2.13 4.44 3.3568 .5541ATTRACT 36 2.60 4.50 3.5722 .4960MALEATT 36 1.30 4.80 3.6833 .7839FEMATT 36 2.30 4.40 3.5389 .5140Valid N 36
Independent Samples t-test was used to find whether there was any significance between the body image of the two groups. The women in the thin model group (n = 18) had a mean body image of 3.42 (SD = .59). The women in the average model group (n = 18) had a mean body image of 3.30 (SD = .53). T-test values indicated no significant differences in the two levels of the independent variable. When comparing the two groups, sig .= .51 > .05, and df = 34. Although the attractiveness surveys were not the intention of the study, secondary results were found. A significant difference was found between the ratings of the two types of images, using a t test , where sig. = .000 < .05 (df = 34). Of the two groups, the thin model group was rated as more attractive than the average model group. The mean attractiveness score for the thin model group was 3.87 (SD = .36). The mean attractiveness for the average model was 3.28 (SD = .44). Other secondary results were found in the personality survey questions used as filler items. Using Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient a direct correlation was found between those with higher body image and those who reported themselves on the personality survey as being thoughtful, sweet, and warm. This study was weak in statistical power.
DISCUSSION Discussion The null hypothesis was not disproved. No significant difference between the thin model group and average model group was found to support a negative effect upon body image from viewing images of “the thin ideal” body type. Unlike the previous studies mentioned, there seemed to be no effect upon body image from the types of media images viewed. Possibly, no results were found because of the small sample size and a convenience sample was used. Most past studies also used a convenience sample of college students. There was the question of whether these results were generalizable. This study wanted to find if these results could be found on Loyola’s campus. More participants were needed and more results could have been found if instead of using a between groups comparison, within was used. I believe that if a within groups comparison was done over a considerable amount of time, more control could be used and more results found. Other confounding factors for this study could have been the environment in which the participant was currently living, the culture in which the participant was raised, or the participants own perceptions. Although this study did not find any significant results, there is much research to indicate that media images do have an effect upon a woman’s body image. More results could be found over longer periods of time and more participants from more varied groups. The study did find that those participants who reported traits of warm, sweet, and thoughtful correlated with high body image. Perhaps further research could be done to show how differences personality effects body image and whether or not different personalities are influenced by media images. Over the past few decades, media images of models have gotten slimmer and slimmer. The idea of thin being the ideal has been perpetuated by the media consistently over the years. With eating disorders on the rise, there must be some connection to the thin media images and eating disorders. At what point is thin too thin? If women were to believe what the media the promotes, there is never a point that a woman can be too thin. How dangerous of a message can that be? With the predominance of the media images directed at women, it would be ignorant to assume that there is no effect upon body image.
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Dorian, L., Garfinkel, P. (2002). Culture and body image in western culture. Eating and Weight Disorders, 7(1), 1-19.
Henderson-King, E., Henderson-King, D. (1997) Media effects on women`s body esteem: social and individual difference factors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27(5), 399-417.
Hesse-Biber, S. (1996). Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity, Oxford University Press, New York.
Jung, J., Lennon, S., Rudd, N. (2001) Self-schema or self-discrepancy? Which best explains body image? Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 19(4), 171-184.
Lin, L., Kulik, J. (2002). Social comparison and women`s body satisfaction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 24(3), 115-123.
Wilcox, K., Laird, J. (2000). The impact of media images on women`s self-esteem: identification, social comparison, and self-perception. Journal of Research in Personality, 34(2), 278- 286.