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Today's disturbing body image study du jour concludes that looking at skinny women will make you feel better about yourself -- but only if you're also skipping meals or cutting carbs on a regular basis.
Ohio State researchers asked 140 female college students to view magazines containing only pictures of thin, airbrushed models for five days straight. The researchers also quizzed the women about their body image, dieting habits, and lifestyle before and after the experiment. The majority of women said their weight was the aspect of their life that they were the least satisfied with but their satisfaction increased after looking at the images. Alas, so did their tendency to skip meals or engage in other dieting behaviors.
The researchers concluded that looking at an unattainable beauty ideal might give you a body image boost because it offers a momentary hope that you can look like that too -- enough to motivate you to stick with or start a crash diet.
I didn't need a study to tell me that. Every time I watch a show on the CW, I feel a surge of motivation to get back to the gym and blow my hair out every morning so I can look like those tiny 90210 girls. Usually this is followed by a lot of negative feelings about my body (and extension-free hair) when I realize that's impossible.
"These magazines attract women because they give a short-term boost in body image, but they also set up unrealistic expectations," says Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University. "When women don’t achieve the body they want, they are disappointed and then likely come back to the magazines for more advice and inspiration." After all, the magazines must know what they're talking about because all the women featured there are skinny and perfect, right? So if you didn't get the same result, it's obviously your fault for not following their diet advice to the letter.
It's like we're all suffering from some kind of media-based Stockholm Syndrome, where we keep going back to our abuser thinking but this time it will be different.
Now I don't want to be like that contagious fat people study we talked about yesterday and tell you to stay away from skinny chicks lest they encourage you to diet. The trouble with both these studies is how their findings play into that us-vs-them mentality that makes otherwise level-headed women attack each other. And the lesson we can learn from them is a little subtler: The media is powerful. The women you interact with in real life are pretty powerful too. Because we're all so much more vulnerable and easily influenced than we'd like to think.
But you can protect yourself from this influence by reminding yourself, whenever you see a photo of a "perfect" woman, that she has to work incredibly hard to look like that and even then, gets subjected to a ton of airbrushing. Isn't it nice that your job doesn't require that kind of physical scrutiny? And when you share meals with friends, focus on the fun conversation you're having instead of playing the who-orders-what game. That way, everybody wins.