A study performed by researchers at the School of Psychology at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia found that exposure to idealized media images of “perfect” thin female and muscular male body types had negative effects on an individual’s own body image and body change behaviors.
One hundred thirty-three women and 93 men were assessed for body image beliefs before being exposed to the images. The researchers wanted to know how certain psychological factors predicted changes in the study participants’ emotions after being exposed. The Eating Disorder Inventory-2, the Obligatory Exercise Questionnaire, and the strategies to increase muscles subscale of the Body Change Inventory were used to assess attitudes before image exposure. Participants were surveyed for body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin/athletic ideal, body comparison, self-esteem, depression and identity confusion.
Researchers wanted to see if attitudes in these areas made people more or less susceptible to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy body change behavior after viewing idealized images.
After being assessed, the participants were exposed to idealized thin female and muscular male models. Visual analogue scales were used to measure changes in post-exposure state body dissatisfaction, anger, anxiety and depression.
Results showed a marked increase in eating disorder symptoms in women and body dissatisfaction in men. Women appeared to be affected by their attitudes in all psychological areas assessed; men were mostly affected by psychological attitudes in internalization and body comparison. What’s interesting is that the women began to display a change in behavior, picking up eating disorder behavior as a result of exposure. Men simply felt badly about their own bodies, but they did not appear to turn to drastic measures as a result.
This may be because women were more affected by the state of their self-esteem than the men, which could make them more likely to “punish” their bodies as a result of dissatisfaction.
This information points to a possible need for greater media responsibility in relation to the images they portray. People also need to be educated about the role of the media and the ways in which those portrayed achieved the “ideal” bodies. Many images are airbrushed, and many models turn to unhealthy behaviors to achieve the supposedly “healthy ideal.”