Why women buy magazines that perpetuate the impossible body type
Most modern women are well aware that fashion, fitness or beauty magazines are full of models that don't represent how the average woman looks.
So why do women buy these magazines?
A new study reveals why these publications can attract readers, suggesting that certain women derive positive "thinspiration" from skinny models - meaning they find hope that one day they can look like the women they see between the folds of the magazines they read.
The findings of the research, which come from Ohio State University, contradict other studies that suggest women feel badly about themselves after seeing models in magazines. The current research even found that women who garnered positive inspiration from the models were less likely to engage in weight-loss behaviors.
"They felt better about their body instantly when viewing the images and related content," said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, study author and professor of communication at Ohio State University. "They weren't thinking about what they had to do to look like these models."
Self-improvement vs. social comparison
However, not all women in the study derived thinspiration from looking at magazine models.
Participants seemed to fall into one of two groups: those that evaluated themselves compared to the models, and those that used a "self-improvement" social comparison in describing how they felt about seeing the models.
Women who simply evaluated themselves against the models, not surprisingly, showed lower body satisfaction and reported weight-loss behaviors in the last five days.
"Social comparison for self-evaluation makes these women less happy with how they look and more likely to want to diet," Knobloch-Westerwick said. "They look at the models in the magazines and think, 'this person is so much thinner than I am; I should skip a meal.'"
Yet women who identified with self-improvement social comparison statements ("I would like my body to look like this woman's body") showed an increase in body satisfaction.
"These women felt better about their own bodies because they imagined that they could look just like the models they saw in the magazines. They may begin to feel affiliated with the models, and start to think this person is someone like me, someone I can be friends with and emulate."
Despite these findings, however, Knobloch-Westerwick cautions that initial optimism can often dwindle away when women eventually can't attain the body types they see in mainstream media.
"It makes them feel better at first, but in the long run women are buying into these thinness fantasies that just won't come true."
Protecting against harmful media stereotypes, she said, starts with first understanding how we consume these messages - especially when they are unrealistic and unhealthy.
The study is published in the journal Health Communication
Source: Ohio State University