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Beloved Skinny Celebrities Can Boost Your Body Image (Go Figure!)

Feel like you can relate to your favorite slim celebrity? Turns out, that’s good for your self-image.

| February 29th, 2012
Getty Images (2)Kristen Wiig, left, and Keira Knightley
Kristen Wiig, Keira Knightley

Think of your favorite female celebrity. Maybe you have the same haircut or adore the way she dresses. Or maybe you love that her characters are always ass-kicking—or even humorously flawed—heroines. Whatever your reasons, make a quick mental list of what you like about her.

Now ask yourself this: Is she skinny?

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Odds are, she is (please, they’re all tiny), and most people would say that’s a bad thing. In fact, study after study has shown that ultra-thin celebrities make us feel fatter, less happy and less satisfied with our bodies—until now.

New research from the University of Buffalo found that skinny celebrities you relate to can actually boost your body image.

“We found that favorite celebrities, when they’re perceived as thin, don’t have a negative impact,” says lead author Ariana Young, a Ph.D. candidate. “Instead, they have a protective effect and may even be beneficial.”

Take Kristen Wiig, for example. The “Bridesmaids” star has a teeny-tiny frame, but somehow she doesn’t make us feel bad about ourselves. Wiig seems funny, relatable, awkward, not always on top of her game. You feel like you know her—like you sort of are her.

According to the study, that feeling that you “know” a celebrity—what psychologists call a “parasocial relationship”—is what protects you from feeling bad about your body.

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The researchers had a group of college women look at photos and a quick biography of a thin, run-of-the-mill model. Half were told that they had the same birthday as the model while the other half were told they did not share the same birthday.

The result? The women who believed they were birthday buddies with the model felt more satisfied with their bodies and better about their looks.

The same effect happened for women who wrote essays about celebrities they loved. The more similarities a woman saw between her personality and the celebrity’s, the better she felt about her own body—and the more similar she thought she was to the star.

But any old celebrity won’t do. When women wrote about Keira Knightley (chosen for being skinny and well-known, but not necessarily relatable) instead of their most beloved celebrities, they were left feeling less attractive and less happy with their body size and shape.

So what’s so special about the celebrities we “know” and love?

“When we see ourselves as more similar to a thin celebrity, we feel thinner by association,” explains Young. Basically, you blend your image of that person with your image of yourself. “The effect is that you see yourself as having a body more like Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie”—or whoever your favorite star is.

MORE: Strategies to Help You Love Your Body

Bottom line: To protect your body image in our thin-obsessed world, it helps to allow yourself to believe that stars really are just like us—or even better, just like you.

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