If you were a teen in the early 2000s, chances are you’ve seen Stephen Colletti’s abs. As a “Laguna Beach” cast member, he was just one of the rising reality stars who was often semi-bare onscreen. Obviously, his perfect abs matter. But do they matter?
A new study published in the journal Sex Roles examined implications of the constant onslaught of “ideal” bodies depicted on reality TV. The study “Anything but Real: Body Idealization and Objectification of MTV Docusoap Characters” looks at MTV series that aired between 2004 and 2011, specifically “Jersey Shore,” “Laguna Beach,” “The Real World,” “The Hills,” and “Newport Harbor.” The researchers noted the body type and clothing of each reality star, plus how often they were naked or semi-naked on camera. (We’re all “researchers,” amirite?) They hypothesized that gratuitous “Real World” Jacuzzi moments and “Jersey Shore” beach shots, in the aggregate, could affect body image issues and potential eating disorders.
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Since research has proven that regular viewers really do believe in the “reality” depicted onscreen, researchers Mark Flynn of Coastal Carolina University and Sung-Yeon Park of Bowling Green State University were curious how the TV world matched up to viewers’ expectations. For starters, they didn’t find a single obese person in their sample screeners. Meanwhile, two in every three Americans are either overweight or obese. (It should be noted, though, that channels do depict women of different body sizes — the star of the since-cancelled “Ruby” on the Style was obese, as is Whitney Thore on TLC’s new show “My Big Fat Fabulous Life.”)
Here’s another obvious disparity between our lives and theirs: they’re naked. Reality stars are partially or fully naked more often than the average person. [Um, how do researchers know how much I am naked? — Editor] Nine out of 10 women’s bodies depicted on reality TV were are at least minimally exposed, while almost one-third are partially or fully undressed.
And it’s not just the women: almost half of the men are some kind of naked. In fact, Flynn believes that the bar is being lifted higher for men than it is for women. Perhaps men are just now dealing with some of the scrutiny that has always been given to women. For what it’s worth, MTV’s demographic skews female, which may help account for all of those shirtless boys. Let’s pick our battles, people.