When you pick up a women’s magazine, do you think, “Hey, I look better than this chick!” or “If only my thighs were that thin”? Many women tend toward the latter, even if they know models’ bodies are unrealistic and possibly unhealthy—and even if they can criticize the images they see.
In this study, about 200 undergraduate women looked at advertisements from women’s magazines and listed the thoughts that came to mind, both in general and about themselves. They also completed questionnaires designed to measure their attitudes about thinness and their own bodies, their body mass indices (BMI), and their satisfaction with life.
The majority of participants (82 percent) listed at least one negative thought about themselves after looking at a model in a swimsuit, and women who tended to compare themselves with the images were more likely to feel dissatisfied with their bodies. Not surprisingly, far fewer women thought they compared favorably to the models.
Most of the participants (74 percent) challenged the images with statements like “She’s way too thin” or “Nobody really looks like that without airbrushing”—comments that hypothetically should make them feel better. But not so: those comments had no correlation with body image.
The bottom line? Ultra-thin models make women feel worse and critiquing the images—however unrealistic—doesn’t help.