Photos Model Women Can Depress Real Women
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THE KATE MOSS EFFECT ON DEPRESSION
By Jennifer Thomas
From HealthScoutNews / ABC News
October 30, 2002
Women, you know that crummy feeling you get after leafing through a fashion
magazine chock-full of models who, let's face it, look way better than you?
It's not all in your head, a new study says.
Researchers found that women who looked at advertisements featuring
stereotypically thin and beautiful women showed more signs of depression and
were more dissatisfied with their bodies after only one to three minutes of
viewing the pictures.
The women who registered the biggest drop in self-image after viewing the
pictures were those who already felt bad about themselves to begin with,
said Laurie Mintz, lead author of the study and an associate professor of
educational and counseling psychology at University of Missouri-Columbia.
"It's like a vicious cycle for a lot of women," Mintz said. "Basically,
women who already feel ashamed of themselves are the people who are going to
be most impacted by those images."
Researchers divided 91 Caucasian women ages 18 to 31 into two groups. The
first group was shown advertisements for underwear, nail polish, jewelry,
lotion, gum, and liquor that featured rail-thin, seemingly flawless women.
The other group of women was shown ads for the same types of products
without people in them.
Mintz and graduate student Emily Borchers then used three well-accepted
tests to measure psychological changes after viewing the images, including
depression, self-esteem, and body satisfaction.
The body satisfaction test, called the Objectified Body Consciousness Scale,
is designed to assess to what degree a woman sees herself as an object, how
ashamed she is that her body does not measure up to cultural ideas, and how
much she believes she's responsible for her body not meeting the cultural
One portion of the questionnaire asks women to rate, on a scale of one to
five, their happiness with 35 body parts, including their nose, lips, waist,
thighs, overall weight, and body hair.
Researchers found that after looking at the pictures of the beautiful models
for one to three minutes, the women's body dissatisfaction increased
significantly. Depression levels registered a slight uptick, while
self-esteem was unchanged.
"What is really, really striking to me is that it took such a short time,"
The study has not yet been published.
Joan Chrisler, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College, said she's
not surprised by the findings. "There have been several studies that have
shown after women look at fashion magazines their body satisfaction and
their feelings about themselves decrease," Chrisler said.
So what's a woman to do?
Avoid reading fashion or celebrity-gossip type magazines, Chrisler said. Of
course, it's hard to avoid billboards, television, and all the other places
these images are shown.
So try to remember images are not realistic.
Forget airbrushing. Models in today's ads can have portions of their bodies
digitally altered to erase even the most minute mole, bulge, or asymmetry.
Some "models" depicted in ads aren't real people at all, but composites,
Today's mass media is blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, making
it seem as if "perfection" is attainable with the right diet, the right
beauty products, the right plastic surgeon, Mintz said. For the vast
majority of women, this, of course, isn't the case.
"Within current mass media messages, the distinctions between reality and a
fictionalized ideal are often unclear," Mintz said. "Unlike art, literature
and music, which are usually in the context of something unattainable, the
images that that individuals are constantly exposed to through the mass
media are perceived as realistic, and thus, seem to set cultural standards."
In the study, Mintz cited previous research that asked adolescent girls what
the ideal woman looked like. The girls said she's 5 feet 7 inches tall,
weighs 100 pounds, is a size 5, and is blond and blue-eyed.
"What we need is for young women to stand up and say, 'I've had it.
Enough!'" Chrisler said.
Define your standards for beauty, Chrisler suggested. "It's only the ideal
if you accept it as the ideal, and you don't have to. You can ask yourself:
'What does beauty mean to me?' You can decide beauty is a range or something
internal or a sparkle in the eye."
What to Do
To read more about women and their struggles with body image, visit the
Boston Women's Health Book Collective:
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