March 28, 2007 -- Looking at picture-perfect and rail-thin models may make women feel worse about their own bodies, regardless of their size or shape.
Previous studies have shown that images of skinny models negatively affect how overweight women and those with eating disorders view their own body image.
But a new study suggests that all women are equally, and negatively, affected by looking at pictures of models in magazine ads for just three minutes.
"Surprisingly, we found that weight was not a factor. Viewing these pictures was just bad for everyone," says researcher Laurie Mintz, associate professor of educational, school, and counseling psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a news release.
"It had been thought that women who are heavier feel worse than a thinner woman after viewing pictures of the thin ideal in the mass media," Mintz says. "The study results do not support that theory."
Models Mar Body Image
In the study, published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, researchers examined how a group of young college women felt about themselves after looking at images of models in magazine ads for one to three minutes.
First, researchers measured how the 81 women -- average weight 141, with BMI, or body mass index, in the normal range -- felt about their body image, including their weight, hair, sexual attractiveness, and physical shape.
Then, half the women were given a packet containing 10 neutral images in magazine advertisements, such as toilet paper, cars, and gum.
The remaining women looked at five magazine advertisements containing images of attractive models and five neutral images.
After looking at the assigned images for one to three minutes, all the women were evaluated again on body self-esteem.
The results showed that all of the women who viewed the models reported a drop in their level of satisfaction with their own bodies, regardless of their size.
Contrary to previous studies, researchers found women who were heavier did not have a greater feeling of body dissatisfaction after looking at the models than those who were of normal weight.
"These unrealistic images of women, who are often airbrushed or partially computer generated, have a detrimental impact on women and how they feel about themselves," says Mintz."Most women do not go to a counselor for advice; they look to Seventeen or Glamour magazine instead."