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Even Science Says We Need More Body Diversity in Media

Ashley Graham cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition

Image: Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Image: Sports Illustrated

Researchers at Chapman University just confirmed what we already knew: overexposure to unhealthily thin models digs deep into our psyches. So much so that altering swimsuit ads to highlight their flawed undertones does nothing to mitigate their negative effect on women’s body image satisfaction. Now, how many more times does this need to be said before industry standards substantially change?

The team, headed by David Frederick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman, conducted two studies focusing on whether or not body image activists are wasting their energy adding disclaimers or “subvertisements” — witty changes meant to counter the photos’ injurious messages — to ads. (Spoiler alert: Extremely well-intentioned, big ol’ waste of time.)

The study consisted of 2,288 women in total, the average age of those surveyed being 35 years old. Participants were divided into three groups. The control group was shown original advertisements featuring skinny models. A second group was presented with the same ads, this time stamped with a red disclaimer label reading: “WARNING, this photo has been photoshopped” — kind of like a black lung on a cigarette carton. The third and final unit was the luckiest — they got to see the subvertised images. “Photoshop made me ripped,” declared one swimsuit ad. “Why don’t you show that she is a person with a face and personality instead of presenting her as a sexualized body part?” questioned a close-up of a woman’s derrière. “I’m thinking about that last cheeseburger I ate… 5 years ago,” read a thought bubble over another model’s head.

After examining their respective ads, each group was asked to complete a survey measuring their body satisfaction and dieting practices. Surprise, surprise: when asked how much they compared their bodies to those of the women in the ads —subvertised, disclaimed or not — the answer was the same: yes they did, and no, they did not feel great about themselves.

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“There is no existing research that has examined whether viewing images that have been subvertised improves body image, reduces social comparison, or reduces a desire to be thin,” explains Dr. Frederick. “We found that simply viewing subvertised images was not effective. Instead, research shows that other approaches, such as media literacy programs and individual therapy appear to be more effective interventions. Even if viewing the actual subvertisements does not benefit most women, the act of creating them may be a positive experience for women experiencing body dissatisfaction.”

Thus, to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who recently admonished Gucci for its use of unhealthily thin models, to the French officials who legislated a ban on models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 18, and to publications like Sports Illustrated that feature curvy cover girls, we tip our hats. More variety in the media, not programs explaining its love of Photoshop, is what’s really needed to combat body acceptance issues — science says so. Proceed accordingly.

[ via Science Daily ]