Anything but Real: Body Idealization and Objectification of MTV Docusoap Characters

Abstract

Women and men featured in U.S. based MTV docusoaps were analyzed to explore body ideal and body exposure norms in a television genre highly popular among young people. Results from a quantitative content analysis of five popular docusoaps from 2004 to 2011 demonstrated that, although these shows were labeled as reality-based, the bodies displayed in them were highly idealized. Close to half of women’s bodies were coded as curvaceously thin and more than half of men’s bodies were coded as muscularly lean. Over two-thirds of women’s bodies and close to three-quarters of men’s bodies were coded as low fat, demonstrating that thinness was the most common body characteristic. In addition, cast members on the programs commonly exposed their bodies, including widespread partial nudity and some full nudity. Women, compared to men, exhibited a higher level of body exposure. However, men tended to expose their bodies to a higher degree than women. Close to half of all men were shown partially nude, compared to one-quarter of women. Characters with the idealized body types also exhibited a higher level of body exposure than others. These findings support previous research that investigated cultural expectations and media representations of women and men’s appearance in the U.S. The findings also demonstrate a growing focus on male body image and objectification. The potential psychological implications of self-objectification and modeling among adolescent audiences are discussed.

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Correspondence to Sung-Yeon Park.

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Flynn, M.A., Park, S., Morin, D.T. et al. Anything but Real: Body Idealization and Objectification of MTV Docusoap Characters. Sex Roles 72, 173–182 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0464-2

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Keywords

  • Reality TV
  • MTV
  • Docusoap
  • Body image
  • Body exposure
  • Objectification
  • Content analysis