Images of Thin and Plus-Size Models Produce Opposite Effects on Women’s Body Image, Body Dissatisfaction, and Anxiety

Abstract

Mainstream media’s promotion of dangerously thin female images likely lowers self-image satisfaction and contributes to pathological body concerns and disordered eating among women. We tested upward and downward social-comparison effects on self-evaluations by exposing 145 Spanish women to images of thin (upward) or overweight (downward) models. We also tested whether explicitly asking or not asking participants to compare themselves with the models would moderate social comparison effects. Exposure to thin models deteriorated body image while increasing body dissatisfaction and anxiety. Conversely, exposure to overweight models improved body image and decreased body dissatisfaction but it did not affect anxiety. Whether participants were asked to compare themselves to the models explicitly or implicitly had no effect on the participants’ responses. Furthermore, pre-existing body image concerns were not associated with the pre-to-post exposure effects. We propose that increasing the representation of normal weight and overweight women in media advertisements could help to neutralize or at least reduce the negative impact of media’s practice to idealize thin and overly thin women as symbols of female beauty.

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Correspondence to Antonio Cepeda-Benito.

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The present research was conducted within the ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association (APA) and thereby followed APA’s principles of ethical and professional conduct. Funding for this research was provided by the public universities that employ the authors, the authors have no conflict of interest to declare (financial or non-financial), and all participants gave informed consent prior to their participation.

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Moreno-Domínguez, S., Servián-Franco, F., Reyes del Paso, G.A. et al. Images of Thin and Plus-Size Models Produce Opposite Effects on Women’s Body Image, Body Dissatisfaction, and Anxiety. Sex Roles 80, 607–616 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0951-3

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Keywords

  • Body image
  • Social comparison
  • Mass media
  • Media exposure
  • Eating disorders