When Seeing Is Not Believing: An Examination of the Mechanisms Accounting for the Protective Effect of Media Literacy on Body Image

Abstract

The present study aimed to explore the moderating role of three dimensions of media literacy on the relationship between media exposure and body dissatisfaction, mediated by thin-ideal internalization and appearance comparison among early female adolescents. A sample of 284 Australian female adolescents in single-sex schools (Mage = 13.15 years, range 11–16) reported on their media exposure, thin-ideal internalization, appearance comparison, body dissatisfaction, and three dimensions of media literacy: realism scepticism (scepticism regarding the extent to which media images portray reality, similarity scepticism (scepticism regarding the extent to which images portray a reality that is compatible with one’s personal experience), and critical thinking (with regard to the intention of the message, its meaning, and influence). Moderated mediation analyses were conducted. Findings revealed different patterns of relationships for the different dimensions of media literacy, with similarity scepticism moderating the mediated relationship between media exposure and body dissatisfaction via both thin-ideal internalization and appearance comparison. In contrast, reality scepticism and critical thinking revealed negative associations with body dissatisfaction but were not found to serve as moderators. Findings suggest that the mechanisms of action may vary for different dimensions of media literacy, and they highlight the importance of targeting media literacy in intervention and prevention efforts.

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Acknowledgements

This work was conducted as an Honorary Researcher at La Trobe University.

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Correspondence to Rachel F. Rodgers.

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This study was funded by Australian Rotary Health. A PhD scholarship was awarded to the second author.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

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The study was approved by the ethnics committee of the University. All participants provided informed consent.

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Rodgers, R.F., McLean, S.A. & Paxton, S.J. When Seeing Is Not Believing: An Examination of the Mechanisms Accounting for the Protective Effect of Media Literacy on Body Image. Sex Roles 81, 87–96 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0973-x

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Keywords

  • Media literacy, body dissatisfaction, protective
  • Thin-ideal internalization
  • Appearance comparison
  • Prevention
  • Body image