An Intervention for the Negative Influence of Media on Body Esteem

Article excerpt

Since research suggests that media pressure to be thin causes individuals to have negative feelings about their appearances, this research aimed to test whether exposing college students to some common myths about female images in the media may be part of the solution to fostering a healthier body image. In this study, a 2 (Group: Experimental or Control) x 3 (Time: Baseline, Post Media Exposure, Post Media Truth Presentation) mixed design ANOVA was utilized with 80 women per group. Both groups completed the Body-Esteem Scale three times approximately two weeks apart each: at baseline, after media exposure, and after an intervention designed to educate women both about the typical female body and also about how the media often skews our perception of the typical female body. Interaction effects and post-hoc analyses revealed significant positive changes in the experimental group's view of their overall body esteem, sexual attractiveness, and weight after a Media Truth Presentation, indicating that this intervention had a positive effect on women's views about themselves. Also of note, the intervention appeared to be equally effective for both average- and over-weight women.

Keywords: Body Image. Media, Intervention, Women, Experiment


Research has shown that media exposure to unattainable physical perfection is detrimental to people, especially women, and that the detrimental effects are currently more the rule than the exception (Cash & Henry, 1995). Women may directly model unhealthy eating habits presented in the media, such as fasting or purging, because the media-portrayed thin ideal body type is related to eating pathology (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw & Stein, 1994). Media exposure to female images that are thin and air-brushed is also associated with depression and lower self-esteem in the women who view them (Gerber, 2005).

There is clear evidence suggesting that the media's typical portrayal of women in advertisements has a negative effect on the way women feel about themselves (e.g., Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002; Heinberg & Thompson, 1992; Jacobi & Cash, 1994). With much research demonstrating that negative cognitions and feelings occur when women are exposed to ultra-thin female images, more research should examine what can be done to reverse these consequences. Some have suggested that reducing the number of ultra-thin models and increasing the number of average-sized models may make a positive change in women's perceptions of themselves (Pinhas, has, Toner, Ali, Garfinkel & Stuckless, 1999). Others have suggested that women should be informed of the measures that are taken to alter many images in advertisements in order to clarify that humans typically do not naturally look like those illustrations, and therefore women should not compare their bodies with the illusions of perfection depicted in the media (Levine & Piran, 2004; Henderson-King, Henderson-King & Hoffman, 2001). Though there have been several ideas about how to reverse and even prevent such harmful comparisons, there has been limited empirical research assessing how well these suggested tactics actually alter the body esteem of women.

One notable exception is Fister and Smith's recent study on the effects of exposing women to realistic images (2004). Their results indicated a strong relationship between high risk toward disordered eating and subsequent thinness expectancy endorsement, which refers to the expectancy that being thin will lead to self-improvement in general. Fister and Smith found that the association between initial risk for disordered eating and subsequent thinness expectancy endorsement was much smaller in an average-size model image-viewing group than in a control or thin model image-viewing group. Therefore, the high-risk women who were exposed to average-sized model images were less likely to endorse thinness/restricting expectancies than those participants who were exposed to thin model or home decor images. …