Recent research suggests that as many as two-thirds of all high school females are either on a diet or planning to start one (French, Perry, Leon, & Fulkerson, 1995; Garner & Kearney-Cooke, 1996; Story, Neumark-Sztainer, Sherwood, Stang, & Murray, 1998; Gordon, 2000). In fact, dieting has become so common that some researchers contend that what is now considered "normal" eating by many female adolescents may actually border on what has been traditionally considered to be pathogenic or eating-disordered (Polivy & Herman, 1987).
Those who study this trend have expressed concern that adolescent females who diet are substantially more likely to engage in health-compromising behaviors and are more likely to develop an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, than are nondieters (Grigg, Bowman, & Redman, 1996; Lowe, Cleaves, DiSimone-Weiss, Furgueson, Gayda, Koisky, Neal-Walden, Nelson, & McKinney, 1996). It is not uncommon for dieting adolescent females to experiment with pathogenic practices that include using laxatives, diet pills, or intentional vomiting (Story et al., 1998; Lowe et al., 1996). A 1989 national study of female students in the 8th and 10th grades by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with the Public Health Services, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institute on Drug Use, reported that 45.2% of the respondents said they skipped meals, 11.3% said they used diet pills, and 7.6% said they had made them selves vomit. In a more recent study of 1,015 high school females, French, Perry, Leon, and Fulkerson (1995) reported that 11.6% of the respondents skipped meals, 5.4% used diet pills, and 4.4% made themselves vomit. Similar results were reported by Nichter, Ritenbaugh, Nichter, Vuckovic, and Aickin (1995), who studied 231 high school females and reported that 3% of their respondents had made themselves vomit for weight control purposes and 4% had used diet pills.
Researchers who study eating-disordered cognitions and behaviors have suggested that the mass media, women's magazines in particular, may play a role in triggering these practices (see, for example, Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994; Hamilton & Waller, 1993; Shaw, 1995; Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Duncan, 1994; Eskes, Duncan, & Miller, 1998). Specifically, it is believed that reading beauty and fashion magazines leads many young women to internalize and embrace the sociocultural "thin ideal" and, in turn, motivates them to attain it, sometimes through pathogenic practices. While most of this body of research focuses on the relationship of media consumption with the development of disordered attitudes and cognitions, the purpose of the present study was to explore the relationship between reading beauty and fashion magazines and the incidence of several specific eating-disordered weight loss practices among a group of high school females. These practices included extreme caloric restriction, the use of appetite suppressants or weight loss pills, self-induced vomiting, skipping two meals a day, and the use of laxatives.
The American Psychiatric Association (1994) characterizes anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa as biopsychosocial disorders that result in distortions in self-image and self-perception. Young women who suffer from these disorders develop abnormal attitudes about food and eating. Anorectics develop such an intense fear of food, as well as an obsessive desire to control intake, that they often literally starve themselves to death. Bulimics, on the other hand, suffer from self-distorted body images that lead them to sessions of binging, or excessive eating, followed by purging, which most often, but not always, takes the form of self-induced vomiting. The onset of these two diseases typically occurs during early adolescence or early adulthood when most young women are not only susceptible to cultural pressure for thinness but also likely to be heavily involved with, and influenced by, the mass media (Smolak & Striegel-Moore, 1996; Heatherton, Mahamedi, Striepe, Field, & Keel, 1997; Polivy & Herman, 1987; Levine & Smolak, 1996; Arnett, 1995; Arnett, Larson, & Offer, 1995; Steele & Brown, 1995; Levine, Smolak, & Hayden, 1994). …