The effects of exposure to thin media images in young females  

Mian E., Gerbino W.
First author's affiliation: University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy

Body dissatisfaction in young females has been shown to be a causal risk factor for dieting, negative body image, and increases in eating disorder symptoms. Research has shown that women’s ideal body images are influenced by exposure to diet messages and thin media images. However, studies that explored this phenomenon compared groups of healthy females exposed vs. non-exposed to thin media images, exclusively by means of questionnaires or silhouettes ratings. Such methods have low test-retest reliability. Our experiment studied the effects of exposure to physique salient (PS) vs. physique non-salient (PNS) media images and the moderating influence of perceived body discrepancies (PBD). We used a digital assessment method called Body Image Revealer (BIR), consisting in a digital simulation technique capable of manipulating a picture of the participant, previously taken by a digital camera, to simulate a thin/fat body. Participants, 53 female students, filled validated questionnaires in order to exclude those with an eating disorder. Body Mass Index (BMI) was measured to exclude women outside normal weight range. Five participants were excluded because of high scores in the aforementioned questionnaires or low/high BMI values. To define a baseline, participants’ perceived bodies (PB) and ideal bodies (IB) were assessed using the BIR. The retest was managed after 5 minutes, consisting of a second BIR session following the presentation of PS vs. PNS media images taken from magazines that girls read, according to a poll subministered all over the nation before the experiment. Higher PB scores were associated with the exposure to PS images. The analysis of IB scores indicated that participants increased their desire for thinner bodies after exposure to PS images. Both effects were positively correlated with age and BMI. Results suggest that PS images portraying thin models elicit negative PBD and a desire for thinness greater than images that are considered physique non-salient. This can be detrimental for women’s body images and could be prodromic for an eating disorder.