The Impact of the Ultra-Thin Media Ideal on Women
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A recent meta-analysis has summarized the current state of our knowledge regarding the influence of exposure to thin media ideals and:
body image dissatisfaction;
internalization of the thin ideal; and
negative eating behaviors and beliefs.
Body Image Dissatisfaction
90 experimental and correlational studies looked for a relationship between exposure to ultra-thin media models and body dissatisfaction. These studies show a small to medium effect size [d=-.28 with a 95% CI of -.21 to -.35]. There are two ways to conceptualize effect sizes. The first is to consider effect size as an average change in percentile ranking.
The normal curve represents the distribution of body satisfaction of women not exposed to the ultra-thin media ideal. The black line shows the mean shift in body satisfaction found in women exposed to this ideal [the shift is to approximately the 39th percentile].
Another ways to conceptualize effect size is as the percent of non-overlap between the two distributions. The d [-.28] indicates a non-overlap of approximately 20% between the two distributions. This relationship is very crudely illustrated below.
Internalization of the Thin Ideal
23 studies examined the relationship between media exposure to the ultra-thin models and the internalization of the thin ideal. The effect size was small to moderate [d = -.39 with a 95% CI of -.33 to -.44], accounting for an approximate shift in the mean from .50 to .65 and to a percent of non-overlap of approximately 26%.
Negative Eating Behaviors/Beliefs
20 studies examined the relationship between media exposure to ultra-thin models and negative eating behaviors and beliefs. The effect size was small to moderate [d = -.30 with a 95% CI of -.24 to -.36] accounting for an approximate shift in the mean from .50 to .38 and to a percent of non-overlap of approximately 21%.
The primary limitations of this meta-analysis are:
to date, studies include mostly white subjects,
more prospective studies are needed, and
the impact of the thin media ideal on other variables, such as obesity and self-consciousness, e.g., should be explored.
Prospective studies are still needed in order to fully understand the impact of media exposure on each of these variables. The experimental studies show a direct causal short-term effect and the correlational studies show a similar real-world relationship. The prospective studies are needed to clearly show the strength and causal direction of the long-term, real-world relationships. Preliminary prospective studies suggest that the media does have some causal role.
Grabe, S, Ward, L.M., & Hyde, J.S. (2008). The Role of the Media in Body Image Concerns Among Women: A Meta-Analysis of Experimental and Correlational Studies. Psychological Bulletin. 134, 460-476.
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