More women than ever before are affected by self-esteem and body image issues. It’s not surprising because everywhere we look, the media is putting an almost unattainable, female body type in our faces. When we open a magazine or watch advertisements, every woman we see is skinny, perfectly sculpted and any hint of imperfection has been airbrushed away.
While we have always thought that this stereotypical, perfect body might be causing issues with self-esteem, now it has been proven.
A recent study done by Dr. Jean-Luc Jucker from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, was able to prove that the way people feel about their bodies can change in as little as 15 minutes. The research took place in Nicaragua, where Dr. Jucker went to rural villages and found communities of people who don’t even have electricity.
The subjects had very low to non-existent access to the western ideal of female beauty in their villages. However, most had experienced some television when they visited towns or cities in the past. To find a population of people who had never been exposed at all, even while traveling, would be ideal, but very difficult to do.
Eighty men and women from the village who were between the ages of 16 – 78 volunteered to take part in the study. First, they were asked to create their ideal female body size using computer generated female bodies. They could do so by increasing or decreasing the size of the bodies within a range that is equivalent to a BMI of 15 – 40.
After they had created four ideal female bodies, they were shown photos from a clothing catalog. Half of the villagers were shown pictures of ‘thin’ women who wear a UK size 4 or 6. The other half were shown plus-sized models that wear a UK size 16 – 18.
The models that were shown to the villagers varied in age, ethnic background, and clothing, with these characteristics being represented equally in both groups. The photos were presented in pairs, and they were told to choose their favorite model from each pair.
After they were shown the images, they were asked to recreate their ideal female body types, and the results were entirely different from their original ideal body type.
The villagers who had seen the photos of thin women created slimmer bodies than they had designed before being shown the images. The ones who were shown the plus-sized pictures created larger, curvier women.
Overall, after seeing the small selection of western media images of thin and size models, there was a change in the villager’s perceptions. Their ideal female body size now favored the pictures they had just viewed.
“One key sociocultural contributor to body dissatisfaction is the thin body ideal and its omnipresence in the mass media,” the researchers said.
“The globalization of the thin ideal in populations that are in the process of Westernization and modernization is all the more worrying given that it usually coincides with rising levels of obesity, and therefore renders the dominant ideal of a slim or underweight female body even more difficult to attain.”
This study gives us a new perspective that makes it easy to see how the media manipulates our ideals of beauty and causes self-esteem issues. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more models that equally represent all different shapes, sizes, and skin colors. After all, having only one cookie-cutter-type, the standard of beauty misrepresents the beautifully unique qualities of humans.