Last updated May 17, 2018 at 12:02 pm
Viewing images of others bodies changes not just how we see our own body, but how satisfied we feel
We’re exposed to so many media images of thin, impossibly perfect bodies everyday, and it’s warping our sense of body shape.
Researchers have known for a while that looking at images of people’s bodies changes the way we perceive others bodies.
University of Bristol scientists have found that not only can images change the way we perceive bodies, they can change how happy we feel about our own body shape.
It’s all in the mind
The research team recruited young women and showed them images of women of ‘normal weight’ (22-23 BMI).
The experimental groups were shown the same images but digitally altered to appear thinner or more overweight, although the authors point out that their ‘underweight’ images are very similar to the types of women’s bodies most often seen in media images, and might in fact be larger than the average media model.
They found that only a short task, looking at 10 of these images, was enough to change the way that women perceived their own bodies.
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Previous studies have also shown that we can change our perception about our own bodies in as little as two minutes of exposure to images of bodies of different sizes.
The groups who looked at the ‘normal’ and ‘overweight’ images subsequently viewed their own bodies as smaller and were more satisfied with their own body shape. This effect was even bigger in those who were most unhappy with their bodies to start with.
Will it change behaviour? The researchers left the study participants with a bowl of malteasers after they’d finished the task of looking at the body images, to see if there would be any difference between groups on how much chocolate they would eat, if any at all, but there was no significant difference between any of the groups.
They followed up a day later and found that changes in body satisfaction lasted at least that long though.
Media representation is a public health issue
The researchers hope that this adds to the evidence that presenting more women of normal and larger size in the media can help us all feel better about our own bodies, and that this could have real and important effects in reducing the risk eating disorders and obesity.
Research from The Royal Society Open Science