Images of unrealistic female ideals are rampant in the media. Magazine covers, television shows, and movies celebrate the tall, thin, and nearly flawless female figure. Most of these portrayals are fictitious, the result of airbrushing, digital enhancement, and skilled make-up artists. But these unrealistic ideals can cause the average woman to become dissatisfied with her own authentic and real body image. Body dissatisfaction has increased dramatically over the past several decades, conversely in proportion with the shrinking of the media’s representation of the perfect female body. Even though the images women view have become thinner, the average female body has gotten heavier, elevating the disconnect between the body a woman has and the one she wants. This has caused a great deal of concern in the mental health community because it has been shown to increase the levels of disordered eating and unhealthy weight control strategies in women throughout the world. But some cultures are taking steps to bridge this gap.
In Australia and France, warning labels have been added to several magazines that target young women. Similar to the graphic warning labels on cigarette packages, these warning labels disclose that the models have been digitally altered. To determine if these labels are effective in changing how a woman view’s her body, Amy Slater of the School of Psychology at Flinders University in Australia studied 102 women ranging in age from 18 to 35. One group of the women viewed pictures of models with warning labels that detailed how the models were altered. Another group of the women viewed pictures with a simple label that merely said the model had been digitally enhanced without specifying which body parts were changed. The third group viewed the same images with no warning labels.
Slater then compared how each group of women rated their levels of body dissatisfaction and found that the women who viewed the pictures with labels, regardless of the specificity of the label, had much lower levels of body dissatisfaction than the women who viewed the pictures with no labels. Because the societal and cultural trend of aspiring to unrealistic body images has become a hot topic in politics and health, Slater believes that the results of her study could pave the way for more oversight in this area. She added, “Thus, the findings provide the first evidence that the use of disclaimer labels to indicate that images have been altered may help to ameliorate some of the known negative effects of viewing thin-idealized images.”
Slater, A., Tiggemann, M., Firth, B., Hawkins, K. (2012.) Reality Check: An Experimental Investigation of the Addition of Warning Labels to Fashion Magazine Images on Women’s Mood and Body Dissatisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31.2, 105-122. Print.
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