Awareness of Unrealistic Ideals Decreases Body Dissatisfaction in Women

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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  • jimmy


    March 6th, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    ach! so tired of all of this body image crap. we like women big and small, short and tall, it don’t matter. just quit talking about it and then maybe they will stop thinking about it all the time.

  • Janey


    March 6th, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    It might not save us all but I would love to know that the Victoria’s Secret models have a little bit of cellulite that has been airbrushed away. You don’t think that this would make that big of a difference but every now and the it would be nice to know that all of these skinny minny models have some of the same body issues that I do.

  • Vonna


    March 6th, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    If we all know that they are airbrushed then what’s all the fuss? Don’t you think that maybe seeing this ideal of a woman could inspire some of us to do something about our weight if this is an issue for us? Something to work toward? Just because it is thin does not have to mean that it is an unhealthy ideal or that even it is something unattainable to most of us. Getting thin can be done and it can make you feel better about yourself. I look to those cover girls as inspiration for what I look like, not something that brings me down and makes me feel bad about my current self.

  • Ann


    March 6th, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    Wow I didn’t know about the warning labels in these countries. Sounds like something that needs to be made mandatory all Over actually.Young girls everywhere are heavily influenced by these images and there starts the dissatisfaction with their own bodies and then the depression sets in,their eating habits go crazy and everything changes.Its almost as if we are messing up an entire generation on purpose!

  • Nan T

    Nan T

    March 7th, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    The magazine covers do not bother me per se, but I do wonder how they are affecting our young girls. Do they think that to be considered pretty that they have to starve themselves until they are anorexically thin like the girls that grace these covers? I think that a lot of them do.

  • Vicki


    March 8th, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    When we know that this is going on, it is a little bit easier to breathe a sigh of relief and say whew, I don’t have to look that way because in real life tose girls don’t look like that either! But it does bug me that real women are judged against these stylized versions of what some designer or magazine editor thinks we should look like. We will never win that contest- how could we?

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