Combatting Body Image Problems in a Virtual World

Communities have worked tirelessly to provide different resources to schools, colleges, and other organizations that cater to young women in the hopes of educating them about the dangers of negative body image and unhealthy eating and food relationships. The majority of these strategies, which include literature, videos, and physical intervention efforts, have done little to increase a woman’s satisfaction with her body in a society riddled with unrealistic body ideals. However, researchers have developed one tool that has proven to be effective at reducing disordered eating in women with body image issues. In a previous study, Eric Stice of the Oregon Research Institute tested an approach that involved dissonance to see if projecting negative attitudes toward unrealistic ideals would decrease eating problems in young women. The results of his study provided evidence that this strategy worked quite well.

For many women, eating problems escalate when they leave home to attend college. The freedom that comes from being independent also provides women with the opportunity to increase unhealthy eating habits. Unfortunately, most college campuses have few effective programs available to help these women. The financial strain on college administrations prevents many of these programs from being maximized to their full potential. Therefore, Stice and his colleagues attempted to take their previously successful Body Image dissonance program viral. Using an internet-based version of the program, called eBody Image, Stice compared the effects of the internet intervention to those he discovered in his practical experiment. He also measured the results of eBody Image against results of literature and videos targeting body image issues in a sample of 107 college women.

Stice found that the practical Body Image and eBody Image participants realized the biggest reductions in eating issues during and after the intervention, although he found little variance in the virtual and practical approaches. These results suggest that internet usage, which is high among college students, is an avenue of intervention that could be successfully targeted for people at risk for eating issues and other mental health problems. Stice also noted that although the results are promising, more work needs to be done. He added, “Results suggest that this prototype Internet intervention is as efficacious as the group intervention, implying that there would be merit in completing this intervention and evaluating it in a fully powered trial.”

Stice, E., Rohde, P., Durant, S., Shaw, H. (2012). A preliminary trial of a prototype internet dissonance-based eating disorder prevention program for young women with body image concerns. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028016

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Audrey


    April 26th, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    I actually think that this could be really effective at combatting all of the negative body image going on with females today, but this is something that has to be started early. For me as a 38 year old it is probably not going to work as well because I have all of these years of not feeling like I measure up to go against. But oif we start having this kind of conversation early enough with our daughters then maybe we have a chance of shwoing them that rail thin is not always ideal. We can talk to them about what it means to be healthy and to live a healthy lifestyle and not make it always be about weight and beauty. Maybe then they will see that it really is all about knowing who you are and being beautiful on the inside that counts the most.

  • vonda s

    vonda s

    April 26th, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    There are so many more avenues for prevention to explore today than there used to be, that we have no excuse for allowing this to be a continuing problem for women. We are smart enough to realize that those images that are shown to us are not any more real than anything else. They are photoshopped and airbrushed, and if I had that then I would look like that too!

  • Holly


    April 27th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    We have been plied with so many images of the “perfect” woman that sometimes it is hard to remember that 99% of us don’t look like that. Most of the time even that perfect 1% don’t look like that either.

    And even though we know that logically, it is hard to always remember that. We are always trying to live up to something that really shouldn’t matter all that much at all.

    I will go through life trying to best appreciate their beauty all the while trying my best to remember that that is not the most important thing around.

  • olive east

    olive east

    April 27th, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    you can put a to-do list and a take-care-of-yourself handout there but what can really help these young women is constant talk of healthy eating in their growing up years at home.that will work better than any other form of intervention or awareness.

  • Ursula


    April 27th, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    I kind of agree with olive east.
    It is fine and dandy to put out this kind of literature for young women. . . but if the Vogue covers don’t change their ways then little in the way that young women think about their bodies is going to change all that much either.
    These are the women who consistently held up as ideal, the beauty and the perfection. We still buy into that and will continue to do so until the whole mindst of the fashion world changes. . . and I honestly don’t see that happening any time soon.

  • Joey


    April 27th, 2012 at 9:19 PM

    My girlfriend is someone you would call almost perfect and yet she is always fretting about her weight and tries to do all sorts of things to stay in control..It’s kind of weird because there’s nothing wrong with her body-no overweight problems or anything,only the FEAR of it. I keep telling her other girls would be jealous of her because she has maintained herself really well but the fear in her and the crazy diets never go out of the picture..This sort of fear of something is never good,..hope she listens :|

  • Jim


    April 28th, 2012 at 6:14 AM

    Right now, there is so much emphasis on needing to be thin that I don’t think that may young women at this age see this as a problem that they need to overcome. Most of them are so focused on achieving that idealized body that they are not thinking about how this quest for perfection could be drinving them in an unhealthy manner. I think that parents need to be more involved in getting the right messages to their girls, but in many cases they are the ones who started them on this to begin with! Little comments about being chubby and baby fat hit hard especially for girls and they keep that with them for a very long time. And once the get to high school and college and the stress and the pressure to be perrfect are even greater, sometimes the disordered eating can really take hold. I would like to think that this could benefit the majority of them, and I think that it could if they are in the place to listen to it, but most of them are not there yet.



    April 29th, 2012 at 4:43 AM

    You can implement all of the programs and treatment plans and viral programming that you want, but until a girl is ready and willing to believe that she is good enough to break this habit then I am sorry to say that you are not going to find all that much success.
    This is behavior that for many of us has been going on for quite a number of years, and even before we started bingeing and purging or not eating at all we were trying other ways to stay or get thinn.
    Why? Because that’s what we were told day in and day out that we needed to be in order to be considered pretty or special.
    This goes so much deeper that just needing to get a message out. This is a lot of behavior that will need to be changed and believe me, it is difficult behavior to try to tackle and get under control.

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