Why Do Women Buy Magazines That Make Them Feel Bad?

A woman looks at a magazine at her kitchen tableFashion magazines may seem like little more than a diversion from the stress of everyday life, but research has repeatedly demonstrated that reading these periodicals makes women feel terrible. One study found that just three minutes spent paging through a fashion magazine left 70% of women feeling guilty, ashamed, and depressed. Another found that, regardless of the women’s size or physical appearance, women were equally negatively affected by viewing images of very thin models in fashion magazines. Yet women continue to buy millions of fashion magazines every year. A new study suggests that some women might be seeking inspiration to look like the models.

Fashion Magazines and “Thinspiration”

To understand why women buy magazines that harm them, researchers recruited 51 female college students to look at fashion magazines. Unlike previous studies that evaluated the effects of reviewing fashion magazines, participants in this study viewed a variety of ads and articles over the course of five days, rather than in a brief burst. Prior to the students’ participation, researchers compiled data on the young women’s magazine reading habits, their body image, body mass index, and how frequently the women compared their bodies with the bodies of others.

After the women viewed 16 pages of fashion magazines, researchers asked them a host of questions about how they felt about the magazines and their bodies. Unsurprisingly, women who compared themselves to the models felt worse about themselves, and were more likely to have dieted during the five days of the study. But some women saw the models as a source of what researchers termed “thinspiration.” They wanted to look more like the models, and viewed this as possible. 

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, professor of communication at The Ohio State University and the study’s author, notes that previous studies have only looked at women’s reactions when the women viewed advertisements only, not text. Women may develop an affinity for models in such a context, viewing the models as relatable and a source of thinspiration. Of course, looking like a model is unrealistic for the overwhelming majority of women, and with the rampant use of photo editing tools, even the models themselves don’t always look like the finished images we see in magazines.

Knobloch-Westerwick argues that when women understand the effects fashion magazines have, rather than just seeing these periodicals as entertainment, they may be better equipped to combat the magazines’ negative effects.


  1. The Body Project: Facilitator fact sheet [PDF]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bodyprojectsupport.org/assets/pdf/materials/facilitator_fact_sheet.pdf
  2. Why women buy magazines that promote impossible body images. (2014, November 9). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/285020.php
  3. Women of all sizes feel badly about their bodies after seeing models. (2007, March 27). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070326152704.htm

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lesley

    November 12th, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    I know that I will never look like the ladies in these magazines but I too still buy them every month. Why? Well I am looking for makeup stuff, hair tips, fashions that I like, things that go along with who I already am and not what I would like to be. I don;t honestly think that for a lot of us, even though the research says that they do, I just don’t think that most of us are affected negatively by them. I think that most of us are very realistic when we are checking them out and just want some ways to look and feel a little prettier. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.

  • OONA

    November 12th, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    We have been fed the lie that if we spend enough $$$ and do all the right things that we can look like them and lead the oh so fabulous lives that these glamour girls lead when the truth is that nothing except good genes and Photoshop would ever even bring me close to having that be my reality. There was a time when that made me immensely depressed but now I am kind of ok with who I am and have learned instead to appreciate those things which I do have instead only mourning the things that I don’t.

  • Judy

    November 13th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    They never make me feel bad… they make me feel like I could probably do a little better with what I have but never bad

    If I let print mags do that then I need to do something else to boost my own self confidence

  • Roseanna

    November 16th, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    Well our choices are limited to either this crap or fixing auto magazines so I guess I will stick with the book selections from the public library.

  • Kristine

    February 2nd, 2015 at 7:28 PM

    I’m glad to see that they don’t negatively affect every woman; more power to you.
    I, however, will certainly vouch that they can affect you. I finally broke away from the fashion magazines, now it’s the “perfect home” magazines that I struggle with. Like the lady said, I should stick to the book selections.

  • Jane

    March 1st, 2017 at 12:03 PM

    I don’t look at magazines often but when I do, I always look down to see if I am close to their body size. (I’m not, Obvy!) It is so weird because I only way so little while I no some skinny people that way so much!!!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.