While I hate to reminisce about that not-at-all-well-informed-fat-hating-blogger, I haven’t been able to shake the thought of the BS she was preaching about women needing images of thin models and celebrities in order to have idols to look up to, thus aiming to “better” their own bodies [by losing weight]. You’ve heard my opinions on said blogger quite clearly, but I just came across a study done by Durham University in the UK last month, which not only proves her wrong, but whose findings also encourage the total opposite of what the weight-Nazi was trying to tell cyberspace.
Because the folks from Durham’s psychology department are far more qualified experts than I on the totem poll of weight/body image researching, I think it’s important for everyone to know what their study, which has thus far included 100 women, has suggested about our weight perceptions.
In the first portion of the experiment, researchers presented the ladies with images of very thin models – only to find what most of us would expect. The more the women were made to look at skinny gals, the more they preferred skinny body types, and the more they aspired to lose weight in order to look like the photos of the size 0-4 representations they were seeing. Later on, the same women were shown images of plus-size models, and ended up being “significantly less keen” on their exceptionally thin counterparts. Being presented with images of plus-size models (sizes 12 and up) boosted their own confidence and made them less determined to focus on living up to the portrait of a model below healthy weight.
The experiment may not exactly be innovative – I mean, most rational-minded, common-sense-possessing, human beings would realize that the more we see something, the more we think that something is the norm. The more bombarded we are with images of women with boy hips and no ta-tas, the more we think that is the status quo. But that isn’t the status quo. The average woman is a size 14, and living up to the photo of a model that is probably even not as skinny as she’s made to look with Photoshop, is nonsensical. Idolizing a made-up portrayal of someone who actually looks nearly non-existent isn’t going to help anyone. All it does is create false expectations and false perceptions of body image – just as Nicholas Sparks creates false perceptions of love through his dozens of exaggeratedly romanticized stories (seriously…no one lives in a Nicholas Sparks novel).
Susan Ringwood, the chief executive of “Beat,” a charity for those suffering through eating disorders in England, spoke out in regards to Durham’s survey. “We see an average of 2,000 images a day in advertising alone, and most of these include bodies that are more slender than average,” she said. “Increasing the diversity of body shapes and sizes portrayed in the media could re-balance our views about our own bodies in an emotionally healthy way.” This is why all divisions of Vogue enacted a rule that says they will only use healthy models in their magazines – i.e. those who aren’t 100 pounds and 5’10”. This is why Seventeen has made the same promise. This is why inStyle and Marie Claire have plus-size columnists writing for them – because what the majority of people seem to want is to look at something/someone relateable. If you’re going to admire a model or actor or musician, it’s probably going to be one you feel kindred with – and I can’t image the bulk of people feeling kindred with someone who looks like they will soon need to be hospitalized for malnourishment.