Study finds young women's satisfaction with own body image suffers after viewing ultra-thin TV characters

Aug 17, 2009

For 10 television seasons Friends was a top-rated feel-good sitcom, which, thanks to syndication now enjoys eternal life. But could something so good actually make people feel bad? Ryerson University researchers think it could— when it comes to body image representation and the show’s slender and beautiful cast members Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox Arquette.

Specializing in the effects of media on children and adults, Dr. Stephen Want, an Assistant Professor in Ryerson’s Department of Psychology set out to measure just how television shows made university-aged women feel about their overall . The recently published study, The Influence of Television Programs on Appearance Satisfaction: Making and Mitigating Social Comparisons to Friends was co-authored by fellow professor Kristin Vickers and former student research assistant-turned-alumna Jennifer Amos.

“Our study showed two things,” said Dr. Want. “First, people have the tendency to make rapid comparisons of themselves to images on television programs even when they don’t think they are being affected. Second, when we are reminded that ‘real life’ doesn’t resemble what is seen on TV, and we can look at things with a critical eye, the comparisons become less relevant.”

According to Dr. Want, the project fills a gap in contemporary body-image research. “There’s a lot of talk about the effect of media images on people’s satisfaction with their appearance. But the term ‘media images’ is used as a catch-all phrase. Most research focuses on fashion magazines and television commercials; we wanted to see if other images on TV achieved the same result.”

To find out if television programs, meant to serve an entertainment function, might impact a viewer’s in the same way more commercial content does, researchers recruited 76 undergraduate women and assigned them to one of four groups. Each group viewed a 10-minute clip of Friends in which thin and physically-attractive characters played a prominent role, but their physical appearance was not especially emphasized. And, unlike some episodes - where Monica’s adolescent weight problem is occasionally mentioned - this particular segment contained no appearance-related jokes or references.

The goal was to gauge participants’ satisfaction with their overall appearance after watching Friends. Before viewing the segment, however, two of the groups were asked to read “intervention” material. One script (“Appearance”) detailed tips and techniques employed by the television industry to make people look better on camera. The other document (“Weight and Shape”) discussed the overrepresentation of thin characters on television, the effort required to maintain a low body weight and the health implications of a low body-mass index.

Both sets of intervention materials were intended to convey the message that idealized images of women on TV are unrealistic and unattainable. Dr. Want equates the comparison of everyday women and TV stars to that of an everyday athlete and an athlete who has taken performance-enhancing drugs; it’s an unfair comparison.

The researchers found that watching the segment had a significantly adverse effect on the participants’ satisfaction with their own appearance. Reading the intervention material, however, seemed to mitigate some of those feelings. In particular, the Weight and Shape script proved very successful in balancing the participants’ view of themselves.

The Influence of Television Programs on Appearance Satisfaction: Making and Mitigating Social Comparisons to Friends appeared in the May 2009 edition of the journal Sex Roles. Dr. Want’s research was funded by Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts and by a Ryerson Research Assistant Program grant.

Provided by Ryerson University

Explore further: Some people may be pre-wired to be bilingual

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Women More Concerned About Losing Weight Than Men

Apr 28, 2005

More than two decades of research indicates that women are at a higher risk than men for developing problems related to body image and satisfaction. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and University of ...

Surprisingly, Female Models Have Negative Effect on Men

Nov 06, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many studies have shown that media images of female models have had a negative impact on how woman view their own bodies, but does this same effect hold true when men view male models? A leading researcher ...

Recommended for you

Some people may be pre-wired to be bilingual

just added

(HealthDay)—Some people's brains seem pre-wired to acquire a second language, new research suggests. But anyone who tries to move beyond their mother tongue will likely gain a brain boost, the small study ...

Elderly brains learn, but maybe too much

9 hours ago

A new study led by Brown University reports that older learners retained the mental flexibility needed to learn a visual perception task but were not as good as younger people at filtering out irrelevant ...

Inpatient psychotherapy is effective in Germany

11 hours ago

Sarah Liebherz (Department of Medical Psychology, University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf) and Sven Rabung (Institute of Psychology, Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt) have examined 59 studies conducted between 1977 ...

A game changer to boost literacy and maths skills

13 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Finding the best way to teach reading has been an ongoing challenge for decades, especially for those children in underprivileged areas who fail to learn to read. What is the magic ingredient that will ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.