Eating behavior can be a response to thin- (or muscular-) idealization that may be the result of the aspiration to achieve the ideal, or that is a coping effect for negative body feelings from the comparison with others. Critical thinking and realism skepticism are factors protecting from lower body satisfaction resulting from thin-ideal media exposure. Eating disorder prevention and intervention should consider those factors that are influencing self-imposed overly restricting and unhealthy eating behaviors.
Objectification theory describes an individual’s internalization of media-transported gendered body ideals, the observation of one’s body from the external idealizing point of view, and eventually the recognition of discrepancies between the own present and ideal physical appearance. The latter mental process may result in anxious and shameful feelings and lowered own body satisfaction (Dakanalis et al., 2015). Dakanalis et al. (2015) found some evidence for the mediating effect negative body feelings have on dietary restraint and binge eating. Eating behavior can be a response to thin- (or muscular) idealization that may be the result of the aspiration to achieve the ideal, or that is a coping effect for negative body feelings from the comparison with others. However, more details on these findings still need further, longitudinal data to be analyzed (Dakanalis et al., 2015).
Who is affected?
Science is debating the strength of the effect of media thinness idealization on media consumers. The meta-analysis from Ferguson (2013) reports that little evidence exists for thinness idealization media effects in general; an increased vulnerability for negative media effects is recognized for women with preexisting body dissatisfaction, though. McLean, Paxton, and Wertheim (2016) explain further that critical thinking and realism skepticism are factors protecting from lower body satisfaction resulting from thin-ideal media exposure. There is increasing evidence that for both girls and boys, unrealistic body ideals such as thin-body and muscular body, as conveyed by mass media, are influencing especially young people (Dakanalis et al., 2015). Peers can amplify or weaken the effect of media images. For example, if peers comment thin models as just a little under-weight, this felt stressful to the young girls using the images for self-comparison and goal to achieve for themselves (Veldhuis, Konijn, and Seidell, 2014).
Inconsistent research results, as Veldhuis, Konijn, and Seidell (2014) explain, may be due to study design. For example, the only point in time and short exposures to thin-ideal media might not result in significant effects on experiment participants. The evaluation of the thin-ideal by peers and most importantly, own critical thinking capabilities, as well as the ability to emotionally accept one’s body (Naumann, Tuschen-Caffier, Voderholzer, Schäfer, and Svaldi, 2016), are favorable factors for body satisfaction. Eating disorder prevention and intervention should consider those factors that are influencing self-imposed overly restricting and unhealthy eating behaviors.
Dakanalis, A., Carrà, G., Calogero, R., Fida, R., Clerici, M., Zanetti, M. A., & Riva, G. (2015). The developmental effects of media-ideal internalization and self-objectification processes on adolescents’ negative body-feelings, dietary restraint, and binge eating. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 24(8), 997-1010. doi:10.1007/s00787-014-0649-1
Ferguson, C. J. (2013). In the eye of the beholder: Thin-ideal media affects some, but not most, viewers in a meta-analytic review of body dissatisfaction in women and men. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 2(1), 20-37. doi:10.1037/a0030766
McLean, S. A., Paxton, S. J., & Wertheim, E. H. (2016). Does media literacy mitigate risk for reduced body satisfaction following exposure to thin-ideal media?. Journal Of Youth And Adolescence, 45(8), 1678-1695. doi:10.1007/s10964-016-0440-3
Naumann, E., Tuschen-Caffier, B., Voderholzer, U., Schäfer, J., & Svaldi, J. (2016). Effects of emotional acceptance and rumination on media-induced body dissatisfaction in anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Journal Of Psychiatric Research, 82119-125. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.07.021
Veldhuis, J., Konijn, E. A., & Seidell, J. C. (2014). Research report: Negotiated media effects. Peer feedback modifies effects of media’s thin-body ideal on adolescent girls. Appetite, 73172-182. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.10.023