The impact of exposure to images of ideally thin models on body dissatisfaction in young French and Italian women Academic Article uri icon


  • AIMS: The thin-ideal of feminine beauty has a strong impact on body image and plays a central part in eating disorders. This ideal is widely promoted by the media images that flood western societies. Although the harmful effects of exposure to thin-ideal media images have been repeatedly demonstrated experimentally in English-speaking western countries, no such studies exist in southern Europe. There is evidence to suggest that the use of average-size models could reduce these negative effects. This study investigates body image amongst French and Italian students following exposure to media images of thin or average-size models, with a neutral or supportive slogan. METHODS: The data were gathered in three locations: the psychology departments of the Universities of Padua, Italy, and Toulouse, France, and lastly high schools in the Toulouse area. A total of 299 girls took part in the study; their average age was 19.9 years old (S.D.=2.54) In order to investigate the effects of media images, we created three fake advertisements, allegedly promoting body-cream. The first advertisement displayed an ideally-thin model accompanied by a neutral slogan. In the second, the model was average-size with the same neutral slogan. The last advertisement also contained the average-size model, but with a supportive slogan designed to convey acceptance of deviations from the social norms of thinness. The participants first graded themselves on a VAS of body dissatisfaction (0 to 10). On the basis of this score, we created a first group containing girls reporting body dissatisfaction (VAS>or=5), the second with those reporting no body dissatisfaction (VAS<5). Participants were then randomly exposed to one of the three advertisements, after which they filled in the body dissatisfaction sub-scale of the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI-2). RESULTS: The results showed that girls with initial body dissatisfaction reported higher body dissatisfaction after being exposed to images of ideally thin models than images of average-size models (F(1.32)=4.64, p=0.039). However, there was no significant difference between body dissatisfaction scores reported after exposure to images of average-size models accompanied by neutral or supportive slogans (F(1.39)=0.093, p=0.76). CONCLUSIONS: This study illustrates the negative effects of exposure to thin-ideal media images among students with body dissatisfaction. The use of average-size models in the media and advertising might help reduce these effects. No improvement was obtained via the use of a supportive slogan. These results highlight the importance of media literacy campaigns in the prevention of eating disorders.

publication date

  • June 1, 2009