There’s long been a suspicion that daily exposure to slender models and actresses in advertisements has distorted our culture’s idea of beauty. However, since these types of images are pretty much everywhere at this point, it’s a tricky theory to test.
But a new study has found that constant exposure to this type of media screws with our self-esteem. And all it takes is 15 minutes.
Researchers at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland traveled to a string of rural villages in Nicaragua where people haven’t grown up seeing images of thin women in the media. These villages had zero electricity, apart from a solar panel to power some light bulbs.
Jean-Luc Jucker, the head of the study, and his team then recruited 80 volunteers for the project which included men and women between the ages of 16 and 78.
The volunteers were asked to create their “ideal” body type with a computer program that let them play around with different body shapes and sizes.
Next, the researchers showed them images from a popular Western clothing store – half were shown 72 photos of women who were a size 2 or 4 and the other half were shown 72 photos of women who were between a size 14 and 26.
Following this 15-minute task, researchers asked the volunteers to again create their “ideal” body type. Volunteers who were shown images of thin women created a body type that was skinnier than the first one they created. On the other hand, volunteers who were shown the plus-sized models created a body type that was larger than their original.
If just 15 minutes of looking at an image of a thin model can alter your opinion of what “ideal” is, imagine what a lifetime exposure has done to us.
The research team is using their findings to give a heads up about the potential issues this type of media can cause to communities that are just beginning to integrate electricity and western media into their lives. Most of the volunteers in the study have since been hooked up to their village’s new electricity grid.
“We are trying to raise awareness of this thin body ideal and of eating disorders like anorexia,” Jucker told the New Scientist. “We don’t want to demonize television. We just say that it is associated with these risks.”
This article origianlly appeared on the New York Post