Predictors of body dissatisfaction

Sociocultural models suggest that societal pressures to conform to beauty ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction and eating disturbances. The most widely accepted model in the literature is the Tripartite Model of Influence,4’ which suggests that pressures to conform to the societal ideals of appearance come from three main sources: peers, parents, and the media. According to this model, appearance-related pressure from those sources lead to body dissatisfaction and in turn eating disturbance through two pathways: internalization of the societal ideals and a tendency to make appearance comparisons to others. Specifically, people who subscribe to appearance-related pressures and cognitively “buy into” the societal ideals of appearance, but who fail to achieve those ideals, are likely to become dissatisfied with their appearance. Furthermore, one of the ways in which women can determine whether or not they conform to the societal ideal is by comparing their appearance to that of other women, and appearance comparisons to women perceived to be more attractive than oneself can lead to body dissatisfaction.46 Thus, appearance comparisons can be seen as a mechanism through which pressures to conform to societal beauty norms and internalization of the ideals lead to body dissatisfaction and eating disturbance.47

Evidence in support of sociocultural models of body dissatisfaction has been found in a variety of different samples, including female and male university students,48 adolescents,49 preadolescent girls,’" midlife women,’1 lesbian women,’2 and young people from a variety of different cultures (e.g., France, Hungary,Japan).’3 Thus, there is substantial evidence for the importance of internalization of beauty ideals and appearance comparisons as mechanisms responsible for societal appearance-related pressures on body image.

Media and body image

Mass media has been identified as one of the most influential and pervasive causes of body dissatisfaction.’4 Given the proliferation and popularity of social media around the globe and the focus on appearance in many platforms (e.g., 300 million images are posted on Facebook and 95 million images are posted on Instagram each day),” there has also been tremendous momentum in recent years to investigate its impact on users’ body images. Studying the role and contribution of social media is now at the center stage of understanding how people view and feel about their own bodies. In this section, we will discuss the academic literature that has documented the potential implications and ill effects of exposure to traditional media and social media on women’s and men’s perceptions of their own bodies.

Traditional media and body image

Traditional forms of media, such as magazines, films, and television, are strong promoters of homogenized and narrowly defined beauty ideals, and they provide regular opportunities for people to make appearance comparisons. Not only do these media platforms contain models and celebrities who match these ideals, but the images and videos are often edited to enhance appearance through lighting, makeup, styling, and computer manipulation techniques.’6 This ultimately makes beauty ideals even less attainable for the average man or woman. Thus, when comparing their own appearance to these edited media images, people continually come up short (i.e., make upward appearance comparisons).’'

The effects of traditional forms of media (e.g., magazines, television) on body image have been extensively studied since the 1980s, and several meta-analyses of this research have consistently found small-to-moderate adverse effects from short-term exposure to idealized media images on young women’s and men’s appearance concerns.’8 Correlational research has found a positive association between the consumption of fashion and fitness magazines,’9 and television programs and music videos containing characters who match the ideals60 and body image concerns among female and male adolescents and adults. Longitudinal research on traditional media usage and body dissatisfaction has primarily been conducted in female samples (e.g., preadolescent girls, female university students, Caucasian women, Latino women) and has found mixed results.61 For example, Harrison and Hefner62 found that television viewing but not magazine usage among preadolescent girls predicted greater eating disturbance and a thinner future body ideal one year later. Further, Stice et al.63 found no difference in body dissatisfaction or negative mood between adolescent girls who were provided with a 15-month fashion magazine subscription and those who were not over a 20-month period. They did, however, find that for vulnerable girls (e.g., those with high body dissatisfaction, elevated pressures to be thin, and a lack of social support), exposure to thin ideal images resulted in more body dissatisfaction and negative mood over time. Thus, some people are more likely to be vulnerable to the impact of media usage than others.

Numerous experimental studies have examined the causal impact of media usage on the body image of women and men. Typically, these studies randomly assign participants to view media images (or videos) that contain people who meet the beauty ideals or appearance neutral control images (e.g., images of objects, such as furniture, or images of plus-size models). Participants are subsequently asked to report on their body satisfaction. Research has repeatedly shown that exposure to ideal images in magazines,64 television,65 and music videos66 leads to greater body dissatisfaction among young women and men than does exposure to neutral control images.67 There are, however, mixed results in the field, with other studies finding no association between exposure to idealized media imagery and body image.68 One meta-analysis examining both published and unpublished research in the field suggested that there was stronger evidence for the negative impact of idealized imagery in media on body image for women who were already more dissatisfied with their appearance.6*’ Thus, there is a growing consensus that media may not impact all people equally, and that some people are more vulnerable than others.

Overall, results from correlational, longitudinal, and experimental research suggest that traditional media usage can negatively affect women’s and mens body image. However, consumer and market research suggests that the popularity of these media types has been overtaken by the popularity and availability of more interactive and online media, such as the Internet and social networking sites, particularly among adolescents. For example, magazine usage is in decline" and young people are now multitasking and browsing the Internet while watching television.71 Therefore, the focus in recent research has shifted to the effects of newer forms of media, such as social media, on body image concerns.

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