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Do Magazines Influence Eating Disorders?

written by: EmilyRose • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/17/2011

Research shows that the mass media, in particular women's magazines, contributes to the development and maintenance of eating disorders. They influence body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and an increased desire for the thin ideal. This effect is particularly salient in adolescent women.

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    Do Magazines Influence Eating Disorders?

    Many individuals, particularly females, tend to covet an unrealistically thin body build for themselves. This may have negative ramifications on their psychological, emotional and physical health. In extreme circumstances it may lead to the development of eating disorders. Eating disorders are a group of conditions that involve the consumption of an excessive or insufficient amount of food that damages an individual's physical and mental health. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder and they may afflict both men and women, although they are most commonly found in teenage and young women.

    Do magazines influence eating disorders? Although there are many causes of eating disorders, overwhelming research has indicated that exposure to a thin body ideal significantly increases the chances of a person developing an eating disorder. The thin body ideal is prolific within mass media. Women's magazines in particular frequently depict the ideal woman as having a thin, sometimes emaciated form. This increases the likelihood of a person developing thoughts and behaviors that lead to eating patterns and behaviours that are symptomatic and characteristic of eating disorders.

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    Magazines and Body Dissatisfaction

    Body dissatisfaction refers to a pervasive personal dislike of an individual's weight, shape and image. Social Sciences lecturer Julie Shaw conducted research published in the European Eating Disorders Review that explored the association between body dissatisfaction and images of thin fashion models. Adolescent girls who viewed images of thin fashion models subsequently had higher levels of body dissatisfaction than those who did not. This higher dissatisfaction was linked to bulimic tendencies. Similarly, research conducted by Turner et al. and published in the journal Adolescence revealed that women's fashion magazines significantly decreased the body image satisfaction of college women.

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    Magazines and Disordered Eating

    Disordered eating describes a wide range of irregular eating patterns wherein eating is used for a purpose other than physical nourishment. For example, individuals may binge eat to reduce stress or anxiety. Harrison and Cantor conducted a study published in the Journal of Communication that looked at the association between media consumption and eating disorders. College women exposed to thinness-promoting media had higher disordered-eating symptomatology and body dissatisfaction, and an increased drive to be slim. Magazine reading was a higher predictor than television watching.

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    Magazines and the Thin Ideal

    Internalizing the thin ideal is the process whereby an individual idealises a specific body type. Adolescent girls and woman are increasingly exposed to models in women's magazines that are thinner and not as curvaceous than those seen by their mothers and grandmothers a generation ago. Thomsen and McCoy of Brigham Young University conducted a study into the impact of the thin ideal on women at risk of anorexia. They found increased viewing of women's magazines was associated with internalizing the thin ideal. This, in turn, was correlated with the development of eating disorders. These findings mirror Harrison and Cantor's research mentioned above.

    NB: Eating disorders are serious, life threatening illnesses that require medical attention and treatment. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, seek professional help immediately.

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    Sources

    Harrison, K., & Cantor, J. "The Relationship between Media Consumption and Eating Disorders", http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1997.tb02692.x/abstract

    Shaw, J, "Effects of Fashion Magazines on Body Dissatisfaction and Eating Psychopathology in Adolescent and Adult Females", http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/erv.2400030105/abstract

    Turner, S., Hamilton, H., Jacobs, M., Angood, L. & Dwyer, D. "The Influence of Fashion Magazines on the Body Image Satisfaction of College Women: An Exploratory Analysis"

    Thomsen, S. R., McCoy, J. K. & Williams, M. "Internalizing the Impossible: Anorexic Outpatient Experiences with Women's Beauty and Fashion Magazines"