Confession: I am a magazine addict. There’s nothing I love quite so much as cracking open a brand new glossy and pouring over every story, news brief, layout and image. (Perhaps that’s why I became an editor at a magazine.) But even I sometimes flip through a women’s magazine, stare wistfully at the glamazonian models with their Photoshop-perfect skin and super-skinny waists, and I wonder: Why am I doing this to myself?
I know these models are physical impossibilities. I understand how their bodies are tweaked, contorted and shellacked, both physically and digitally, to make them look the way they do. I’ve read The Beauty Myth; I’m feminist and media savvy, for goodness sake! And yet, I still feel a twinge of dissatisfaction with my own body when I look at pictures of beyond-perfect models in magazines. So why do I keep buying them?
Well, imagine my relief when I can across a new study that suggests it’s not actually masochism that leads us to spend hard-earned money to look at images that make us feel bad about ourselves.
The study, published in the journal Media Psychology, asked 169 young adults to both evaluate their own body satisfaction and review two different magazines’one made up of general-interest articles and one with stories about diet and exercise. Both magazines contained advertisements with beautiful models of the test subject’s same gender. Researchers found that those who rated their own body image as low spent about 50 percent more time looking at images of beautiful models longer if the magazine contained fitness and diet articles than if it contained stories of general interest. The theory: people will look at images that make then feel bad about themselves if the content of the publication offers tips on how to improve their health or bodies.
"That’s the key. People will view these photos if they feel like they can achieve this ideal. In that case, these models with the ideal bodies can serve as source of inspiration to improve one’s own body shape," says researcher Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick in a press release.
OK, that explains the behaviour. But is it healthy to use physically unattainable bodies as inspiration for health and fitness? What do you think?