The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The beast in beauty mags
- Views of wafer-thin models are a mental health risk, says study

Mumbai, Jan. 6: You pick up a glossy, you start flipping through the pages, your eyes get stuck at the flawlessly thin model staring haughtily, you look at your tummy, and you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach'

The feeling has a name. It is called the Kate Moss effect.

A recent study says that women looking at ads featuring reed-thin models like Moss suffer from more depression and show more dissatisfaction with their bodies after viewing the pictures, even if it is for only one to three minutes.

The study, conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia, US, says the women whose self-esteem dipped the most after looking at the pictures were those who were already saddled with a poor body image.

Lead author of the study Laurie Mintz, associate professor of educational and counselling psychology at the university, and graduate student Emily Borchers had divided 91 women between 18 and 31 into two groups. One group was shown ads for undergarments, nail polish, jewellery, lotion, gum and liquor featuring ultra-thin models. The other group was shown ads for the same products without people.

The researchers then used the “Objectified body consciousness scale” — a test developed a few years ago based on feminist theory — to measure the psychological changes brought about by the viewing of the ads.

The scale, meant to analyse to what degree a woman sees herself as an object, has three sub-scales: “Body surveillance” measures how much a woman thinks of her body in terms of how it looks, rather than how it feels.

“Body shame” measures whether a woman, rather than simply feeling bad, believes she is a bad person when she does not achieve cultural standards.

“Appearance control beliefs” measure whether a woman believes she can control her appearance.

The body consciousness test also asks women to rate, on a scale of one to five, their happiness with 35 of their body parts.

The researchers found that after seeing the pictures of the models, the viewers’ body dissatisfaction increased significantly and their depression levels registered a “slight uptick”.

Other studies have suggested similar results.

According to a study conducted by the Media Effects Research Laboratory of Penn State University, Pennsylvania, exposure to thin models results in lower self-esteem and increased depression. The study, conducted on 104 female students, found that “respondents with high levels of exposure to fashion magazines were less satisfied with their personal physical appearances than were respondents with low levels of fashion magazine exposure”.

Steven Thomsen of Brigham Young University, Hawaii, who has worked on media images of women for a number of years, says that reading health and fitness magazines can be harmful too. In a study he conducted on female school students who read health magazines, it was found that 73 per cent of girls who used appetite suppressants or weight-control pills were frequent readers; 60 per cent of those who used laxatives were frequent readers; 80 per cent who made themselves vomit were frequent readers.

So, beware of beauty magazines, say experts. If you can’t resist looking at those perfect bodies, keep in mind that many of the photographs are digitally perfected.

Or you can listen to Baz Luhrmann, the maker of the hit movie Moulin Rouge, and his Sunscreen Song. “You are not as fat as you imagine. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.”

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