The Effects of Women's Magazines on Body Image

Since the 1950s, the weight gap between the bodies of women pictured in magazines and average American women have grown. The average woman’s weight has increased while the average fashion model’s weight has dropped. This growing disparity has had a well-documented and pronounced negative effect on the body image of the women and girls who read women’s magazines.

Idealized Bodies

According to a 2013 infographic produced by Rader Programs, "80% of women are made insecure by images they see of women on television and more than 66 percent of women are influenced by underweight models in magazines." The women who were shown pictures of thin models showed a decline in self-esteem and overall mood, compared to the women in the control group, who were shown neutral images.

Social Comparison Theory

A 2006 review published in the journal "Mind Matters" attributes the negative effects of media ideals on body image to social comparison mechanisms. According to social comparison theory, individuals tend to compare themselves to others, and when the individual feels superior, the comparison triggers a positive emotional state. When the comparison leaves the individual feeling inferior, however, anger and decreased self-esteem are the result. The review suggests that, when average individuals compare themselves to idealized celebrities, the comparison causes feelings of lower self-worth and a drive to achieve the idealized state of thinness.

Women’s Magazines and Eating Disorders

Much of the research on the effects of women’s magazines and body image have focused on the relationship between the media and eating disorders. In 1999, a study published in the “Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine” reported that adolescent girls who reported that they tried to look like women in magazines or television were more likely to engage in purging behaviors associated with the eating disorder bulimia. The 2004 study in “Eating Disorders” also noted that women who had a history of eating disorders were more susceptible to negative effects on body image after viewing media images.

Magazines Vs. Television

The authors of the review in “Mind Matters” discussed the differences in impact between viewing idealized images of women in television and in magazines. Television viewing has been shown to increase body dissatisfaction, but is less frequently associated with the drive to thinness and disordered eating behavior that occurs in women and girls who read fashion magazines. According to the authors, this may be because women watch television for entertainment, but turn to magazines specifically for diet, fashion and fitness advice.