Researchers have determined that there’s some good news and bad news for women looking at magazines full of pictures of thin and idealized body types.

Investigators had college-age women view magazines for five straight days that included images of women with beautiful bodies.

Surprisingly, they found readers’ body satisfaction improved after the reading period, contradicting many studies that suggest the media obsession with promoting ideal bodies only damages a woman’s satisfaction about their weight and their body.

However, there is a caveat as body satisfaction improved the most among the women who were more likely to be dieting.

That suggests these women may be inspired by the images they view and become momentarily hopeful that they can improve their own body shape and possibly even achieve the same thin-ideal bodies they see in the magazines, said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Ph.D., co-author of the study.

“The media are saturated with images of idealized body shapes, which may make viewers and readers aspire to achieve the same,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.

“But it is a losing battle. Women are motivated by these fitness and beauty magazines to try to attain these supposedly perfect bodies, and may even get a short-term body image boost when they start dieting. However, research shows that most diets fail and they’re eventually going to be back to being unsatisfied with their bodies.”

This study attempted to provide a practical or real-life example of how women actually interact with the media.

The women viewed full magazine pages with text, instead of only photos of ideal bodies, as in many of the earlier studies. As a result, the findings can help explain why fitness and beauty magazines remain popular, even though their images may make many women ultimately feel inadequate and unsatisfied with their bodies.

“The magazines attract women because they give a short-term boost in body image, but they also set up unrealistic expectations. When women don’t achieve the body they want, they are disappointed and then likely come back to the magazines for more advice and inspiration,” she said.

Study results indicate magazines depicting the thin ideal are good at motivating women in the short run.

However, unless the message is tied to realistic methods and actions by which a woman could lose weight and be satisfied with their body, then the comparison to thin and beautiful people may be impractical and harmful.

The study appears online in the journal Communication Research.

Source: Ohio State University