Reality Show Bodies More Ideal than Real

MTV’s popular television “docusoaps,” such as “The Real World” and “Laguna Beach,” present a warped view to young viewers about how they should look, according to new findings published in the journal Sex Roles. Such docusoaps are definitely more ideal than real, said Mark Flynn of Coastal Carolina University and Sung-Yeon Park of Bowling Green State University.

These docusoaps have a huge following among young people, who are in general the most susceptible group to develop body image disturbances and eating disorders.

In these shows, real people are filmed seemingly unscripted as they live out and experience events. Research has found, however, that regular viewers of reality television perceive the heavily edited programming to be highly realistic.

The study is one of the first to closely evaluate how body ideals are depicted on American reality television. The researchers conducted a content analysis of 299 episodes of the popular MTV docusoaps “Jersey Shore,” “Laguna Beach,” “The Real World,” “The Hills” and “Newport Harbor,” aired between 2004 and 2011. Each reality star’s body type and clothing were noted, as well as how often they showed some flesh on camera.

The findings show that the percentage of lean bodies seen in docusoaps is almost the reverse of the general population.

While two in every three Americans are either overweight or obese, not one docusoap featured an obese person. Instead, two-thirds of the women and three-quarters of the men in them had very little body fat. Half of all participants were either curvaceously thin (females) or muscularly lean (males).

Another unreality was found in how often the stars — and especially those with an ideal body type — walked around partially or fully naked on screen. Nine out of ten women’s bodies were at least minimally exposed, and close to one-third were partially or fully undressed. Almost half of the men appeared on screen either partially or fully nude.

Flynn notes that there is a definite shift away from the general acceptance of overweight men on television. When it comes to looks, the bar is now being lifted even higher for men than it is for women.

“Although these shows are labelled as reality-based, the bodies displayed in them are highly idealized,” says Flynn. He notes that long-term exposure to MTV docusoaps may have as much, if not greater, impact on the self-objectification of men as it does on women.

Source: Sex Roles