Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Consequences of the Thin Ideal

photo credit: GloriaGarcía via photopin cc

photo credit: GloriaGarcía via photopin cc

When we talk about the Thin Ideal, what we mean is the idea that thinness is equal to beauty for girls and women. I shared a disturbing article with you not long ago about how the Thin Ideal has even started to become internalized by pre-school girls. One of the most convincing articles that I’ve read is a meta-analysis of 25 different studies conducted across several years that evaluate the internalization of the thin ideal through viewing media (Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2001).

In this article, the authors look at 25 studies with over 2,000 participants all together that focus on viewing media that represents the Thin Ideal and ask:

  • when taken together, does the research show that this really makes a difference?
  • Do people really think differently about themselves when they look at these idealized body images
  • What about age: Does it matter how old a person is when they’re exposed to these images as to how much they accept this ideal?

What they found was startling. I’ve had countless people, often young women, tell me that while they enjoy looking at fashion magazines, watching TV or movies, and being engaged with media, it doesn’t change the way they feel about themselves. In fact, study after study supports the idea that viewing thin media images does lead to a more negative evaluation of one’s own looks and a belief that one needs to go to great lengths to achieve that ideal.

This effect was particularly strong for those under the age of 19 years, meaning children and adolescents.

What does this mean in everyday life?

It means that as children and adolescents are bombarded by media images through their 10 hours and 45 minutes per day of media consumption, they are gradually constructing an idea of what beauty means, and that idea is largely associated with being thin.

The reason that this matters, is that children are also routinely getting messages from the media that says the most important thing about being a girl or woman is beauty.

So for a girl value = beauty = thinness.

The acceptance of the Thin Ideal can lead to self-esteem problems and to an increase in dieting, eating disorders, and extreme exercise as one strives to obtain it.

What is ideal?

What’s frightening about this is that the “ideal” woman described by adolescent girls in one study cited was 5’7, weighed 100 pounds and wore a size 4/5. With a body mass index of less than 16%, this is considered underweight by quite a bit (average is 18.5-24.9%).

When children and adolescents are comparing themselves to this ideal and making lifestyle changes to attempt to reach this unreasonable goal, they are putting themselves in danger.

What can adults do?

  •  For one thing, it’s important that children and adolescents be provided with different messages about what makes women and girls valuable. When they have a more diverse idea of value associated with females, they’re less likely to become focused on the Thin Ideal.
  • They also need to be provided with varied examples of beauty in terms of race, weight, height, different characteristics, and so forth. Seeing beauty all around them will likely allow them to see the beauty within themselves.
  • When you talk with your kids about what makes them special, emphasize things other than looks. But when you do talk about looks, talk about their smile, their strength, the way they convey their confidence.
  • Don’t be afraid to confront the Thin Ideal head on. Tell your child why you don’t believe in it, and give them examples of amazing women in all different shapes and sizes. Equip them to reject this unhealthy message, and focus instead on becoming the strong person that they were made to be.

Groesz, L.M., Levine, M.P., & Murnen, S.K. (2001). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Eating Disorders.

Share on Facebook

One comment on “Consequences of the Thin Ideal

  1. Pingback: Pretty Hurts | Many The Miles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker on WordPress.com

Twitter Updates

  • I love this ❤️Are you talking yourself out of joy? Here's how to stop - The Aesthetics of Joy by Ingrid Fetell Lee aestheticsofjoy.com/2021/09/18/are… 3 hours ago
  • RT @CofCnews: Another university associated with Churches of Christ — Abilene Christian @ACUedu — has reported record enrollment for the f… 16 hours ago
  • RT @AllisonAuthor: So I live in Oklahoma and yeah I have some rural, blue collar family members. Yesterday one of them called me because hi… 16 hours ago
  • RT @hockendougal: What's going on with global supply chains? (aka "why are we running out of everthing," "why is shipping so slow," "why ar… 23 hours ago
  • RT @KatecBowler: One of the most common stories we tell ourselves is that we are independent. We need to carry our own burdens. A marker… 2 days ago

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,508 other followers


%d bloggers like this: