Body Image: Media May Not Be to Blame

Body dissatisfaction may have less to do with media figures and more with popular girls

February 6, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Do girls feel they are lacking when they compare themselves to celebrities and popular girls at school? They may, but celebrities can't steal a crush like the other girls can.

Researchers studied a group of girls to see if images in the media and peer competition contributed to body image, signs of eating disorders and life satisfaction. Results showed that girls were more influenced by popular girls in their community than by celebrity figures.

The authors concluded that girls seemed to be more influenced by their peers than by media images particularly because they compete with their peers for the attention of romantic partners.

"Talk to your teens about healthy eating habits."

Christopher J. Ferguson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, TX, led this study that examined peer influence in relation to body dissatisfaction in teenagers.

For the study, 237 girls between 10 to 17 years of age were assessed for television, social media and peer competition influences on body dissatisfaction. A total of 94 percent of participants were Hispanic. The high percentage of Hispanic girls in the study was not part of the study design, but rather a factor of geographic location in south Texas.

The girls were asked to name their three favorite television shows and rate the attractiveness of the female actresses in the shows. Feelings about peer competition were assessed using a 26-item “Female Competition Stress Test,” which measured feelings of low status or dominance in relation to other girls.

After six months, 101 of the girls were reassessed with the same questions.

Social media assessments included the use of the following: Twitter, online and social gaming, Facebook, blogging and YouTube.

Body mass indexes revealed that 15 percent of the girls were underweight, 64 percent were normal weight, 15 percent were overweight and 6 percent were obese. Weight ranges were based on World Health Organization guidelines.

On a scale from 0 to 75, body dissatisfaction was highest among obese girls, with an average score of 70. The next highest level of body dissatisfaction was among overweight girls, with an average score of 66. Healthy girls scored an average of 52 points and underweight girls scored an average of 48 points on the body dissatisfaction scale.

The authors found no direct link between television or social media and body satisfaction or eating disorder symptoms. “However, social medial use did predict later peer competition, suggesting possible indirect effects for this type of media,” the authors noted.

They also said, “[T]eenage girls are more likely to compare themselves to high-status peers (popular girls) than characters on television.”

The authors suggested that this peer competition might be rooted in competition for romantic partners. Body dissatisfaction may result when one girl fails at getting romantic attention over another girl. This effect is much more real than women on television being attractive, as they are not competition for any local affections.

This study was published in January in Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Texas A&M International University and the Lamar Bruni Vergara Trust provided funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were found.