Can Looking at Magazine Pictures Damage Your Body Image?

Flipping through magazines, you see page after page of impossibly skinny and perfect people. Many magazines use photography angles, effects, and techniques to alter what you see, but could these photos be subconsciously affecting your confidence and self-image?

Scientists say yes. They describe the experience of this as "self-objectification." This happens when people—especially women and girls—look at themselves through the filter of how they think the outside world sees them. Several studies show that people who self-objectify are less confident and suffer from self-esteem issues. They often develop an unhealthy relationship with food, tend to yo-yo diet, and are at high risk for developing a serious eating disorder and depression. Self-objectifiers may not be able to enjoy sex. Some studies reveal that self-objectification can impede accomplishing simple tasks and impair motor skills, since the concern over how you appear completing a task can interfere with your ability to perform it well.

Psychiatrists in the UK are so concerned about the effects media can have on our body image, that they advocate developing an ethical editorial code and possibly even laws to regulate how the images and articles in magazines and other forms of media are presented. They recommend marking any image where a model's body has been digitally enhanced with a symbol. Predictably, magazine editors are not in favor of this measure and claim that they're already acting responsibly.

But the stats are staggering. According to the Southern Connecticut State University Women's Center, today the average weight of a model is 23 percent less than the average woman, but 20 years ago, that differential was only 8 percent. Eating disorders have grown 400 percent in the last 30 years. And the diet industry—which was virtually nonexistent a few decades ago—is now a 33 billion dollar industry.

The obsession with body image is clearly not healthy; Americans are heavier than ever. Given that the average girl spends six and a half hours a day interacting with media, that industry must bear some of the responsibility. In recent years, awareness of this issue has grown and initiatives to change the way women are portrayed by the media are gaining traction. Perhaps several years from now models will look more like the rest of us. In the meantime, making smart eating and exercise choices will make you look and feel better than aspiring towards a digitally conceived goal.


Sources: "Media and Body Image": Southern Connecticut State University Women's Center. Web. "What is the GW+M Project": Girls, Women, & Media Project. Web. 2007. "Media Harming People's Body Image Say Psychiatrists" The Elisa Project. Web. Feb 23, 2001.