Social comparison, ethnicity, body image, and media exposure to thin-ideal models: an experimental study
Warren, Cortney Soderlind
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Social comparison theory offers a useful conceptual framework to understand how mainstream American sociocultural values of appearance may shape the development of body image disturbance and eating disorders. Some experimental research demonstrates that women report significantly greater increases in negative affect and body image disturbance and decreases in self-esteem after viewing thin models than after viewing inanimate objects, normal-weight models, and overweight women. The main goal of this study was to investigate whether the effects of viewing thin models are influenced by the ethnicity of the observer and/or the ethnic and racial similarity of the model to the observer. In addition, the study tested the extent to which social comparison tendency, trait appearance evaluation, ethnic identity, and racial identity may moderate these effects. In study 1, women rated the race, attractiveness, and thinness of a group of ethnically diverse models. Study 2 assessed affect, self-esteem, and body image in Euro-American (n = 105), African-American (n = 91), and Latina (n = 111) women before and after viewing ethnically self-similar models, self-different models, or control images. Results indicated that ethnic similarity between model and participants influenced affect such that increased social comparison tendency in Latina participants predicted increased negative affect after viewing Latina models. Additionally, the type of media images viewed and proposed moderators influenced affect and body image. As predicted, positive appearance evaluation was more strongly associated with positive feelings about one?s weight after viewing models and, in African-American and Latina women, increased idealization of Whiteness was associated with decreased positive feelings regarding one?s weight after viewing White models. Unexpectedly, increased social comparison tendency was associated with increased positive affect after viewing African-American models whereas increased social comparison tendency was associated with less positive affect after viewing Latina models. Finally, independent of media exposure, African-American women reported higher appearance-based self-esteem and body image than Euro-American and Latina women and increased social comparison tendency, decreased positive appearance evaluation, decreased ethnic identity, and increased racial identity idealizing Whiteness were each associated with undesirable levels of self-esteem and body image. Clinical implications and directions for future research are provided.