Television's relationship to body dissatisfaction in college women



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Problems related to women’s body image have been extensively studied over the past two decades. Disordered eating, characterized by a drive for thinness, a preoccupation with food and eating, and fear of gaining weight, is assumed to be much more prevalent than clinical eating disorders. Those who experience symptoms of disordered eating may or may not show internalization of thin ideals as portrayed in the media. Internalization of the thin ideal is indicated by how much one wishes to obtain the ideal of thinness portrayed by the media (Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer, 1995). The present study focuses on the relationship between television viewing and body dissatisfaction in "normal," young adult women during college.

Female participants were selected from Psychology classes at a small Southwestern university. Participants completed a demographic survey including age, classification, height, and weight. Participants also assessed how many hours of television, what TV shows, and what TV stations they watched. The participants then completed the Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance Questionnaire (Heinberg et al., 1995), a media attitudes questionnaire (adapted from Austin & Meili, 1994), and the Figure Rating Scale (Stunkard, Sorenson, & Schulsinger, 1983). Their BMI was calculated based on self-reported height and weight.

In a second wave of data collection, female participants from enrolled in Human Development and Family studies classes at a large Southwestern university were asked to complete an assessment of thin-ideal media based upon the shows listed by participants from the small university. This assessment provided average thinness ratings for each of the programs viewed.

Results indicated that participants who viewed programs with a higher average thinness rating showed significantly greater internalization of the thin ideal as measured by the SATAQ. In addition, greater internalization of the thin ideal was related to the choice of a smaller ideal body size.

Because body dissatisfaction was not significantly related to any measures of media consumption or internalization, the above findings indicate the possibility that media consumption and internalization of the thin ideal may not be related to long-term body dissatisfaction as is often assumed.