When college-age women looked at magazines that only included images of women with thin, idealized body types for five straight days, their own body satisfaction improved, according to a new study.
However, the boost in body image came with a catch. Those women whose body satisfaction improved the most were also more likely to report that they engaged in dieting behaviors such as skipping meals or cutting carbohydrates during the course of the study.
That suggests these women may be inspired by the images they view and become momentarily hopeful that they can improve their own body shape and possibly even achieve the same thin-ideal bodies they see in the magazines, said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.
"The media are saturated with images of idealized body shapes, which may make viewers and readers aspire to achieve the same," she said.
"But it is a losing battle. Women are motivated by these fitness and beauty magazines to try to attain these supposedly perfect bodies, and may even get a short-term body image boost when they start dieting. However, research shows that most diets fail and they're eventually going to be back being unsatisfied with their bodies," she added.
The results contradict hundreds of previous studies suggesting that the media obsession with promoting ideal bodies only damages women's satisfaction about their weight and their body.
"The magazines attract women because they give a short-term boost in body image, but they also set up unrealistic expectations. When women don't achieve the body they want, they are disappointed and then likely come back to the magazines for more advice and inspiration," said Knobloch-Westerwick.
The study appears online in the journal Communication Research and will be published in a future print edition.