|People who spend more hours watching television are more likely to prefer women with thinner bodies, according to a new study / Photo by: Roman Samborskyi via 123RF|
People who spend more hours watching television are more likely to prefer women with thinner bodies, according to a new study.
Scientists from Durham University looked into the association between watching TV and body preferences among people in certain villages in Nicaragua, Central America. They then compared their findings to the views of villagers who don't watch or have access to television.
With thinner women being more prevalent on screens, the researchers concluded that frequently watching TV will lead to a higher preference for skinnier women.
Identifying the Ideal Female Body
The researchers traveled to the Nicaragua villages to ask residents about their TV watching habits and how it influences their perception of attractiveness on women.
They questioned 299 participants in the Pearl Lagoon Basin region, who did not normally read magazines or used the internet. None of these participants also owned a smartphone when the study began.
These communities were also chosen because they are similar in terms of backgrounds, food, income, education, and access to electricity.
Taking these factors into account, the researchers used television viewing as a good measure of total media access. Those who have access to TV reported watching Latin soap operas, Hollywood action movies, music videos, police reality shows, and the news.
|With thinner women being more prevalent on screens, the researchers concluded that frequently watching TV will lead to a higher preference for skinnier women / Photo by: puhhha via 123RF|
The participants were shown images of women of varying weight and were asked to judge them based on attractiveness. Results showed that the "perfect" size varied between seven communities, as per The Telegraph, noting that this ranged from a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 27.
In Western standards, this range would be considered overweight given that a healthy BMI in the West is between 18.5 t 24.9. But countries where malnutrition is common consider higher body weight as attractive.
Notably, those who watched more TV—about three hours a week—were found to prefer women with slimmer bodies compared to someone who didn't watch TV, according to The Telegraph. This finding was true for both men and women who participated in the study.
Lynda Boothroyd, the study's lead author, noted that some participants began gaining access to smartphones as the study neared its end.
"The internet is rapidly becoming more important than TV," Boothroyd told CNN. She added that she will also study the influence of smartphones if allowed to do a similar job in the area.
In a further study of people who have little or no access to TV, the researchers also showed images of women of different weight. They found that the villager's perception of an ideal body changed after seeing the images, with their preferences shifting to the body shape they had been shown.
"Our findings clearly demonstrate that perceptions of attractiveness are highly changeable, and are affected by what we are visually exposed to," said co-author Tracey Thornborrow, a psychology lecturer at the University of Lincoln in the UK.
CNN says this is the first study in which scientists demonstrated an association between media representation and body preferences beyond industrialized communities. The researchers say their work shows that people's perception of what is attractive is highly changeable, it adds.
"If there's something that's universal about attraction, it is how flexible it is," said Boothroyd.
Even without access to other media, TV can still bring great benefits to communities like the villages in Nicaragua. It brings them entertainment, education, news, and even warnings of natural disasters.
However, this medium may also lead to damaging effects—especially in their perception of the world. This could be even more harmful to countries where malnutrition is a major problem.
"For people in the west, the ubiquitous presence of thin white women on our screens is increasingly problematic for women," Boothroyd explained, noting that this issue may lead women to develop eating disorders, psychological damage, and low self-worth.
As thinner women are more prevalent on TV, the researchers call for better representation in the media of people of different shapes and sizes to diminish the pressure of having the perfect slim body.
“We need to be producing television programs that are more representative of the wide variety of shapes and sizes of real people," the lead author urged.
"TV and advertising bosses have a moral responsibility to use actors, presenters, and models of all shapes and sizes and avoid stigmatizing larger bodies. There needs to be a shift towards a 'health at every size' attitude and the media has an important role to play in that."
|Even without access to other media, TV can still bring great benefits to communities like the villages in Nicaragua. It brings them entertainment, education, news, and even warnings of natural disasters / Photo by: Jakkapan Jabjainai via 123RF|
Aside from calling for proper and equal media representation, the researchers also advocate for body positive education—which they are currently working on with local groups, The Conversation says.
This initiative aims to help decrease the increasing global rates of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders that are both partly driven by the expansion of globalized mass media.
It should be remembered that increasing media access is still difficult to link to changing body ideals as other changes may also take place—including increased urbanization, gaining more wealth, and having better access to nutrition.