Watching just a few hours of television a week makes viewers find thinner women more attractive, according to a new study.
The research team from Durham University in UK, worked with men and women from a number of villages in a remote area of Nicaragua in Central America who either had regular or hardly any TV access.
They found that people with very limited access to TV preferred female figures with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) whereas people who often watched TV preferred thinner bodies.
The findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, show that TV exposure can have a powerful impact on what people perceive as the ideal body.
“We showed the villagers a series of pictures, either showing larger women or thinner women. We found that after viewing these images, the villagers’ body ideals adjusted in the same direction,” said study co-author Tracey Thornborrow from the University of Lincoln.
“Our findings clearly demonstrate that perceptions of attractiveness are highly changeable, and are affected by what we are visually exposed to,” Thornborrow said.
For the study, 299 men and women from seven villages in the Pearl Lagoon Basin area of Nicaragua took part in the research. They completed a questionnaire about their ethnicity, education, income, hunger, language and TV exposure.
They were then asked to rate the attractiveness of pictures of female bodies with varying body shapes and sizes.
The villages in Nicaragua were selected because people were very similar in terms of their ecological constraints, such as nutrition, income and education, but had differing access to TV.
People in the villages in this part of Nicaragua generally did not have access to magazines or the Internet, and none of the participants in the study owned a smartphone.
Only those people with electricity supplies to their homes as well as the money to pay for a TV and subscription were able to watch TV on a regular basis.
This meant researchers were able to isolate the effect of TV exposure from the other factors.
Those people with access to TV watched a mixture of Latin soap operas, Hollywood action movies, music videos, police “car chase” reality shows and the news.
“This study, utilising a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods with non-Western participants, provides yet more empirical evidence that the mass media impact female body size ideals,” said study co-author Jean-Luc Jucker.
The representation of this “thin ideal” in the media can lead to body dissatisfaction and can play a part in the development of eating disorders and depression, said the study.
The researchers are calling on TV and advertising bosses to show people of all shapes and sizes in order to reduce the pressure on women and girls to aspire to a “thin ideal body”. (IANS)