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Are Our Models Too Thin?

Written on March 31, 2011 at 5:58 pm , by

Magazines have gotten a bad rap–for a pretty long time–for publishing photos of beautiful models instead of “real” women. The message that media sends about body images has always been a hot topic, and we’re not about to open up that can-o-worms. But some new research recently blew us away: It turns out that reading a magazine like FITNESS–with hot bodies and all–isn’t so bad for your self-esteem.

Dr. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, an Associate Professor at Ohio State University, did something different than the other researchers out there…she focused on what types of articles were surrounding the pictures of the beautiful models. Her and her co-author Joshua Romero’s ground-breaking findings: People who identify themselves as dissatisfied with their bodies were much more comfortable looking at images of ideal body shapes when the photos were surrounded by articles or content suggesting that they too can be as attractive as the models. But if the articles or content don’t inspire them, then they tended to avoid the photos. Take a look below to see how this is illustrated. Fun fact: These are actual images that were shown in Dr. Knoblock-Westerwick’s study!

dr. silvia knobloch-westerwick study images body images

Images courtesy of Dr. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick

How it works: If you see the hottie H&M girl, and then an article that’s unrelated to your appearance, you feel more comfortable then looking at an ordinary photo and you avoid images of ideal body shapes. But if you see the hottie H&M girl, and then an article that tells you how you can achieve a better-body goal, you’re more comfortable with pictures of ideal body shapes. And when I say “more comfortable,” I mean that Dr. Knobloch-Westerwick actually timed how long people would spend looking over the pages.

And not only did we score some real photos from her study, but we got Dr. Knobloch-Westerwick to answer a few more of our questions…

FITNESS: What surprised you the most about your research findings?

DR. K.: A lot of earlier research finds that seeing images of ideal bodies has a self-deflating effect. So we wanted to see whether that self-deflating effect of ideal body image exposure would emerge if those images could be avoided by the reader in the first place. What surprised us was that we didn’t find any significant impacts on body satisfaction…despite hundreds of earlier (forced exposure) studies that showed self-deflating impacts. It was also somewhat surprising that the impacts were so parallel for men and women.

IN OTHER WORDS: Even if you can avoid the pictures of the beautiful people, you don’t necessarily feel any better about yourself.

FITNESS: What about if you see an image of something like a chocolate cake…next to an article telling you that you can lose weight? What happens to readers’ emotions then?

DR. K.: I would suspect they feel frustrated; but there are just so many different facets of being a woman that it’s difficult to avoid. On one hand you might want to be a “good mom,” but on the other hand, you want to be hot.

IN OTHER WORDS: We’re totally going to keep telling you to get enough sleep, but to also fit your workout into your day. And if you feel frustrated, we understand, but we “get” you more than you know. Winky face.

FITNESS: What else are you studying that magazine readers might like to hear about?

DR. K.: I’m about to release the findings of what happens when someone reads a beauty/fashion/fitness magazine for five days in a row, versus those who don’t…

IN OTHER WORDS: Check back here to see what else Dr. K. reveals…

And until then, take our poll!

Categories: The Fit Stop | Tags:
13 Comments

  • http://Facebook Liz Franklin

    I absolutely love FITNESS Magazine! In my eyes, the models ARE real women, just healthy and toned! These models are the most beautiful out of all other magazines, for the simple fact that I know these models worked for the body that they have. Seeing toned and fit women completely motivates me for a bikini-body more than anything! Keep on goin’, Fitness models!

  • Lauren

    I don’t think the models are too thin, but I don’t understand why the covers always feature models in swimsuits. For most of us, there’s a lot more to wanting to be fit than just how we look on the beach. Could you possibly find a way to highlight healthy, toned figures in regular clothes too? Like focusing on toned legs in shorts or lean, slightly muscled armes in a sundress? Just a thought… It would make the use of thinner models more relavent to your readers’ real lives. Thanks!

  • Cindy

    Lets face it, we aren’t going to buy a fitness magazine with a picture of a fat person on the front, what kind of motivation is that??

    I’m a 40+ woman who is peite and in shape but I haven’t always been this way either. It’s taken me time to get like this and these magazines have really helped. I’m not talking about the twinkies on the front but the real life stories inside. Hearing about the struggles that everyone goes through and knowing that I am not alone makes it all worth it!

    I do wish however that there were more pictures of actual women like me that work out ever day and still “look normal” and not all muscular. The women that have the same struggles such as stretch marks, c-section scars etc…the regular every day woman.

    Thanks

    Cindy

  • Deborah Mills

    Models should be toned, but of real weight. I am 52 years old fit and toned but do not look anything like what is usually pictured. I struggle with my weight and do not find the “easy” general fixes often written about to be of benefit most of the time.

    If you struggle with with insulin, peri or post menopause, these articles generally do not apply. The ones that do work are ones which outline different kinds of exercises to try for targetting different areas. I usually archive those. Hope this helps.

  • Blue

    For me I am sick of the height requirements of models. The message any woman under 5’6 hears is that clothes can never look OK on a woman that is not tall. The proportions of tall women DO make them appear skinnier and this is something short women can never live up to unless we starve. Our legs will simply never look as LONG if we have any muscle at all.

    I think a range of women with less airbrushing would be best.

  • Emily

    I definitely agree with having the models wear something OTHER than bikini’s. I am in a bikini about 6 weeks of the year because of a busy life. I think it really would help readers better relate.

    I also find that the models who are used to illustrate the different work outs are always very toned and definitely not too skinny. They’re usually JUST how I want to be. However, the models in the “other” pictures can at times be too thin, as in not “strong”, but kind of weak looking. It really doesn’t bother me at all, though I can’t speak for the majority.

    Fitness is my favorite magazine & it’s all about being strong, healthy & happy and I think as long as women who are like that are protrayed, you’ll be doing just fine!! =)

  • Melissa

    I think the models should be selected based on being within there “ideal” BMI. We know camera adds weight… it would be nice to strive for what our ideal should be for certain heights or even body types. Like a curvy person, or a short waisted person, or a girl with longer legs. I don’t think woman who are underweight regardless of the reason should be printed in magazines that women look to for advice on their body image. High end fashion like Vogue or something I think has a little more wiggle room when it comes to models because we don’t have expecations to look like the sticks in their designer clothes because I’d bet most of us aren’t 5’9″ with no boobs.

  • http://www.snakeoil-shop.com amy

    We all buy Fitness Magazine for inspiration and knowledge… and seeing strong, healthy women in the articles and ads is very motivational! I sometimes cut them out and post them on my fridge or bulletin board to keep me motivated to work out and eat better.

    However, lately I have been noticing more of the “long and lean” body types being featured, especially in the workouts… and I always think “she doesn’t have enough muscle or strength to do this workout!” Sometimes they actually look a little fragile to me. Although I am not offended or put off by them, I’m just not convinced by them.

    I would like the focus to be more on strong, healthy, capable-looking women… different ages, races, heights and proportions… real women who are active and who get out there, sweat, move their bodies, and look awesome because of it!

  • Bri

    i agree with a lot of the comments above. Not all of us get to spend time at the lake or beside a pool all summer long. I like to be fit so i can work outside/kayak/backpack/run/bike and just feel better about myself. Maybe some cover pics in hot workout clothes rather than bikinis all the time.
    The models do not seem too thin. But knowing some young girls (middle and high school) that struggle with eating disorders always makes me think about the models on any magazine cover. They may not realize what it really takes to get that body and go for the “easy route” of an eating disorder, which is really sad! Really, really sad!
    I also know first hand the power of an airbrush and lighting in a photo, so ya know.

  • Michelle Joiner

    I agree with the “enough with all the bikini shots” posts. I’m old enough to realize that though the models probably work out, they’ve probably never struggled to stay thin…but young girls may not have that “world knowledge”, yet. Also, as the mother of 3 boys (13, 11, & 8) I often have to rip the cover off my magazine when it comes because it’s not something a pre-teen boy needs to be putting in front of his eyes. If it were a fit model in workout clothes, then, yes, she’d still be attractive, but not sexualized – as they are in all the bikini shots.

  • Dee

    How about some older women? I don’t look or act old, but your magazine is really too youth oriented.

  • http:www.GiveMeThatSmile.com Snezhana

    There are a lot of good points brought up in previous reviews. I do want to second the hope that fitness magazines will put the healthy people as a model – meaning helthy BMI. We as a women doing us a nonfavor by putting those unreachabel ideals in front of us. The world would be healthier place, if we had reasonabel expactations and healthier images of ourselves. Study after study shows that men like cervier women and yet there are tons of images of stick looking girls.
    When it comes to eating disorders, I would not call it a choice. It is a mental disorder just like bipolar or schitsophrenia. Unhealthy looking imagies do not cause the illness but they do makes it wors when person already has an eating disorder.

  • lollygag

    Yes, I quit subscribing to “Fitness” magazine because the women seem to always be up to age 30, and the magazine and other media tend to tell we women, if we arn’t young and skinny, we may as well be not around any more, our lives are done with, no more romance, fun, etc. Plus we older, slightly not fit women are unworthy of love, basically, so not shown or mentioned. There is not one magazine out there that shows us, even “AARP” only shows older celebs that have had tons of plastic surgery done, and have money to buy nice clothes, go on vacations and have affairs. Baloney!