It's obvious how television can make us put on weight, isn't it? Order a pizza and cue up a Jessica Jones marathon on Netflix and you can't help but put on a pound or two, right? But what if I told you that television watching could contribute to your weight loss... and not necessarily in a good way?
Although psychologists have long suspected that television – and all media depicting celebrities and their imagery – contribute to women's perception of the “perfect” body shape, no attempt has ever been made to properly isolate all the variables and make that determination for certain. That has changed with the release of a new study in the British Journal of Psychology.
Researchers traveled to Nicaragua where they were able to gauge media access and created test groups accordingly. The samplings were comprised of an urban group, a village with some limited media access, and a remote village with very little television available. The scientists found that the population with the highest body mass index average was in the village with the least media access, and that Hollywood's “thin ideal” translated into the lowest BMI average for the urban center with the most pervasive electronic media presence.
As Dr. Martin Tovee, a Reader in Visual Cognition at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, UK, who co-led the research, succinctly summarized, “Our study shows that television is having a significant impact on what people think is the ideal woman's body... the more television exposure people receive, the thinner a female body women and men prefer - the amount of media access directly predicts body ideals.”
Now, is that a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
Our first reaction might be, well, if watching twelve straight hours of Jessica Jones makes me want to get into the same super hero shape as the actress playing her, maybe those subsequent guilty hours spent at the gym will offset some of the pizza. So, all good, right?
Not so fast, says Dr. Lynda Boothroyd, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Durham University, UK, and the other co-leader of the study. She has a dim view of the results, observing that "Internalization of a thin ideal is a well-established risk factor for body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in the West.”
The “body image dissatisfaction” that results from exposure to Western media ideals leads to low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders, the research team has concluded. Further studies are planned which will delve deeper into the connections.