It’s the body image story we’ve all heard time and time again: women become frustrated and feel worse about their bodies when continually subjected to the thin ideal. Most magazines, television shows, and movies perpetuate and glorify a homogenous standard of beauty that is narrow in its definition and almost impossible to achieve. It’s hard to argue about the significant impact these powerful visual cues can have on the way we judge both ourselves and others when we see girls as young as 10 or 11 wishing for “smaller thighs” and “flatter stomachs.” But perhaps the truly frustrating part about this story is the feeling of powerlessness that seems to be engendered when faced with the challenge of trying to change this pervasive standard. A group of researchers at Durham University in England, however, suggest that one way to change attitudes about body acceptability is to simply present a greater diversity of body sizes. In their recently published study, Dr. Lynda Boothroyd and her colleagues presented images of plus-sized women in neutral outfits and found that participants were more tolerant of larger body sizes if they were shown those images. On the other hand, participants who were shown images of women with anorexia nervosa preferred thin bodies. Collectively this might suggest that we simply prefer the images with which we are presented most often. If this is the case, perhaps what is needed in popular culture and the media is what Dr. Boothroyd calls a more broad “visual diet” – changing what your eyes eat so that we become more accustomed to (and tolerant of) body diversity. Such a change in the visual media that is omnipresent in our lives would not only reflect the reality of body shapes and sizes in our world, but might also encourage us to be less judgmental of our own bodies and the bodies of others. In a time when weight stigma can negatively impact legal proceedings and employment opportunities, a change of this nature seems particularly important. So let’s challenge the current standard and encourage media outlets to use visual images that represent greater body diversity. Let’s challenge the notion that beauty is determined by a single definition and celebrate the beauty that is inherent in our differences. Get your friends together and everyone write or email your favorite magazines, your favorite clothing stores, your favorite clothing catalogs and tell them what you want to see. Only by actively requesting diversity will they respond. The more input they receive, the more they are likely to change. Use your voice to help change all of our visual diets!
By: Dr. Christine Peat