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Exposure to imagery featuring thin women and women’s eating behavior

Erin Strahan, Steven Spencer and Mark Zanna carried out the following 4 studies:(1, pdf)

Four studies tested the impact of exposure to thin images on women’s eating behavior.  In Study 1, women who were exposed to commercials containing thin models ate less in a taste test than women exposed to neutral commercials.  The next two studies revealed that the impact of the thin images could be reduced by challenging the sociocultural norms for appearance.  In Study 2, including images of relatively heavier women who have been successful in life (an indirect challenge to the norm) attenuated the impact of the thin images on women’s eating behavior.  Study 3 demonstrated that convincing women that their peers do not endorse the sociocultural norms also reduced the impact of the thin images.  In Study 4, we found that exposure to thin images led to activation of an association between heaviness and rejection and that the more this association was activated, the less participants ate.

Yet more evidence that fashion imagery depicting very thin women is related to unnecessary dieting in a number of women.

The authors, curiously, wrote:

In the future we would like to determine whether the majority of people really do endorse the sociocultural norm for thinness or whether a pluralistic ignorance phenomena (Prentice & Miller, 1993) is occurring such that most women don’t personally accept the norm, but they believe that everyone else in society does and that is why they are still affected by it.

Most people do not endorse the thin fashion ideal, and it is high time for the authors and other researchers in the field to go beyond using terms such as “media influence” and “sociocultural norms.”  There are people behind the media.  I have made it easy for these researchers to figure out who the culprits are.  Since the approach in Study 3 has been repeatedly shown to be effective in reducing disordered eating, Strahan et al. should try replicating Study 3 by identifying the culprits also, and chances are that they would find a long-term-stable tendency, observed through follow-up assessments, of a decline in unnecessary dieting.


  1. Strahan, E. J., Spencer, S. J., and Zanna, M. P., Don't take another bite: how sociocultural norms for appearance affect women's eating behavior, Body Image, 4, 331 (2007).