In a study conducted by Ohio State, college-age women viewed women’s magazines that only pictured “thin, idealized” body types for five straight days. Then researchers found a most peculiar result: the readers’ own body satisfaction actually improved after this.
This result seems to go against longstanding beliefs about the negative effects of modeling and advertising on the self-esteem of young women. But before fashion magazines start heralding themselves as philanthropic outlets, there is this catch: the young women whose body satisfaction improved after looking at magazines were also more likely to report that they dieted during the study.
This suggests that magazines only increased body satisfaction because they convinced women that the figures of models were achievable. Women then became momentarily hopeful that some dieting might enable them to look like Gisele Bundchen or whoever, causing a brief surge of satisfaction (before, like many of their diets, it would eventually crash).
However, according to study co-author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, this spike of self-esteem “can help explain why fitness and beauty magazines remain popular, even though their images may make many women ultimately feel inadequate and unsatisfied with their bodies.” Then women keep coming back to the magazines, like a drug, trying to attain the same temporary high. Beauty, it seems, is an ugly business.