It's no secret that representation matters — but new research confirms how important it is to see realistic, diverse images of ourselves in the media.
For the study, published in the journal Communication Monographs, researchers recruited 49 college-aged women — all who said they wanted to be thinner — to participate. The researchers then showed them varying images of thin, average-sized, and plus-sized fashion models on a TV screen, and monitored their psychological responses.
After looking at each image, the women answered questions about how satisfied they were with their bodies, and how much they compared themselves to the models.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when thinner models were on screen, the participants made more comparisons between themselves and the people they saw. But when average-sized or plus-sized models were on screen, the participants made fewer comparisons, felt better about their own bodies — and even remembered more about those models than they did the thinner ones.
“We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage when the media shows more realistic body types than the traditional thin model,” Jessica Ridgway, one of the researchers of the study, said in a statement.
Again, it's no surprise that seeing more realistic body types in media has a positive effect on women. In fact, while most American and British women are average or plus-sized, images of these body types makes up less than 2% of what we see.
While what we say and think about our bodies matter most of all, it can still be hard to avoid the impact that other people (including the media) have on our body image. This new research, however, may just be a step in the right direction for more body positivity and representation.