‘No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted’ – that’s the concluding catchphrase of a one-minute video called ‘evolution’ made by Dove a few years ago to show how cosmetics and computer trickery are used to create the unrealistic portrayals of female models on advertising billboards. Now a team of researchers at the University of the West of England, led by Emma Halliwell, have tested whether viewing this short video can buffer young girls against the negative effects of looking at images of ultra-thin female models. Past research found such a benefit when adult women viewed a similar video but this is the first time the idea has been investigated with young girls.
One hundred and twenty-seven girls, aged ten to thirteen, from two schools in the South of England, were recruited for what they thought was an evaluation of ‘attitudes to health, appearance and magazines’. In keeping with the cover story, tests of body satisfaction and esteem were embedded among other questionnaires to try to conceal the true purpose of the study.
Consistent with past research, girls who looked at thin models subsequently reported lower body satisfaction and confidence compared with girls who looked at pictures of landscapes (in turn, prior research has linked lower body self-esteem with increased risk of developing an eating disorder). The key finding was that this negative effect was not seen among the girls who watched the Dove video first, before looking at the ultra-thin models. The body self-esteem and confidence of these girls was just the same as among girls who watched the video and then looked at pictures of landscapes.
‘Theoretically, we assume that the intervention disrupted the upward social comparisons that many young girls make when viewing idealised media images,’ the researchers concluded. ‘Moreover, we propose that the comparison is avoided because the media models have been construed as artificial and, therefore, an inappropriate comparison target.’ Halliwell and her team added that future research will be needed to test the truth of this reasoning and whether the benefits of watching the evolution video, or others like it, can be sustained over time.
Halliwell E, Easun A, & Harcourt D (2010). Body dissatisfaction: Can a short media literacy message reduce negative media exposure effects amongst adolescent girls? British journal of health psychology PMID: 20687976
Link to Dove’s Evolution video.