Believing the thin-ideal is the norm promotes body image concerns : beauty is "thin" deep?
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Objective: Although studies have demonstrated that the media-portrayed thin-ideal images and social comparison processes increase body dissatisfaction and negative affect, research has not tested whether women experience pluralistic ignorance by believing that the thin-ideal is an achievable norm. Method: In Study 1, 172 women completed a questionnaire that assessed the extent to which a participant believed that the thin-ideal body image represented the normative body size among women. In Study 2, 356 women participated in a five condition experiment that manipulated the body size of an attractive college student (i.e., thin-ideal or average-sized) and information about the achievability of the woman’s body size (i.e., achievable, not achievable, or no information). Results: Study 1 found no evidence that thin-ideal norm endorsement affected body dissatisfaction or negative affect. Study 2 revealed an increase in body dissatisfaction but not negative affect in the thin-ideal achievable and thin-ideal no information conditions. The results also indicated a marginally significant decrease in negative views of the self in the average-sized achievable and average-sized no information conditions. Furthermore, participants with low self-esteem or poor social support felt better in the average-sized achievable condition when compared to the thin-ideal achievable condition. Also, participants with a higher BMI felt more depressed in the thin-ideal achievable condition when compared to the average-sized achievable condition. Discussion: Results suggest that thin-ideal norm endorsement increased body dissatisfaction by way of social comparative processes and perhaps, pluralistic ignorance. Because participants with low self-esteem or poor social support felt better after seeing an average-sized peer who was said to be the achievable ideal, these results have implications for clinical treatment and prevention interventions.