January 17, 2013
YOU MEAN IT DOESN'T JUST KILL BRAIN CELLS?:
Chick Lit May Be Hazardous to Your Self-Esteem : New research suggests novels in which characters agonize about their bodies lead female readers to worry about their own weight. (Tom Jacobs, 1/16/13, Pacific Standard)
Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2013 7:09 PMAs co-authors Melissa Kaminski and Robert Magee note, previous research has found a strong link between images of thin women in magazines and movies and low body esteem on the part of female readers and viewers. This is a problem because dissatisfaction with one's shape can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.The researchers decided to explore whether the depiction of female characters in popular novels would have the same impact. So they turned to the world of "chick lit," that popular genre that emerged in the 1990s and typically focuses on female characters and their "struggles with weight, dating and successful careers." Bridget Jones' Diary is one popular example.Kaminski and Magee took 3,200-word excerpts from two such novels and manipulated them in terms of the central character's weight, and her feelings about her body. The author's voice was retained, but references to the heroine's height and clothes sizes were changed, as were the comments she makes to herself and others reflecting her bodily self-esteem.One-hundred-and-fifty-nine female participants (median age just under 20) read one of these altered texts and then answered questions about their own weight and sexual attractiveness. The results suggest a "nuanced pattern of effects for chick lit," the authors write.Women who read a narrative featuring an underweight protagonist were not more likely to regard themselves as overweight. However, compared to those who read about an average-weight or overweight woman, they were less likely to view themselves as sexually attractive.On the other hand, those who read a version of a story in which the central character expressed negative thoughts about her body "were significantly more concerned about their weight than participants in the control condition," the researchers report.