Most women suffer from anxiety about their physical appearance, especially their weight. Even normal weight women express a desire to lose weight ; something that has been found in girls as young as nine. This can lead, in some cases, to women opting for plastic surgery (which has increased by 165% since 1992) or developing eating disorders, which can, in extreme cases, lead to death. It is often claimed that depictions of unrealistically thin women in the media contribute to this process and a Canadian study looked at the links between 'thin' images and eating behaviour. In four different mini studies young women between the ages of 18 and 21 were shown video clips which they were asked to memorize for a test later. They were then told that in their break they would be participating in a taste test of different foods before the memory test. The women were encouraged to eat as much as they liked and after a while were told the true nature of the experiment - which was to see how much food they ate after watching the video clips - by the researchers. The first study compared women watching neutral commercials with those watching thin models and found that those watching the thin models ate less. The second study included images of successful, heavier women among the thin ones and this group ate more. A third group were told before the 'thin' adverts were shown that a majority of their peers thought that the women in them were too skinny and this group ate more too. A fourth group were shown the commercials then given a psychological test designed to measure how much they associated heaviness with rejection ; the stronger the women's association between heaviness and rejection the less they ate.
Strahan, Erin J., Spencer, Steven J. and Zanna, Mark P. - Don't take another bite: how sociocultural norms for appearance affect women's eating behavior Body Image December 2007, 4(4), 331-342