Skinny Models Make Us Fatter

istock_000004574943small-3e59145378d6fae0559a219670cf90e9ef3c3a7b-s6-c10Some women tape pictures of bikini models to their refrigerators hoping to inspire their dieting goals and ward off snacking.

Better try something else. Turns out, skinny models make us fat.

Well, maybe they don’t make us fat, but a new study found that women who used eating diaries with a slim model on the cover actually gained weight because they started sneaking more snacks. To make sure the model was the problem, researchers traded the picture for one of with an average sized woman. Lo and behold, the over-snacking subsided.

Anne Klesse, study researcher and assistant professor of marketing at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, says that challenges that seem unattainable can make us give up, adding:

Being constantly exposed before and after eating, every time I am writing in my diary, I am reminded of a very skinny model, the idea comes up that it is not attainable for me… Our findings reveal that the perception that a goal is unattainable demotivates dieters from investing effort in achieving the goal and causes them to disengage from the goal.

Since the models are Photoshopped and starving, the images are, indeed, unattainable.

This resonates with other studies which found that looking at skinny models in fashion magazines leads to more body image problems and eating disorders (overeating is one type of disorder).

And in fact skinny models, and the small chance we have of looking like one, can plain stress us out. I’ve been known to self-medicate by eating more when I feel anxious. Maybe you do too?

Best to be guided by realistic and healthy images, not body goals that cannot be found in nature.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 16, 2013, in body image, psychology, women and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. This topic hits close to home. Body image is something I have struggled with my whole life, and most recently I have found that seeing is not believing. It is one thing to put a goal picture on your fridge, but a whole other thing to believe you will be able to achieve it. On the hard days, seeing this goal on your fridge can do more harm than good. I know I have definitely pulled a “screw it, ill never be that skinny” stunt when I just want a snack. This in part is thanks to modern technology where we are UNFORTUNATELY surrounded by the bigger and better of anything and everything’s and I believe it is extremely detrimental to ones mental health.

  2. Another good topic I can relate to on so many levels. I think that personally, I hate that not only do magazine ads and just advertising in general spark a form of self-consciousness in women, but that it sparks men to create these specifically-detailed and unrealistic standards of what they want a woman to look like for them, and more importantly to learn to see image over personality. I have personally been through so many cases in where men talk about a woman in such a disrespectful manner by saying that they want a “big booty” or “big boobs” and for them to love getting down and dirty or that they want a woman who can “put up with them”, referring to heavy drinking or to heavy drug consumption, whichever the case may be to them. Going back to women and advertising, I think it contributes to a low self-esteem, which in turn sparks them to rebel in destructive or not-so-good ways, and it doesn’t make it any better by not telling women that advertising uses editing to make their models look like the way they think is good to others. However, as a woman I think that we as people need to learn to appreciate ourselves and stop worrying about the opinions of others. We are made to feel in this society like we live off of others’ validations and not our own. It is in our nature to want and crave a validation, a compliment, whatever, but who says we can’t do that for ourselves? We have to learn to take every compliment with a positive attitude, and let negative criticism go, something that even I have a hard time doing up to now, sadly. I just think that it is time for a change to come around, to stop trying to worry about others and to work on ourselves, otherwise we even end up missing out on a lot in our own lives because we spend the time in the world looking at the flaws or the bad points of others.

  3. I can agree to this post to a certain degree. All you see when you’re at the checkout are magazines of how to get the perfect bikini body and that’s not always what everyone thinks is perfect but it is what we are told is. What we aren’t being told is that these models probably starved themselves for a week, pay thousands of dollars to have their imperfections airbrushed off. The realistic woman has probably had a kid or two, has a job and maybe has time to work out a few times a week to try to keep their weight down. Seeing these magazines and pictures of models could totally cause a binge eating disorder because these people are trying to be “healthy” by being on a diet but the moment any stress comes into their day, they binge on any junk food available which essentially backfires and undoes any progress they possibly could have made. I know I’m a stress eater too but I’m also a stress-runner so I think it balances out but many women don’t have the luxury of time.

  4. Catherine Flores

    This is very true. Both women and men try to make themselves look like the models and instead of helping themselves, they are actually harming and endangering themselves. It’s great to begin a healthy lifestyle, but not when life is at risk. The dieting that is followed to achieve the dream bodies only leaves those who try it even hungrier than they were and makes them binge eat on what they believe food. But too much of the good food can actually cause more harm than good, like it is stated.The body positivity movement has helped a lot of people who have gone through the phase of trying to look like the skinny models and has helped them find the natural and actually healthy way to reach their goals.

  5. I really like this post. Because, it is true that most super model images are photoshopped, which a lot of people do not know. Also, young girls grow up looking at those images so they grow up thinking that they are suppose to look certain way. Even singers they grow to love have eating disordering from being famous. A lot of their photos on their albums and magazine photos are indeed photo shopped. Which gives men and girls the wrong idea on how women are suppose to look. Which causes a lot of problems like low self esteem and eating disorders. Women were gaining weight when putting pictures of super models on their diary or fridge, because that image that they have in their mind is unachievable. By putting a picture of a women who is of normal weight makes sense, because that is actually achievable !

  6. I see this article has some very interesting points to it. It was news to me that changing the picture from a slim model to an average sized woman could have such change in outcome. With majority of models in media being on the slim side I can see how this can be difficult to see every day especially for someone who is trying to be the size of a model. The problem with this is everyone (females and males) need to understand no matter how hard someone works out and diets that it doesn’t mean they will be the size of a model. I think people have more of a fantasy than actual reality of being the size that they want to be. There is a reason more people don’t look like models and that’s because of their genetics. Working out and dieting has many benefits and will help someone lose weight or gain muscle, however if they don’t have the genetics part it most likely won’t happen. Males and females need to understand everyone doesn’t lust after slim/skinny models. Each of us has their own likes and dislikes among body types. Being comfortable with your body and being healthy is the goal to shoot for.

  7. It is funny coming across a post like this because I recently did a study in a class that looked at women and body dissatisfaction. Although our results were not strong enough to prove our hypothesis, many studies I read proved the same results; that the unattainable skinny body image placed in magazines created body dissatisfaction rather than improved upon it. It is not fair for magazines to 1. say that a skinny body image is “normal” and 2. make these unhealthy images accessible to anyone. This is an issue that needs to be improved upon because there should be no set norm of a body image as we all come in different shapes and sizes.

  8. I never really thought about this before, nor did I know it could have this result. Before reading this post, I had always thought, or seen it portrayed in movies that if someone posted a picture of something they wanted, it would help motivate them to strive to reach their goal, but it never occurred to me that looking at a model’s picture could have the opposite effect and make someone loose sight of their goal. Now that I have read this post, I can see how looking at a model with unnatural features, can cause someone to just give up: they know there is no way to achieve their impossible goal, so why even try?

  9. sandra ruelas

    Skinny Models makes us Fatter: I’ve had a bikini model as my phone background picture to inspire me to want to look that way but it has never worked. From this study I found that by comparing us to skinny models only make us fatter the reason for that is because we stress out and over eat as we are stressing trying to look like an 80 lbs. model. They also found that by looking at fashion magazines leads to more image problem and eating disorders (overeating). It’s hard to be something we aren’t and look a certain way. I’m a promotion model for liquor and some times feel like I need to lose more weight and look skinner or else ill lose my job. It’s sad but that’s just how it really is.

  10. It is absolutely true that most women want to look like the fashion models on the covers of magazines and on TV. Many young girls want to have skinny bodies like them. It is because they all look gorgeous, attractive and beautiful (even though photos on covers are usually altered to make them look thinner). But think about how much time they had to spend in order to make those bodies. They go on an extreme diet that involves only drinking water or eating salad. According to the research, female models in the west are thinner than ever before. That’s why women with normal weight are always on diets to be thinner. It is sad that people follow their diet plan and try to eat as little as possible which can lead to a very dangerous situation. They can have poor health and be easily depressed. I remember on my wedding day. I was on a diet for 30 days just to look perfect on my wedding dress. My only goal was to look beautiful (just the outside), I began to refuse to accept food. I completely forgot about what was happening on my health. Obviously l did lose some weight but gained back right after. No one in real life can look like the models on the covers. Think about the people in the world who are hungry and starving to death. I’m just satisfied with my shape and being healthy.

  11. I am somewhat amazed at how the skinny body images can affect a person and then again I am not. I say this because of a personal up front and close experience I had with a college student which resulted in a number of disturbing women’s restroom encounters and shortly thereafter a deep and intense heart wrenching confession from her. She told the dean and me that close relatives and coworkers in her country repeatedly stated that being thin or skinny was pretty and it lead to much success in life. She took their entire poor counsel to heart and was repulsed at any signs of weight gain which resulted in a hospital visit with damage to her esophagus along with other complications to her body and mental state. This experience was very heart wrenching for me. However, I found that integrating daily positive affirmations in a child’s life early on can encourage and boost their self-esteem in their adult years.

  12. When I first saw the title I wanted to disagree, but as I continued to read I realized that this does happen. In my own experience I have taped up a magazine picture of very thin model in my room or flipped through images of skinny women and although for a moment I felt motivated to “diet” and exercise there would be times where I would feel discouraged and give up because I thought it was unattainable. In a world where women are constantly being judged or judging themselves to other females either by the standards of society or their own distraught mentality it is hard to stay positive. But if we are surrounded by images of normal figured women that could motivate us even more to change because we are no longer devastated or depressed about something that seems impossible and stick with a positive attitude.

  13. I agree with most of the comments written. It’s impossible to look like a model that has 0% fat! Because majority of images are being overly tweaked to build up perfection that most of us can’t achieve. Not because we are lazy but because what we view in magazines is not reality. I mean, if women want to shape their body and achieve a goal to make them healthier or lose five pounds here and there then go for it! Just as long as one knows that not everyone gets the same results and each body is so different. It’s just a shame that what is “sexy” to the media is also “sexy” to us, if not the only way to feel approachable by society. I for one wish I had a more curvy body but you really got to work with what you got. If we can’t change the images we are seeing that we should change the way we personally view them and accept each range of bodies especially our own.

  14. After watching “Killing Us Slowly 4” in my Social Psychology class, I learned that models in most advertisements don’t even exist. They are photo shopped to the point where they are unrecognizable. They’re made to look thinner, their eye color/shape are usually altered, their legs are elongated, etc. Advertisers create an “Ideal woman“ so to speak, that usually affects the self-esteem of the rest of us authentic women, making us feel less attractive and overweight. Little do we know, that model does not even exist. Advertisement designers created her. A friend of mine truly strives to be perfect; she tapes a picture of an athletic model on her refrigerator, and whenever she attempts to eat an extra meal, she restrains herself, looking at the body she dreams to have, and telling herself to skip the meal and instead go for a jog. She now weighs 89 pounds (she’s 5’3). She refuses to reason with anyone who seems concerned with her health, because to her, they are merely getting in the way of her goal. These “models” are truly destroying some women in almost every aspect (mentally, physically, emotionally).

  15. Dominique Dillon

    This article is a great topic for discussion. The title Skinny Models make us Fatter is quite an eye catcher. The fact that research has found that women who used eating diaries with slim women on the cover gained more weight than women who used eating diaries with average size women on the cover is interesting. I know from my own experience weight loss can be challenging at times. I have even sneaked a few snacks here and there. I think when I decided to take control of my weight I set a goal of to lose 15 pounds to get fit. I wonder why I didn’t cut out a picture of a skinny model and set my goal to look like her.

    Society contributes to what we all believe is a social norm. I think when women who diet see average size women or women who lost several pounds it’s easier to shed pounds. I think setting weight loss goals to lose a few pounds are more realistic than to try to lose 50 lbs pounds fast to look like a model. This article is a great topic to discuss because weight loss is big now. Thank you and please continue to write great articles like this one.

  16. That is the way I do it too. I really want to be skinny, so I always have my favorite models on my phone screen to remind me to not overeat. It comes out that I give up on my goal and keep eating all the time. After I finish eating, I tell myself that they are ready and willing to do the work that it takes to lose weight and keep it off and I am not ready yet, probably I will be next time. Even though female models are not good healthy role models, in fact they are not healthy, but somehow I want to be pretty like them. But I have to say looking at their pictures help me by not getting fatter. I told myself to stop eating and if I gain weight I will be on a diet. I am not skinny like models, but I can maintain my healthy figure.

  17. I think most women have had some type of weight struggle in their life but tapping pictures of models from magazines will do nothing for these women. You have to have a realistic view on life and what should make you happy. I believe that we should all strive to be healthy but I believe this should be achieved by teaching young women (and men) to appreciate their bodies and see the beauty in all body types. We should watch the things we eat and put in our bodies but it should not be obsessed over. We need to be taught and teach people to find beauty in all types of people.

  18. It is depressing to see women of all ages in America competing with the supermodel images posted by the media. Many models in photos and videos are often photo shopped or even anorexic; however, young girls especially starve themselves to reach an impossible goal by comparing and trying to obtain similar body types of those online and in magazines. My sister especially struggles with her weight and image and is a classic example of a person who hangs magazine pages from Victoria’s Secret on the walls as a daily inspiration. Women should appreciate their bodies for what they are and instead aim to live healthy lives.

  19. I found your blog through IAmAnAfterSchoolSpecial and skimmed some of your post, finding many of them interesting so I decided to start following you.

    To comment on this post, I don’t think models are really the problem. It’s a mixture of human psychology and beauty ideals. Women are brought up thinking that their looks are the most important trait of their overall worth. Society builds us up to think “If you are hot, you will gain more out of life than you would if you were not hot.” So women try to be ho…t which being thin just happens to be a big measure of hotness based on our current culture. They are set up to fail to idolizing thin models because it does nothing but causes more disordered eating and lifestyle habits on top of American culture’s already screwed up eating habits, choice, and self esteems. So it’s really no wonder why they gain weight. But are models really to blame or is it more than that?

    • I agree with everything you’ve said, except the effect of models. This study, and some that have looked at how reading fashion mags affect women do find effects. That doesn’t mean every woman will be affected, or affected in the same way.

  20. “Since the models are Photoshopped and starving, the images are, indeed, unattainable.”

    For some reason I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at that statement which is indeed, very true. It is really interesting because I have always found myself of the opposite end of the eating spectrum. When I get stressed, I lose my appetite. It is no more healthier than overeating but I think the underlying issue with both is that we channel our problems into our dietary habits.

  21. I am a larger girl (5’10”) and when I was younger thin my mother’s friends used to ask me if I wanted to model. I thought I did. That is until I found out that my 146 pound body was way “too big” and was told I needed to lose 25 pounds! At 17 I thought I could do it. I struggled to drop weight from my size 5 body. I found myself littering my room with pictures of Cindy Crawford and Mila Jojovich. After months of working out and dieting I could only squeeze another 9 pounds off my build. I was sick and starving and considered doing drugs to lose a little more weight. This experience set my off on a life time of battling bulimia. I was a naturally thin young woman. People called me “skinny” but I was nowhere thin enough to model. I was not curvy enough to be a plus model.
    I think that this article is an eye opener for women. We are truly hurting ourselves by comparing our bodies to those of models. We are beautiful in all shapes and sizes and reaching toward a goal that will harm our overall health is sad. I wonder if the picture of a female athlete would influence us the same way. I had to accept I would never be a Kate Moss and in my late 20’s set out to be more of a Linda Hamilton (Think about her Terminator 2 days). It turns out my body loved to build muscles. I gave up the quest to be thin and started the journey to be physically fit, strong, healthy and beautiful. I wish the media had been more supportive of me as a young woman. I wish that there had been more strong and healthy female inspirations in print that are not airbrushed to be a standard model size. I wonder if a woman had a photo of Serena Williams to inspire her if she would be motivated or gain weight?

  22. I find this very interesting because this is so true! Our society is extremely brain washed about what true beauty really is. Girls now days have lots of low self esteem because of not only supermodels but because of men and how they expose women. I always grew up thinking long hair, light skin and skinny waist lines defined true beauty when really it didn’t. Women who are skinny with those body images where considered more superior and more praised. Those lies that society told us made every girl want long hair, skinny waist lines and lighter skin. Women have lost there selves in this world because our natural view of beauty is bummbarded with all these different images and lies of skinny girls that aren’t really that beautiful or skinny just edited and photoshopped to make money. Women shouldn’t feed into what society views as beautiful and start loving and excepting themselves for who they truly are and stop letting the world define them. Lady’s need to start telling there daughters that they are beautiful just the way they are and not to mind what they see in the media. Just remember women, “you don’t have to be a size 0 to be beautiful” just love yourself and love who God created because when he made you, he worked hard and dilligently.

  23. This article made me open my eyes, because we actually do want to look like models in magazines. We all have been brainwashed by everything we seen on tv and the things that people pay most attention on. Not everything that we see is always true. The models in the maganizes worked to persue their passion,not everyone desire is to be that. Its sad to me that people really depress about their weight because their the ones to blame. If you wanted to have a nice body then you would go out your way to make the effort to eat healthy,go to the gym and do things for your body. Raising children have been a cause that women also become overweight as well. We need to realize that pictures especailly the ones that we see most often can not be us and not all the time is it to be viewed beautiful when your skinny. I can also agree and actually know that being realistic about following good healthy habits and having images that can motivate you is a great option to make your dreams come true! It also reminds me that im happy to have the body that i do, because i dont always take of it and after reading this i’ll make sure to have a good meal and be proud of what i have.

  24. I find this interesting because it is so true, most women do want to look like the model on the front cover of some magazine. And it makes sense as to why they don’t lose weight but in fact gain weight because those models are airbrushed, photoshopped to look that thin. It’s very sad that magazines display these kind of pictures that are not attainable and just make women and young girls want something that is not real. And I think once we realize that we know it’s impossible to look like that which makes us depressed and we end up eating more because it’s a goal that won’t happen. I agree and think also that being realistic and following healthy images is the best option.

  25. “Since the models are Photoshopped and starving, the images are, indeed, unattainable.”

    “Best to be guided by realistic and healthy images, not body goals that cannot be found in nature.”

    This is a pretty huge diss to women who are either modeling and aren’t starving themselves or not modeling but naturally have the same body-type as models. I’m not saying that this body type should be the expectation for everyone, as there are various body types and frames that require different body fat distributions, but I think we should stop coining all models as “starving” and “cannot be found in nature,” or as some people like to say “not real women.”

  26. Thanks for reminding us that feeling hopeless to attain impossible goals blocks progress. And, yikes. The media is crammed with impossibly thin, young models. Perhaps the aim to to increase sales of snack foods to us?

  27. You tweaked me again, Georgia!

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