Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 9–10, pp 607–616 | Cite as

Images of Thin and Plus-Size Models Produce Opposite Effects on Women’s Body Image, Body Dissatisfaction, and Anxiety

  • Silvia Moreno-Domínguez
  • Fátima Servián-Franco
  • Gustavo A. Reyes del Paso
  • Antonio Cepeda-BenitoEmail author
Original Article


Mainstream media’s promotion of dangerously thin female images likely lowers self-image satisfaction and contributes to pathological body concerns and disordered eating among women. We tested upward and downward social-comparison effects on self-evaluations by exposing 145 Spanish women to images of thin (upward) or overweight (downward) models. We also tested whether explicitly asking or not asking participants to compare themselves with the models would moderate social comparison effects. Exposure to thin models deteriorated body image while increasing body dissatisfaction and anxiety. Conversely, exposure to overweight models improved body image and decreased body dissatisfaction but it did not affect anxiety. Whether participants were asked to compare themselves to the models explicitly or implicitly had no effect on the participants’ responses. Furthermore, pre-existing body image concerns were not associated with the pre-to-post exposure effects. We propose that increasing the representation of normal weight and overweight women in media advertisements could help to neutralize or at least reduce the negative impact of media’s practice to idealize thin and overly thin women as symbols of female beauty.


Body image Social comparison Mass media Media exposure Eating disorders 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

The present research was conducted within the ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association (APA) and thereby followed APA’s principles of ethical and professional conduct. Funding for this research was provided by the public universities that employ the authors, the authors have no conflict of interest to declare (financial or non-financial), and all participants gave informed consent prior to their participation.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_951_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1127 kb)


  1. Bessenoff, G. R. (2006). Can the media affect us? Social comparison, self-discrepancy, and the thin ideal. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(3), 239–251. Scholar
  2. Blanton, H., Buunk, B. P., Gibbons, F. X., & Kuyper, H. (1999). When better-than-others compare upward: Choice of comparison and comparative evaluation as independent predictors of academic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 420–430. Scholar
  3. Bonafini, B. A., & Pozzilli, P. (2011). Body weight and beauty: The changing face of the ideal female body weight. Obesity Reviews, 12(1), 62–65. Scholar
  4. Cattarin, J. A., Thompson, J. K., Thomas, C., & Williams, R. (2000). Body image, mood, and televised images of attractiveness: The role of social comparison. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 220–239. Scholar
  5. Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 155–159. Scholar
  6. Cooper, P. J., Taylor, M. J., Cooper, Z., & Fairbum, C. G. (1987). The development and validation of the body shape questionnaire. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 6, 485–494.<485::AID-EAT2260060405>3.0.CO;2-O.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Corning, A. F., Krumm, A. J., & Smitham, L. A. (2006). Differential social comparison processes in women with and without eating disorder symptoms. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(3), 338–349. Scholar
  8. Díaz-Ferrer, S., Rodríguez-Ruiz, S., Ortega-Roldán, B., Moreno-Domínguez, S., & Fernández-Santaella, M. C. (2015). Testing the efficacy of pure versus guided mirror exposure in women with bulimia nervosa: A combination of neuroendocrine and psychological indices. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 48, 1–8. Scholar
  9. Dittmar, H., & Howard, S. (2004). Thin-ideal internalization and social comparison tendency as moderators of media models' impact on women's body-focused anxiety. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 768–791. Scholar
  10. Dohnt, H., & Tiggemann, M. (2006). The contribution of peer and media influences to the development of body satisfaction and self-esteem in young girls: A prospective study. Developmental Psychology, 42, 929–936. Scholar
  11. Eisinga, R., Te Grotenhuis, M., & Pelzer, B. (2013). The reliability of a two-item scale: Pearson, Cronbach, or spearman-Brown? International Journal of Public Health, 58(4), 637–642. Scholar
  12. Fallon, A. E., & Rozin, P. (1985). Sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94(1), 102–105. Scholar
  13. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140. Scholar
  14. Franzoi, S. L., Vasquez, K., Sparapani, E., Frost, K., Martin, J., & Aebly, M. (2012). Exploring body comparison tendencies: Women are self-critical whereas men are self-hopeful. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 99–109. Scholar
  15. Gilbert, D. T., Giesler, R. B., & Morris, K. A. (1995). When comparisons arise. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 227–236. Scholar
  16. Gleaves, D. H., Cepeda-Benito, A., Williams, T. L., Cororve, M. B., Fernandez, M. D. C., & Vila, J. (2000). Body image preferences of self and others: A comparison of Spanish and American male and female college students. Eating Disorders, 8(4), 269–282. Scholar
  17. Green, S. B. (1991). How many subjects does it take to do a regression analysis. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 26(3), 499–510. Scholar
  18. Gruder, C. L. (1971). Determinants of social comparison choices. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(5), 473–489. Scholar
  19. Hamilton, E. A., Mintz, L., & Kashubeck-West, S. (2007). Predictors of media effects on body dissatisfaction in European American women. Sex Roles, 56, 397–402. Scholar
  20. Hargreaves, D., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). The effect of television commercials on mood and body dissatisfaction: The role of appearance-schema activation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21, 287–308. Scholar
  21. Hargreaves, D., & Tiggemann, M. (2003). The effect of “thin ideal” television commercials on body dissatisfaction and schema activation during early adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32(5), 367–373. Scholar
  22. Harper, B., & Tiggemann, M. (2008). The effect of thin ideal media images on women’s self-objectification, mood, and body image. Sex Roles, 58, 649–657. Scholar
  23. Harrison, K., & Cantor, J. (1997). The relationship between media consumption and eating disorders. Journal of Communication, 47(1), 40–67. Scholar
  24. Hayes, A. F. (2012). PROCESS: A versatile computational tool for observed variable mediation, moderation, and conditional process modeling [White paper]. Retrieved from
  25. Hayes, A. F., & Montoya, A. K. (2017). A tutorial on testing, visualizing, and probing an interaction involving a multicategorical variable in linear regression analysis. Communication Methods and Measures, 11(1), 1–30. Scholar
  26. Heinberg, L., & Thompson, J. K. (1995). Body image and televised images of thinness and attractiveness: A controlled laboratory investigation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 14, 325–338. Scholar
  27. Hofschire, L. J., & Greenberg, B. S. (2002). Media's impact on adolescents' body dissatisfaction. In J. D. Brown, J. R. Steele, & K. W. Walsh-Childers (Eds.), Sexual teens, sexual media: Investigating media's influence on adolescent sexuality (pp. 125–152). New Jersey: Erlbaum.'s%20impact%20on%20adolescents'%20body%20dissatisfaction&f=false
  28. Holmstrom, A. J. (2004). The effects of the media on body image: A meta-analysis. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 48, 196–217. Scholar
  29. Irving, L. M. (1990). Mirror images: Effects of the standard of beauty on the self-and body-esteem of women exhibiting varying levels of bulimic symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9, 230–242. Scholar
  30. Jansen, A., Smeets, T., Martijn, C., & Nederkoorn, C. (2006). I see what you see: The lack of a self-serving body-image bias in eating disorders. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45(1), 123–135. Scholar
  31. Jansen, A., Bollen, D., Tuschen-Caffier, B., Roefs, A., Tanghe, A., & Braet, C. (2008). Mirror exposure reduces body dissatisfaction and anxiety in obese adolescents: A pilot study. Appetite, 51(1), 214–217. Scholar
  32. Kaiser, H. E. (1974). An index of factorial simplicity. Psychometrika, 39, 31–36. Scholar
  33. Leahey, T. M., & Crowther, J. H. (2008). An ecological momentary assessment of comparison target as a moderator of the effects of appearance-focused social comparisons. Body Image, 5(3), 307–311. Scholar
  34. Lentillon-Kaestner, V., Berchtold, A., Rousseau, A., & Ferrand, C. (2014). Validity and reliability of the French versions of the body shape questionnaire. Journal of Personality Assessment, 96(4), 471–477. Scholar
  35. Lin, L. F., & Kulik, J. A. (2002). Social comparison and women’s body satisfaction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 24, 115–123. Scholar
  36. Lindner, M., Rudorf, S., Birg, R., Falk, A., Weber, B., & Fliessbach, K. (2014). Neural patterns underlying social comparisons of personal performance. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(4), 569–576. Scholar
  37. MacCallum, R. C. (2009). Factor analysis. In R. E. Millsap & A. Maydeu-Olivares (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of quantitative methods in psychology (pp. 123–147). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Scholar
  38. Mendes, W. B., Blascovich, J., Major, B., & Seery, M. (2001). Challenge and threat responses during downward and upward social comparisons. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31(5), 477–497. Scholar
  39. Milkie, M. A. (1999). Social comparisons, reflected appraisals, and mass media: The impact of pervasive beauty images on black and white girls' self-concepts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 62, 190–210. Scholar
  40. Mills, J. S., Polivy, J., Herman, C. P., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). Effects of exposure to thin media images: Evidence of self-enhancement among restrained eaters. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(12), 1687–1699. Scholar
  41. Moreno, S., Warren, C. W., Rodríguez, S., Fernández, M. C., & Cepeda-Benito, A. (2009). Food cravings discriminate between anorexia and bulimia nervosa: Implications for “success” versus “failure” in dietary restraint. Appetite, 52, 588–594. Scholar
  42. Moreno-Domínguez, S., Rodríguez-Ruiz, S., Fernández-Santaella, M. C., Jansen, A., & Tuschen-Caffier, B. (2012). Pure versus guided mirror exposure to reduce body dissatisfaction: A preliminary study with university women. Body Image, 9(2), 285–288. Scholar
  43. Myers, T. A., & Crowther, J. H. (2009). Social comparison as a predictor of body dissatisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(4), 683–698. Scholar
  44. Nichols, A. L., & Maner, J. K. (2008). The good-subject effect: Investigating participant demand characteristics. The Journal of General Psychology, 135(2), 151–166. Scholar
  45. Pate, J. E., Pumariega, A. J., Hester, C., & Garner, D. M. (1992). Cross-cultural patterns in eating disorders: A review. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 31(5), 802–809. Scholar
  46. Record, K. L., & Austin, S. B. (2016). “Paris thin”: A call to regulate life-threatening starvation of runway models in the US fashion industry. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2), 205–206. Scholar
  47. Rosen, J. C., Jones, A., Ramirez, E., & Waxman, S. (1996). Body shape questionnaire: Studies of validity and reliability. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 20(3), 315–319.<315::AID-EAT11>3.0.CO;2-Z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Servián-Franco, F., Moreno-Domínguez, S., & del Paso, G. A. R. (2015). Body dissatisfaction and mirror exposure: Evidence for a dissociation between self-report and physiological responses in highly body-dissatisfied women. PLoS One, 10(4), e0122737. Scholar
  49. Stice, E. (2002). Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 825–848. Scholar
  50. Tantleff-Dunn, S., & Gokee, J. L. (2002). Interpersonal influences on body image development. In T. F. Cash & T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice (pp. 108–116). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  51. Tavakol, M., & Dennick, R. (2011). Making sense of Cronbach’s alpha. International Journal of Medical Education, 2, 53–55. Scholar
  52. Taylor, S. E., & Lobel, M. (1989). Social comparison activity under threat: Downward evaluation and upward contacts. Psychological Review, 96(4), 569–575. Scholar
  53. Thompson, J. K., & Stice, E. (2001). Thin-ideal internalization: Mounting evidence for a new risk factor for body image disturbance and eating pathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 181–183. Scholar
  54. Thompson, J. K., Heinberg, L., & Tantleff-Dunn, S. (1991). The physical appearance comparison scale. The Behavior Therapist, 14, 174.Google Scholar
  55. Tiggemann, M. (2006). The role of media exposure in adolescent girls' body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness: Prospective results. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(5), 523–541. Scholar
  56. Tiggemann, M., & McGill, B. (2004). The role of social comparison in the effect of magazine advertisements on women’s mood and body dissatisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 23–44. Scholar
  57. Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2004). Thin ideals in music television: A source of social comparison and body dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 35, 48–58. Scholar
  58. Tiggemann, M., Gardiner, M., & Slater, A. (2000). "I would rather be a size 10 than have straight A's": A focus group study of adolescent girls' wish to be thinner. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 645–659. Scholar
  59. Tucci, S., & Peters, J. (2008). Media influences on body satisfaction in female students. Psicothema, 20(4), 521–524. Scholar
  60. van Breukelen, G. J. P. (2013). ANCOVA versus CHANGE from baseline in nonrandomized studies: The difference. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 48(6), 895–922. Scholar
  61. VanVoorhis, C. W., & Morgan, B. L. (2007). Understanding power and rules of thumb for determining sample sizes. Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 3(2), 43–50.
  62. Want, S. C. (2009). Meta-analytic moderators of experimental exposure to media portrayals of women on female appearance satisfaction: Social comparisons as automatic processes. Body Image, 6, 257–269. Scholar
  63. Want, S. C. (2014). Three questions regarding the ecological validity of experimental research on the impact of viewing thin-ideal media images. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 27–34. Scholar
  64. Want, S. C., Botres, A., Vahedi, Z., & Middleton, J. A. (2015). On the cognitive (in) efficiency of social comparisons with media images. Sex Roles, 73(11–12), 519–532. Scholar
  65. Warren, C. S., Cepeda-Benito, A., Gleaves, D.H., Moreno, S., Rodríguez, S., Fernandez, M. C.,…. Pearson, C. A. (2008). English & Spanish versions of the body shape questionnaire: Measurement equivalence across ethnicity and clinical status. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 41, 265–273.
  66. Wills, T. A. (1991). Similarity and self-esteem in downward comparison. In J. Suls & T. A. Wills (Eds.), Social comparison: Contemporary theory and research (pp. 51–78). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc..Google Scholar
  67. Zabinski, M. F., Calfas, K. J., Gehrman, C. A., Wilfley, D. E., & Sallis, J. F. (2001). Effects of a physical activity intervention on body image in university seniors: Project GRAD. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 23(4), 247–252. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of JaénJaénSpain
  2. 2.Department of Psychological ScienceUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations