A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in the U.K. has found that when women of “normal” weight look at pictures of skinny women, they feel less positive about their own bodies. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the group describes two experiments they conducted with volunteers and what they found.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that negative body image is increased when women compare themselves to other, skinnier women. This issue has been in the news of late as some have suggested that using thinner-than-average women in advertising has a negative impact on women in general. In this effort, the researchers sought to test this notion by asking female volunteers to rate their bodies and then to look at pictures of other women. Afterward, each was given chocolate to eat and asked to rate their own body again.

The researchers ran two experiments. In the first, 90 young women with “normal” bodies (those with a BMI in the 22–23 kg m−2 range) were broken into three groups and looked at photographs of women of different sizes. The women in the photographs were actually the same women in the images from the first session—the team manipulated the images to make them look thinner or heavier. They also tested the degree of body dissatisfaction in the volunteers by measuring how much chocolate each of the volunteers consumed afterward.

The second experiment was identical to the first, except that only volunteers who self-identified as having high body dissatisfaction were included. They were also followed up a day later.

The researchers report that the women in both groups were more critical of their own bodies after viewing pictures of skinny women, but not after viewing “normal” sized or heavier women. In fact, the women reported seeing their own bodies and those of others of “normal” weight as being smaller in the latter cases. They also found no change in the amount of chocolate eaten regardless of what the women viewed.

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