Effects of Magazine Advertisements on College Females' Drive for Thinness, Self-Esteem, and Body Satisfaction
Student researcher

Carrie L. Bennett
This paper is based on the author's undergraduate Honors thesis.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar


Previous research on the relationship between media consumption and body image disturbance (body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness) and self-esteem suggests that women who internalize, or accept the thin ideal presented in the media, develop cognitive dissonance between actuality and fantasy. Yet, other research indicates women protect body image disturbance and self-esteem by regarding the beauty of models in advertisements as unrealistic. The purpose of this study is to examine if popular magazine advertisements can affect college females’ feelings and perceptions of self.

Based on social comparison theory (i.e., people are compelled to judge their own opinions and abilities by making social evaluations with other people), we proposed three hypotheses, in order to test for the two conflicting directions:


H1: Participants exposed to ideal body images will experience a higher drive for thinness, lower self-esteem, and greater body dissatisfaction compared to participants who view images of counter-ideal bodies.

H2: The greater the level of internalization of ideal advertisements, the higher the drive for thinness, and lower the self-esteem and body satisfaction.

H3: Discounting for the beauty of the model will be will be negatively associated with drive for thinness and body dissatisfaction, and positively associated with self-esteem.


Sixty undergraduate female students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions in a between-subjects experiment. First, ten advertisements were selected from popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Maxim. Subsequently, a computer program was used to modify the female bodies to create the three conditions for the study: ideal body image advertisements, counter ideal body image advertisements and no body image advertisements (female body was removed). The dependent variables (drive for thinness, self-esteem and body dissatisfaction) were included in a questionnaire administered to participants immediately after participants’ exposure to the advertisements.


A factor analysis of the dependent measures scales items yielded five factors labeled “negative self-perception,” “body dissatisfaction,” “commitment to thinness,” “self-esteem,” and “internalization.”

H1: Partially supported. Consistent with H1, participants exposed to ideal images reported greater negative self-perception than those who were exposed to counter ideal images. In addition, those who viewed the ideal advertisements reported higher body dissatisfaction compared to those who saw counter ideal body images. However, inconsistent with H1, participants who viewed the images of the ideal body did not express a significantly different commitment to thinness than those who viewed images of the counter ideal body. In addition, participants who saw ideal advertising images did not express a significantly different level of self-esteem than those who saw the counter ideal advertising images.

H2: Partially supported. Internalization had a main effect on both negative self-perception and body dissatisfaction, such that internalization led to more negative self-perception and body dissatisfaction than non-internalization. Internalization also had main effects on commitment to thinness and on self-esteem.

H3: Supported. Commitment to thinness, body dissatisfaction and negative self-perception were positively related to internalization. Self-esteem was negatively related to internalization, such that as internalization increased, self-esteem decreased.


This study represents an attempt to reconcile the differing research findings on body image disturbance. Results from this study found evidence that advertising does adversely influence body dissatisfaction and negative self-perceptions. It also evidenced that when participants internalized the ideal advertisements, they experienced significantly higher body dissatisfaction, and negative self-perception than those who discount. Since, body image disturbance is a prevalent phenomenon in Western society and the consequences of perpetuating the thin ideal are severe, it is important to focus on prevention and on educating pre-adolescents, adolescents, and college students about media images.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University