Construction of Beauty as a Measure of Self-Worth among College Females: The Role of Fashion Magazines
 
Student Researcher

Erin M. Campbell (BA Student)
This paper is based on the author's undergraduate Honors thesis.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Introduction

Past research indicates that exposure to thin models results in lower self-esteem and decreased weight satisfaction, and to increased depression, guilt, shame, stress, insecurity and body dissatisfaction. In addition, the increase in the number of eating disorders over the last several decades has coincided with a decrease in women's ideal body weight as portrayed by the media. The mass media operate as important influences on eating disorder behavior through their impact on values, norms, and aesthetic standards embraced by society. The relationship between fashion magazine exposure and body dissatisfaction and eating disorders has been frequently replicated. The present study attempts to shed new light on the belief that beauty is the most important measure in self-evaluation. Specifically, it examines the relationship between fashion magazine exposure and the belief that beauty is a measure of self-worth.

Hypotheses

Based on theoretical perspectives in the literature on mere exposure effects, identification, social comparison, social construction of reality, and cultivation effects, as well as prior research about media effects on body dissatisfaction, the following hypotheses were forwarded:

H1a: Female college students who have high levels of exposure to fashion magazines will exhibit higher degrees of liking for ultra-thin fashion models than will female college students with low levels of fashion magazine exposure.

H1b: Female college students who have high levels of exposure to fashion magazines will exhibit higher degrees of affinity toward the ultra-thin beauty standard than will female college students with low levels of fashion magazine exposure.

H2: Female college students who have high levels of exposure to fashion magazines will be less satisfied with their personal physical appearances than will female college students with low levels of fashion magazine exposure.

H3: Among college women, those with high rates of exposure to fashion magazines will be more blind to non-body aspects of themselves than will women with low rates of exposure to fashion magazines.

H4: Among college women, there is a direct relationship between exposure to fashion magazines and the belief that women's self-worth is measured by beauty (e.g., heavy, as opposed to light, readers are more likely to espouse this view).

Method

One hundred and four female students were administered a survey. Respondents were selected by systematically sampling every third female student at selected locations on campus. The first section of the survey measured respondents' attitudes toward their bodies. The second portion of the survey was used to measure satisfaction with personal physical appearance as well as affinity toward the ultra-thin beauty standard. Other measures pertained to global self-esteem, self-worth measures, and appearance apprehension. In addition, four questions were used to operationalize the independent variable, fashion magazine exposure.

Results

H1a: Supported. Respondents with high levels of exposure to fashion magazines exhibited significantly higher degrees of liking for ultra-thin fashion models than did those respondents with low levels of fashion magazine exposure.

H1b: Supported. Respondents with high levels of exposure to fashion magazines exhibited significantly higher degrees of affinity toward the ultra-thin beauty standard than did those respondents with low levels of fashion magazine exposure.

H2: Supported. Respondents with high levels of exposure to fashion magazines were less satisfied with their personal physical appearances than were respondents with low levels of fashion magazine exposure.

H3: Partially supported. Among respondents, those with high rates of exposure to fashion magazines tended to be more blind to non-body aspects of themselves than those respondents with low rates of exposure to fashion magazines. However, this finding was only seen on one of the indices.

H4: Supported. The results revealed that fashion magazine exposure was a significant predictor of the belief that beauty is a measure of self-worth.
H1: Not supported.

Conclusions

Findings from this study offer some interesting insights into effects of fashion magazine exposure on the belief that beauty is a measure of self-worth among college females. The findings suggest that advertisers and marketers, as well as the publishing and fashion industries, should be more cognizant of their obligations related to social responsibility. Specifically, advertisers may avoid contributing to negative effects upon readers by not using images of ultra-thin models in their campaigns. Furthermore, the publishing and fashion industries may employ models of different sizes to better represent the diversity of female bodies.

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