Thursday October 6th 2022

Our careers – not supermodels – push our ‘skinny’ buttons

Kate Moss

Kate Moss, all is forgiven. New research suggests that slapping weight on reed-thin celebrity models won’t curb our dreaded, draining obsession with thinness.

Research revealed by New Scientist shows that “encouraging models to put on weight may not be enough to prevent the influence that  media images have on rising rates of bulimia and anorexia nervosa,” writes Jo Marchant. In fact, she explains, images of successful people are just as much to blame for these debilitating conditions – regardless of how thin they are!

I’m not sure that women the world over will breathe a sigh of relief or clench their fists in frustration with the unveiling of this study by psychologist Norman Li of Singapore Management University. His study was based on showing 841 participants images of high achievers.

“They found that women were less happy with their bodies and more likely to restrict their eating after seeing pictures of competitive women – described as “playing to win”, for example – compared with other women. This was despite the fact that pictured individuals were of the same average weight and that another set of volunteers had rated them as equally attractive.”

Surprise, surprise – the same effect did not occur in heterosexual men. Interestingly though, gay men tended to “restrict their eating more after viewing competitive profiles” – but not lesbian women.

Writes Marchant : “Li believes this behaviour has an evolutionary origin. He suggests that because people in the west tend to gain weight as they get older, they have come to equate thinness with youth and attractiveness, and competitive advantages in general. Media that show excessively thin women therefore send our competitive instincts into overdrive, he says.”

Why then, are we still drawn to fashion magazines and gutter tabloids?

“Li says that it would have been beneficial for our ancestors to be intensely interested in how attractive, successful and popular people were doing, so they could compete with them for mates.

“That’s all very well in a small village. But modern media expose us to a much wider social circle, and push our appetite for gossip to extreme levels.”

Fashion models, television stars and celebrities aren’t, actually, our peers, Li says, and their very presence in our lives throws in our faces standards that are “largely unattainable or ultimately harmful.”

Evolution is a funny old bird. Li says that while this wider social circle contributes to psychological problems such as eating disorders, our very biological natures are drawn to creating the issues anyway. Back in the day, a desire for sweet or fatty goodies meant foraging for fruit and nuts, or occasionally meat  – but now, we reach for chocolate and burgers instead.

Read the full report here :