SAUER, ROBLES-PIÑA, FALL, 2003
study answers the questions: What are the contents of the magazines
that girls read? Who most influences girls' perception of their appearance?,
and What does an ideal woman look like?
RIGHT WAY TO KISS. LOOK HOT, FEEL GREAT. WOULD YOU DATE THIS GUY?
WILL YOU SURVIVE REAL LIFE? 10 WAYS
TO SMELL PRETTY ALL SUMMER.
QUIZ: ARE YOU BOY CRAZY? These are headlines in current issues
of popular teen magazines Seventeen, CosmoGIRL, and YM. The number
of teenagers in this country is on the rise, and magazines and
advertisers are desperately vying for the billions of dollars of
discretionary income that teenagers spend on entertainment (Dobosz,
2001). However, the teen market is fragmented and fickle, so magazine
publishers struggle to keep up with shifting tastes (Merrill, 1999).
The traditional "big three" teen magazines are Seventeen,
YM, and Teen (Dobosz, 2001; Merrill, 1999; Norton,
2001; Thomsen, Weber, & Brown, 2002). Just these three magazines
have a combined readership of over 10 million (Norton, 2001).
the popularity of these three giants is incontrovertible, teenage
magazine readers have recently been given more options to choose
from. In 1998, People magazine introduced Teen People
into the market (Dobosz, 2001). This magazine is notable for drawing
both male and female teen readers by featuring topics, such as
celebrities, interracial dating, and school shootings that are
relevant to both genders. To keep up with ever-changing audience
interests, Teen People hires "trendspotters" who
test new products and take surveys (Merrill, 1999). Dobosz (2001)
reported that, in the wake of the successful launch of Teen
People, three new teen magazines were unveiled between the
summer of 1999 and the summer of 2000, and all three are offspring
of successful adult magazines: CosmoGIRL, Teen Vogue,
and MH-18 (from Men's Health). These magazines focus
heavily on celebrity and incorporate real-life teen stories, not
just the beauty, fashion, and romance information typically found
in teen magazines. Not surprisingly, these magazines are rich with
advertisements for clothing, cosmetics, perfumes, personal hygiene,
and gadgets. Because of their young audience, the advertisers in
these magazines target low- to mid-price budgets (unlike the adult
versions of these magazines), are trendy, and feature age-appropriate
models. Layout and design is bold and bright with boxed information,
web addresses, nontraditional fonts, and text rife with slang (Dobosz,
2001). Such measures may draw in readers, but what does one find
inside these magazines? It is important to evaluate the messages,
both actual and implied, that teenage girls take from the magazines
example, the major topic in these magazines is dieting. Dieting
is the primary method most females choose to lose unwanted weight
(McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2001). At any one time, as many as
two-thirds of all high school girls are either on a diet or are
planning to be on one soon (Thomsen et al., 2001; Thomsen et al.,
2002). Research implies that most teens do not choose healthy methods
of weight loss; they take diet pills, force themselves to throw
up, and restrict daily caloric intake to dangerously low levels
(Thomsen et al., 2001; Thomsen et al., 2002). These behaviors can
result in development of disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
These eating disorders typically manifest in adolescent girls because
these are the years when they are particularly sensitive to cultural
pressure to be thin (Thomsen et al., 2002). As Currie said in Girl
Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers, "our core
identities are social projects, not biological destiny" (1999,
how do we explain this cultural phenomenon of a thin ideal? Stice's
Dual Pathway Model (as cited in Thompson & Heinberg, 1999)
proposed that the unhealthy messages in the media can lead to eating
disordered behavior when those messages are reinforced by family
and peers. Additionally, the Developmental Transitions Model developed
by Levine and Smolak (as cited in Thomspon & Heinberg, 1999)
maintained that childhood perceptions about the significance of
being thin are sustained by teasing and modeling of weight concerned
behaviors by family and peers. There are other theories to consider.
Feminist theory tells us that the humanist concept of the self
as "essential, coherent, and unified" (Norton, 2001,
p. 299) is not applicable any longer. Weedon and Davies argue that
the self is "multiple, changing, and a site of struggle"
(as cited in Norton, 2001, p. 299). This is a wisdom that some
teens already know. Take Kathleen, a 14 year old writer for the
magazine Reluctant Hero as an example, she questions, "Why
not be Gothic, athletic, popular, and a brainer all wrapped up
in one?" (Norton, 2001, p. 299). That is a good question.
Perhaps the most useful theory to consider in pondering the effect
of reading magazines on body image is "social comparison theory".
A basic tenet of this theory is that people are constantly comparing
themselves to others who are perceived to represent physical perfection,
and then acting in such a way that will lead to attainment of that
ideal (Thomsen et al., 2001).
purpose of this study was to evaluate which magazines teenage girls
typically read, to assess girls' self-perception of attractiveness,
and to assess the effect of articles, advice columns, advertisements,
and pictures in those magazines on perception of the physical self.
of Related Literature
shows that media, especially magazines, play a significant part
in body image and eating disorder behavior among adolescent girls
(McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2001). McCabe and Ricciardelli (2001)
found that adolescents as young as twelve adopt behaviors necessary
to conform to society's ideal of a thin female body and a muscular
male body. They also found that body image dissatisfaction increases
with grade level, suggesting a correlation between development
of fat deposits during puberty and dissatisfaction with one's appearance.
practices that would have been considered detrimental in the past
are now considered socially normal habits (Thomsen et al., 2001).
The trend in dieting has been parallel to an increasing readership
of women's health and fitness magazines by women and teenagers.
Teenagers choose to read women's health and fitness magazines because
they believe the information on diet and weight loss contained
therein is useful (Thomsen et al., 2001). Thomsen et al. have studied
the relationship between reading health and fitness magazines (2001),
reading beauty and fashion magazines (2002), developing eating
disordered behaviors (taking laxatives, appetite control/weight-loss
pills, vomiting intentionally, and limiting caloric intake to less
than 1,200 per day) among adolescent girls.
their 2001 study, Thomsen, et al. found that girls who are frequent
readers of health and fitness magazines are more likely to use
risky, unhealthy diet practices. This supports the authors' belief
that adolescent girls who read women's health and fitness magazines
may perceive the ideal images presented in photographs, advertisements,
and articles as realistic goals and aspire to use the dietary methods
presented in the magazines. Similar results were obtained from
Thomsen's et al. study (2002) using beauty and fashion magazines.
They found that greater anxiety about weight in an adolescent girl,
combined with frequent reading of beauty and fashion magazines,
leads to a greater likelihood of eating disorder behaviors. This
study also considered frequency of exercise as a factor. The authors
found that teenage girls who are infrequent exercisers and frequent
readers of beauty and fashion magazines look for quick and easy
solutions to obtaining the "ideal" body rather than rely
on healthier solutions.
and Ricciardelli's study (2001) found that exposure to television
and magazines has a greater impact on adolescent girls than on
boys since the media have engendered a clear ideal of female appearance.
When women and girls look at thin models, they report feelings
of anxiety and insecurity about their bodies, which can lead to
eating disorder behaviors (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2001; Thompson
& Heinberg, 1999). These thin models echo the beauty standard
society holds for women. This standard is not realistic, so women
are made to feel inadequate, and these inadequacies are encouraged
by cosmetic and weight loss industries that promise perfection
through their products or programs (Malkin, Wornian, & Chrisler,
1999; Thompson & Heinberg, 1999).
Wornian, and Chrisler (1999) researched the messages regarding
weight and body image found on the covers of popular men's and
women's magazines. They assessed both visual images and text on
the covers, and noted the placement of each. Content was evaluated
as a message about diet, exercise, cosmetic surgery, or general
weight loss. Placement of visual and textual messages was reviewed
to determine existence of conflicting messages. Results indicated
that men's popular magazines place emphasis on entertainment and
bettering one's life through knowledge, hobbies, and activities.
On the other hand, women's popular magazines emphasize improving
one's life by improving one's appearance, implying that the thinner
a woman is, the happier, sexier, and more worthy of love she is.
culture's visual world is inundated with images on the web, television,
ads, videos, and magazines that define desirability as "slim
and muscular bodies with white features" (Oliver, 2001, p.
145). For adolescent girls, these images are a potent source of
information to determine self-worth (Oliver, 2001; Thomsen et al.,
decide what to read based on what they find to be realistic, useful,
and relevant (Currie, 1999). Adolescent girls use popular teen
magazines as a primary source of health and nutritional information,
but the messages portrayed in these magazines tend to depict unrealistic
standards of beauty and thinness as the ultimate desired physical
state (Thomsen et al., 2001; Thompson & Heinberg, 1999). Adolescent
girls describe the ideal teenage girl as 5'7", 100 pounds,
size 5, having blonde hair and blue eyes; however, a girl with
these proportions is in the anorexic and amenorrheic range (Thompson
& Heinberg, 1999). In fact, messages found in magazines "support,
and even encourage, the perception that female happiness and success
is tied to physical appearance, with ultra-thinness being the hallmark
of beauty" (Thomsen et al., 2001, p. 134). Additionally, articles
about nutrition in teen magazines actually place an emphasis on
physical attractiveness rather than health.
need to learn that their identity is tied to more than their physical
beauty and shape. Oliver (2001) asserted that adolescents ought
to be educated in how to criticize texts and images that purport
to contain facts about their bodies. This call for media literacy
is echoed throughout the literature. Media literacy is defined
by the Center for Media Literacy as the capacity to make personal
meaning from the various symbols we take in on a daily basis from
visual and print media, and to consciously analyze and evaluate
the information around us (Schwarz, 2000). Thompson and Heinberg
(1999) reported on the prevalence of photographic techniques, such
as airbrushing, soft-focus cameras, composite figures, editing,
and filters in magazines (and other media). These techniques create
an illusion of flawlessness that is deceptive to the consumer who
believes the models are representative of an actual person. Strategies
for critical analysis of media messages have been created that
target teens; however, results so far indicate that teens are better-educated,
but still fall victim to eating disorder behaviors and low self-esteem
in terms of body image.
can find alternatives to mass media in the form of "zines"-some
of these hand-made publications are in hard print, others are on-line.
In either case, they "challenge the stereotypes, commercialism,
and superficiality of the mainstream mass media" (Schwarz,
2000, pg. 52). They cover a wide range of interests that teenage
girls have in common (Norton, 2001). Additionally, there are some
teen magazines that do offer discussion on issues such as feminism,
atypical careers, identity, sexual abuse, media literacy, anger
management, objectification, and legal concerns teens may have
to contend with (Norton, 2001). One aspect common to both traditional
and non-traditional teen magazines is the prevalence of conflicting
messages. In reading the magazine, a girl is at once urged to be
true to herself and at the same time beset with images of what
is considered fashionable and beautiful in our society (Norton,
et al. (2001) wisely pointed out the possibility that magazines
are not the cause of unhealthy diet practices; instead they simply
reinforce attitudes about weight loss and body image that already
exist. Teenagers take cues from a variety of social, cultural,
familial, and environmental sources in determining their behaviors
is clear that magazines play a crucial role in providing information,
both actual and implied, to adolescent girls. It is hypothesized
that none of the young women surveyed read beauty and fashion magazines,
that they have an accurate perception of their body size, and that
they do not engage in unhealthy diet practices. Additionally, this
study answers the questions: What are the contents of the magazines
that girls read? Who most influences girls' perception of their
appearance?, and What does an ideal woman look like?
participants for this study were eight young women who are recent
high school graduates of a high school in southeastern Texas. The
majority of the participants were White. All the girls in this
sample expressed willingness to participate by responding to an
e-mail with a mailing address. Consent was given by actually filling
out the survey, as explained in a cover letter.
cross-sectional, self-report survey was constructed to assess self-perception
of appearance (weight and attractiveness), dieting and exercise
habits, and beauty and fashion magazine reading habits. Demographic
data such as height, weight, and ethnicity were gathered. The height
and weight measurements were used to calculate Body Mass Index
(BMI) to determine whether or not the respondent is overweight.
The survey then asked participants to indicate which beauty and
fashion magazines they read. The magazines on this list were compiled
from an initial, informal e-mail question addressed to 75 former
female students, age 16-19, asking "What magazines do you
read?" The survey consisted of five-point Likert-scale statements,
a ranking statement, and open-ended questions. Likert-scale statements
addressed satisfaction with one's appearance, unhealthy diet practices,
and magazine content. The ranking question addressed the influence
of others on one's perception of appearance. Open-ended questions
required respondents to evaluate cultural and personal ideals.
Content validity of this survey instrument is established because
the content of the survey was derived from a review of existing
literature. For this research, a survey was the most effective
method to gather information about preferences, attitudes, practices,
and interests regarding satisfaction with one's appearance and
magazine reading habits.
research is descriptive in its design. It assesses attitudes, preferences,
and practices of young women on the topics of appearance, beauty
and fashion magazines, and eating disordered behavior.
selecting the topic, an initial, informal e-mail was sent to 75
former female students asking what beauty and fashion magazines
they read. Responses were tallied for use in the survey. The sample
was purposive and homogenous: all participants are former English
III students with whom the researcher has a friendly relationship.
Existing literature on the topics of body image, magazines, and
adolescents was reviewed. To determine willingness to participate
in this research assignment, participants were e-mailed with a
brief explanation of the requirements of the survey. Students were
asked to respond to the e-mail with a physical mailing address.
Twenty responses were received. After the Beauty and Fashion Magazine
Survey was created, these 20 participants were mailed a cover letter,
survey, and reply envelope.
surveys were analyzed using measures of central tendency and variability
(mean, median, mode, standard deviation, and range).
of the 20 surveys sent out, eight (40%) were returned. The ages
of the respondents are between 18 and 19; seven of the girls are
18, and one is 19. The ethnicity is broken down into six (75%)
White participants and two (25%) Hispanic participants. The self-reported
height and weight of each girl were used to calculate BMI: all
but one participant (88%) fall into the normal range. However,
six (75%) of the girls perceive themselves to be overweight.
initial, informal e-mail query of 75 female students about magazine
readership resulted in 20 responses that provided the magazine
options for the survey see Table 1). These girls reported reading
the following magazines most frequently: Cosmo (13 girls;
65%), CosmoGIRL (5 girls; 20%), Entertainment Weekly
(2 girls; 10%), Glamour (5 girls, 20%), InStyle (1
girl; 5%), People (2 girls; 10%), Seventeen (13 girls;
65%), Teen (1 girl; 5%), Teen People (5 girls; 20%),
Vanity (1 girl; 5%), Vogue (1 girl; 5%), and YM
(8 girls, 40%). The 20 girls who received the survey (these are
not necessarily the same 20 girls who replied to the informal query)
were asked to indicate which of these magazines they read. Space
was provided to list others. The eight girls who responded to the
survey read the following magazines: 5 read Cosmo (62%),
1 reads CosmoGIRL (12.5%), 6 read People (75%), 6
read Seventeen (75%), 2 read Teen People (25%), 1
reads Vogue (12.5%), 3 read YM (37.5%). Pregnancy,
Brio, Allure, Time, Psychology Today,
Bust, Bitch, and The Progressive were
magazines listed by respondents under "others" on the
survey. Respondents were also asked to indicate how often they
read beauty/fashion magazines (never, a few times a year, once
a month, once a week, or a few times a week). Four girls (50%)
read beauty/fashion magazines once a month, 2 girls (25%) read
them a few times a year, and 2 girls (25%) read them once a week.
on these results, Cosmo, Seventeen, and YM
are the three most-read magazines for this sample, so current issues
(July 2002) of each were reviewed. Cosmo has 238 pages,
109 of which (46%) are full-page advertisements. The cover features
27-year old fashion model Molly Sims and advertises content on
being sexy, understanding what guys are thinking, on-line dating,
and tricks rapists use. The table of contents lists the following
departments: cover stories, life and work, all about men, sex and
love, health and fitness, stars and entertainment, beauty and fashion,
and regular features. Seventeen has 176 pages, 81 of which
(46%) are full-page advertisements. The cover features 25-year-old
actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and advertises a feature about "stuff
she only tells her best friend," a column about actor Josh
Hartnett, a quiz testing ability to survive in the real world,
and the "summer special": hot guys, movies, concerts,
working out, summer hair, do-it-yourself pedicures, and jeans.
The table of contents lists: fashion, beauty, boys, real life,
all access, fiction, and columns as content headings. YM
has 144 pages, 56 of which (39%) are full-page advertisements.
The cover features 26-year-old singer Brandon Boyd from the band
Incubus (his band and others are the main story) and advertises
a poll about what guys think, a quiz about boy craziness, a booklet
of embarrassing moments, and cooling beauty products. The table
of contents lists regular features, diary, beauty, boys, stars,
style, and stories.
next section asked respondents to rank the people who most influence
their perception of how they look. Choices included parents, grandparents,
siblings, friends, boyfriend, peers and celebrities. Results indicate
that 6 girls (75%) ranked peers who are not friends as the first,
second, or third most influential person; 4 girls (50%) ranked
female friends as the first, second, or third most influential
person; 3 girls (37.5%) ranked male friends, parents, or siblings
as the first, second, or third most influential person; and 2 girls
(25%) ranked a boyfriend, best friend, or celebrity as the first,
second, or third most influential person.
were asked to circle a response to several Likert-scale statements
in the next section of the survey. Statements were on a 5-point
scale. On the scale for statements about weight and appearance,
a 1 indicated strongly disagree and a 5 indicated strongly
agree. On the scale for statements about dieting/exercise habits
and magazine content, a 1 indicated never, a 3 indicated
sometimes, and a 5 indicated always. Complete results
of this section are reported in Table 1. The total mean for the
Likert statements was calculated. The total mean and median are
both 61.50. The range of possible scores is zero to 105. A score
of zero is possible if a participant chooses not to fill out this
section of the survey, and a maximum score of 105 can be achieved
by answering "strongly agree" to all 21 Likert statements
assessed for this study. For this survey, the range is 41. The
lowest score is 40 and the highest score is 81.
results on some of the Likert statements are worth mentioning here.
First, with regard to girls' perception of weight and appearance,
4 girls (50%) believe they are overweight, 2 girls (25%) were neutral,
and 2 girls (25%) do not think they are overweight. For the statement
I am overweight, x=3.38 and SD=1.4. Based on the heights
and weights reported in the survey, BMI measurements for 7 of 8
girls (88%) are in the normal range. In responding to the statement
I want to weigh less, all participants indicated some level
of agreement by circling a 3, 4, or 5 on the Likert scale (x=4.62,
SD=.74). Asked if they would rather be thin than healthy, 3 girls
(37.5%) responded in the affirmative (x=2.63, SD=1.77). Finally,
regarding the statement How I look is more important than who
I am, 7 respondents (88%) disagree and 1 respondent (12%) remained
neutral (x=1.38, SD=.74).
in examining diet and exercise habits, results indicate 7 girls
(88%) always or sometimes (Likert statements range from 1= never,
3= sometimes, 5= always) exercise at least 30 minutes
5 times a week (x=3.63, SD=1.69). Seven girls (88%) also indicate
that they are on a diet sometimes or always (x=3.38, SD=1.41).
With regard to unhealthy diet practices, 4 girls (50%) report taking
diet pills (x=2.25, SD=1.49), 1 girl (12%) takes laxatives (x=1.13,
SD=.35), 2 girls (25%) induce vomiting (x=1.75, SD=1.49), and 2
girls (25%) restrict food intake to less than 1,200 calories (x=1.5,
third focus of the survey rests on the portions of magazines that
respondents read. All respondents look at advertisements (x=3.25,
SD=.89), 7 girls (88%) read advice columns (x=3.38, SD=1.3), 7
girls take quizzes (x=3.38, SD=1.51), all respondents read stories
about real life or tragedies (x=3.38, SD=1.06), 7 girls read fashion
information (x=3.13, SD=1.25), 7 girls read about guys or romance
(x=3.5, SD=1.41), all respondents read the cover story (x=3.75,
SD=.89), and 7 girls read stories about or interviews with celebrities
final section of the survey involved four open-ended questions.
The first question asked, What can you do to improve yourself?
Seventy-five percent (six girls) indicated that exercise and healthy
eating would be a way of self-improvement. Other individual responses
included being a nicer person, building a better relationship with
Christ, developing self-confidence, becoming self-sufficient, seeking
knowledge, being an activist, and exhibiting tolerance.
second open-ended question asked respondents to describe the ideal
woman. These are the responses in the girls' own words:
5'7", 120 lbs., bust size 36D, waist size 24", hips
36"; nice personality, sensitive, caring; dressed nicely
with make up on and hair and nails done
The ideal woman is not a size 0, nor is she overweight. Her
appearance should be appealing and attractive, so she should
be about a size 8 or 10. She presents herself gracefully and
is very intelligent.
but toned and not too bony. Healthy, tan, confident, but not
ideal woman is someone who takes care of herself (healthy,
job). She is also confident and takes her life seriously, but
of course has a lot of fun doing it.
happy, healthy, friendly girl.
to different situations well. Has inner peace. Is womanly in
appearance; looks healthy. Is happy.
Sans makeup; does not conform to traditional standards
of feminine beauty (shaving, perfume, painted nails); vastly
knowledgeable-not deferential in the face of men, nor reactionary
and thoughtless when expressing her beliefs; an advocate of
egalitar-ianism, not preferential treatment of women; a subversive
factor within the system.
The ideal woman is fit. She has muscles that are toned, but
not too bulky and thin. She is not short and stalky, but about
5'4" to 5'8". She has beautiful skin, is outgoing
and athletic, and has a great personality.
third open-ended question asks, What woman do you most admire
and why? A variety of responses were generated. Both Hispanic
respondents admire Jennifer Lopez for her success and appearance.
Two girls mention their mothers, and one girl mentions her boyfriend's
mother. Other responses include a professor, a teacher, and a family
friend. The reasons include appearance, intelligence, Christianity,
strong work ethic, self-sacrifice, self-sufficiency, humility,
final open-ended question asked participants to select an advertisement,
tear it out, and explain what makes the ad appealing. Only five
out of the eight girls (63%) fulfilled this part of the survey.
One ad features a pregnant woman in formal attire. The respondent
was drawn to the model's elegance, her "gorgeous hair"
and the dress. Another respondent selected an ad featuring singer
Vanessa Carlton promoting abstinence until marriage. She chose
this ad because she likes the singer, appreciates the positive
message, and feels less "different" about her choice
to remain a virgin since "there are famous celebrities doing
the same thing." Two girls chose ads for hair products by
Thermasilk and Pantene because the hair on the model is so smooth
and pretty. Finally, one girl chose an ad for Acuvue contact lenses
in which the model has vivid green eyes. She always wanted her
eyes to be like her grandmother's green eyes. She also says eyes
are the first thing she notices about a person.
study hypothesized that none of the young women surveyed read beauty
and fashion magazines, that they have an accurate perception of
their body size, and that they do not engage in unhealthy diet
practices. However, results indicated that the young women surveyed
do read beauty and fashion magazines about once a month, that most
perceive themselves as being overweight even when they are not,
and that some do exhibit unhealthy diet habits (such as taking
diet pills and/or laxatives, purging, and restricting food intake).
the results of this study partially support the widely held assertion
that Seventeen, YM, and Teen are traditionally
the beauty and fashion magazines most frequently read by teenagers.
In this study, the top three beauty and fashion magazines read
by the participants are Seventeen, Cosmo, and YM.
This is interesting because Cosmo is not intended for a
teenage audience. While survey participants were all age 18 or
19, they still do not fit the age demographic for Cosmo.
Additionally, in the initial, informal e-mail query regarding magazine
readership, the girls were aged 16-19, and Cosmo was still
the top choice. Malkin, Wornian, and Chrisler (1999) studied the
messages that appear on the covers of popular men's and women's
magazines. In examining the covers of current issues of Seventeen,
YM, and Cosmo, none overtly advertise diet or weight
loss strategies. However, within the magazine's pages, it is implicit
in the images presented through advertisements and photographs
that women should be slender, attractive, wear makeup, and dress
fashionably. It is clear from the table of contents in all three
magazines that a primary concern for females is attracting and
pleasing men (methods for doing so are very explicit in Cosmo).
It is the explicit nature of Cosmo that raises a concern
that 16-19 year old girls (and almost certainly ones who are younger)
read this magazine. Self-improvement, as implied by these three
magazines, is limited to improvement of the physical self. Not
only are women objectified in these magazines, but men are too:
Cosmo has a section titled "Guy Without His Shirt:
This month's half-naked hunk," Seventeen has a feature
called "Would You Date This Guy?," and YM has
a department called "YM Boys: The Cutest Ones We Could Find
This Month" (a canoe paddling team from a high school in Hawaii).
a final comment regarding magazine choice, it is important to note
that while teenage girls do read beauty and fashion magazines,
they read other magazines as well. According to this study, just
as many girls read People as read Seventeen. Responses
from the initial, e-mail query and the survey provided a broad
picture of the varied interests of teenage girls when it comes
to magazines: Discover, Brio (a Christian teen magazine),
Time, National Geographic, Scientific
American, Rolling Stone, Fitness, Shape,
Psychology Today, and a variety of specialty magazines
(i.e. ones that focus on tattoos or raves). This simply suggests
that even though our culture is saturated with messages promoting
a feminine ideal, gender is merely one facet of identity, and these
girls are cultivating interests beyond physical appearance.
may well play a role in how a young woman perceives herself, but
so do the various people in her life. Survey results indicated
that the people who most influence a girl's perception of herself
are peers who are not friends. Perhaps peers who are not friends
are more influential because these people can only pass judgement
based on appearance since they are not close friends or family.
Parents, siblings, friends, and boyfriends all might know the whole
person, so perhaps the opinions of loved ones about appearance
are less influential because affection and acceptance are already
present and based on more than external factors.
interesting result also regards self-perception. Although only
one of the respondents is actually overweight (based on calculation
of BMI), six of the eight respondents indicated some level of agreement
with the statement I am overweight. All the girls, including
the two who do not consider themselves overweight, still agreed
at some level with the statement I want to weigh less. This
suggests the indoctrination of a feminine ideal that is slender.
However, respondents overwhelmingly disagreed with the statement,
"How I look is more important than who I am," which implies
an awareness on some level that there is more to the quality of
a person than appearance.
Weber, and Brown (2001) found that as many as two-thirds of high
school girls are either on a diet or plan to start one and that
women and girls engage in unhealthy dieting practices in an effort
to imitate the ideal images prevalent in magazines. Results show
88% of the girls surveyed are sometimes or always on a diet, which
is consistent with the research. Unhealthy eating practices were
reported by girls in this sample; notably, half the respondents
take diet pills with varying degrees of frequency.
the open-ended questions on the survey yielded interesting results.
In the first question, What can you do to improve yourself?,
all the girls interpreted yourself in the context of improving
physical appearance through increased exercise and diminished food
intake; four girls also added other improvements not related to
the physical self. This result suggests that respondents most fully
understand the self as a primarily physical entity. One reason
for this could be that the survey clearly addresses perception
of the physical self, so perhaps the participants were responding
within that context. Similarly, in the fourth open-ended statement,
all respondents who tore out advertisements commented on some physical
aspect of the model, specifically the hair, skin, or eyes.
second open-ended question asked for a description of the ideal
woman. One girl's response is consistent with Thompson and Heinberg's
study (1999), where the perceived ideal height and weight are not
at all healthy. The individual responses reveal that these girls
have a very specific mental image of how a woman should be. None
of the respondents acknowledges that women come in various shapes
and sizes, or that beauty does not have just one measurement. The
one atypical reply to this question is from a respondent who has
completed a year and a half of college; she has been exposed to
other ideas and the wider world outside of high school, and this
is clear from her description of the ideal woman.
are several limitations to this study. First, the sample size is
too small and does not represent a diverse ethnicity to generalize
to the larger population. Additionally, some of the literature
reviewed deals with teen magazines, and the respondents for this
survey are at the end of their teenage years. Furthermore, only
one issue of Seventeen, Cosmo, and YM were
examined closely for this study. While contents are likely to be
similar from issue to issue (based on departments listed in the
table of contents), there is also the likelihood that some of the
articles are reflective of the summer season. Another limitation
comes from the Likert scale. A 1 meant strongly disagree
and a 5 meant strongly agree; however, a specific meaning
was not assigned to a 3. Therefore, it is difficult to interpret
what exactly is meant by a 3, and many of the means for the Likert
responses are a 3.
study focused on the beauty and fashion magazines that young women
read; however, the results suggest that a broader study needs to
be done that investigates other types of magazines regularly read
by teenagers. Do these magazines have a different or more positive
message about body image, or do they also promote an unrealistic
feminine ideal? What messages do they send in general? Similarly,
since magazines rely heavily on advertising dollars, further education
in media literacy is necessary. Consumers, especially young and
impressionable ones, should be aware of how pictures of people
can be manipulated. Additionally, the results of this study raise
the issue of peer influence. Results showed that peers who are
not friends are most influential. Why is this? Finally, evidence
of unhealthy diet practices suggests a need for education about
the risks of engaging in such detrimental practices. The premise
behind these recommendations is that, as social comparison theory
holds, people compare themselves to a perceived ideal and act to
attain it; such actions should be based on knowledge and motivated
by a desire for overall well-being.
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is a Masters degree student in the Counseling Program in the Department
of Educational Leadership and Counseling, Sam Houston State University.
Robles-Piña is an Assistant Professor in the Department
of Educational Leadership and Counseling, Sam Houston State University.