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Study finds that the “aspirational” body is actually a flexible concept

A recent study in the UK has found that the more we are exposed to a variety of body shapes and sizes, the more tolerant we become of this diversity.

Well, duh.

This is what we’ve been trying to say forever. Show us a diverse range of body types! What’s the worst that could happen?

Apparently, we might even all become a little more tolerant.

The study tested two influences on our acceptance of bodies: giving the participants a “visual diet” of a variety of bodies, and testing “associative learning” by showing a combination of high and low BMI bodies in both “high status clothes” and plain grey leotards.

Participants’ body-weight preferences were tested before and after being exposed to specific combinations of pictures. The bodies of fashion models and beauty pageant contestants were tested for their “aspirational” qualities.

We are constantly bombarded with images of immaculately-dressed thin women in the media, forming our “visual diet” and affecting our attitudes towards bodies in general.

In an article on the NPR website, one of the researchers muses: “Perhaps that’s why we’re so obsessed with thinness, even if most of the people around us are found to be larger. We’re constantly fed images of very slim actresses and models, all beautifully dressed.”

And the findings of the study? Apparently, when we are shown a diversity of bodies, we are more comfortable with seeing, you know, a diversity of bodies.

The implication, as Jezebel’s article on the research says, is “if we’re shown a more diverse arrays of body sizes on TV, movies, billboards, advertising, etc., we’d probably just be a lot more okay with the fact that bodies come in all shapes and sizes.”


Tessa Needham finished her PhD in Performing Arts at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2008.  She loves technology and the creative arts, and is passionate about the different cultural forces affecting the body image of girls and women. She teaches computers and does freelance creative work: www.tessaneedham.com.

One thought on “Study finds that the “aspirational” body is actually a flexible concept

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  1. Women come in a variety of shapes and sizes but because we are ever shown the usual so-called ideal standard, its no wonder our definition of beauty is distorted.What does this mean? The media should feature variety.Not everyone is into thin just like not everyone is into curvy.And so on.

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