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View Full Version : "Chick lit harms body image," study says.



leahzero
02-05-2013, 06:03 PM
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/05/chick-lit-body-image


They adapted a passage from each of them to come up with nine versions for each novel, from an underweight heroine with high body esteem to an overweight one with low body esteem, so there might be a character who states: "I'm 5'4", 140lb, and a size six", or one who says: "I'm 5'4", 105lb, and a size zero".

They then distributed the passages amongst 159 female university students, who after reading them were then asked to rate how they felt about various body parts and sexual attractiveness. The study found that when the narrative was about a slim heroine, participants felt "significantly" less sexually attractive, and that when it featured a protagonist with low body esteem, readers were "significantly more concerned about their weight" than participants in the control condition.

I think it's a bit of a logical leap to say that this harms body image long-term, but it certainly seems to raise awareness of body image in the short-term, and can exacerbate existing body image issues (which we know are distorted from all sorts of other sources).

Thoughts?

NeuroFizz
02-05-2013, 06:11 PM
Trying to find a cause-effect relationship of this sort from a broad cross-section of organisms as complex as humans is about as hard as jamming soft butter up a wildcat's a$$ with a hot poker.

Irysangel
02-05-2013, 07:34 PM
Seriously? What next? Are we going to distribute murder mysteries and then see if people have more of an inclination to harm others?

veinglory
02-05-2013, 08:03 PM
The independent variable here is not 'chick lit' versus 'non-chick lit'.

Rhoda Nightingale
02-05-2013, 08:15 PM
O_o

I was under the impression that a healthy sub-genre of "chick-lit" features "average" or "overweight" heroines who are perfectly happy with their size. Eh, I'm generally not fond of "studies" that talk about how a particular genre is bad. There are no bad genres, only bad writers.

ETA: Also not that impressed that this "study" included a grand total of two books. Really?

I'm wondering something now though: How many male narrators even mention their dimensions like that?

Roger J Carlson
02-05-2013, 08:18 PM
As long as there are doctoral candidates, there will be studies like these.

jeffo20
02-05-2013, 08:54 PM
"The results of the study demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt that we can find fault with anything."

I'll pick up my Nobel Prize on the way out, thanks.

CharacterInWhite
02-05-2013, 09:24 PM
There's something to be said about "priming" opinions/responses to questions with stimuli.

If anything, the "study" shows a relationship between reading material and self-esteem--but whether or not the study has appropriately captured the entirety of Chick Lit is another matter.

Edit: And another thing, they never compared how the women responded when presented with high self-esteem characters that are not underweight.

Lexxie
02-05-2013, 09:26 PM
Why do the women in the stories either have to be 105 pound with a good body image or an curvy woman with low self-esteem? I have read several books in the 'chick-lit' genre with curvy woman with high self-esteem, and I know several women like that in real life as well.

Jamesaritchie
02-05-2013, 10:40 PM
This is what a friend of mine calls "turdish thinking". If these people are academics, then they hand out degrees purely on the basis of pure crap for brains. They'd make a bigger controbution to the world by seeing how many academics survive a fall off a two hundred foot cliff.

Phaeal
02-05-2013, 11:08 PM
How about Jane Green's novel Jemima J, in which [spoiler alert]:

Fat girl Jemima PhotoShops her face onto pics of skinny girl and sends them to Internet Love Interest.

Love Interest bites -- come meet him!

Jemima loses a ton of weight and goes to meet Love Interest.

Things seem to be working out until she discovers that Love Interest is just using her as a skinny beard -- he really loves a fat girl!

Wait, it's good to be skinny. No! It's good to be fat! It's....oh screw it. Where's the cookies?

ocean_of_stolid_seas
02-06-2013, 01:13 AM
[QUOTE=

Wait, it's good to be skinny. No! It's good to be fat! It's....oh screw it. Where's the cookies?[/QUOTE]

Funny, doesn't everyone have issues about their esteem or body image whether or not they are actually skinny or fat? Even the most confident person has to be "like dude I could really lose a bit of weight." It's a complex human issue and not one that stems from "chick-lit" novels. If anything, I'd target "bad girls club" and "jersey shore." When my sister talks about those I feel like finding the nearest trash recepticle.

NeuroFizz
02-06-2013, 01:17 AM
Age is the great equilizer, only outdone by death.

Laer Carroll
02-06-2013, 06:01 AM
Studies like this are good for a laugh and that's about it.

lolchemist
02-06-2013, 09:09 AM
And another thing, they never compared how the women responded when presented with high self-esteem characters that are not underweight.

THIS exactly!

It seems as if this 'study' was specifically designed to yield these negative results. They didn't even bother to include an option where the MC is plus-sized and loving life.

I'm rather annoyed though that these two options (5'4 105lbs + happy and 5'4 140lbs + unhappy) even affected anyone's body image at all though. But then again, were these gals vetted about their body images before they read the book passages? Nowadays it seems like finding a human being without body issues is akin to finding a unicorn that poops rainbows and pees champagne.

frimble3
02-06-2013, 10:25 AM
As long as there are doctoral candidates, there will be studies like these.
Yep. And when all the 'research subjects' are "female university students", I suspect it has more to do with convenience than a carefully selected cross-section of the target audience.

Ken
02-06-2013, 04:53 PM
... yeah. Well okay. Maybe so.

But with Beyonce front and center, who's tending?

Wilde_at_heart
02-06-2013, 07:05 PM
As long as there are doctoral candidates, there will be studies like these.

Very true... Along with narrowly-focussed 'Journals' of perhaps questionable academic validity.

And I doubt chick lit could possibly be worse than photo-shopped magazine covers, or women who constantly obsess about their weight in real life to their friends.


THIS exactly!

It seems as if this 'study' was specifically designed to yield these negative results. They didn't even bother to include an option where the MC is plus-sized and loving life.


Yep. And when all the 'research subjects' are "female university students", I suspect it has more to do with convenience than a carefully selected cross-section of the target audience.

Apparently shoddy research methods... no wonder people are (rightly) suspicious of 'global warming' or 'climate change' and its promoters' obsession with Journals and 'peer review'...

Gilroy Cullen
02-06-2013, 07:20 PM
Sample was too small (only 159 students).

Would need to know the state of mine of the students before they read the passages. Did they already have self esteem/body awareness issues? Can't make a broad sweeping judgement with so little information.

All they say is "than participants in the control condition." So what was the control condition? Did they read the passages as written? Not read Chick Lit?

These types of surveys bug me too much to have good constructive comments... Sorry.

flapperphilosopher
02-06-2013, 07:30 PM
That's stupid. There's about a hundred things wrong with the "study" and its "conclusion". Especially.... seriously? With all the millions of women and representations of them an insecure woman might compare herself to, they think characters in chick lit have a significant effect? As a young female university student when I'm feeling insecure it's because I'm comparing myself to other beautiful talented women I know personally, or who actually lived and actually achieved things (I just found out about the incredibly talented and incredibly beautiful Lee Miller, for instance, who makes me feel about as beautiful and talented as a stick). I think even photo-shopped celebrities and models would come out ahead of fictional characters. This study sucks.

Also... that thin girl has a BMI of 18. That's seriously underweight. That's flat-out sickly, both physically and in appearance. Don't envy that.

Ken
02-07-2013, 05:34 AM
incredibly beautiful Lee Miller

... indeed. Worth googling.

In fairness, though, photography has to be factored in.
Photographers were much more talented back then,
and really knew how to draw out the beauty of their models.

Speaking of talent & intelligence, I just happened upon Elsie de Wolfe while doing research. Might be of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsie_de_Wolfe

rhymegirl
02-07-2013, 05:51 AM
Someone who's 5'4". 140 pounds is not going to be a size 6.

CharacterInWhite
02-07-2013, 05:54 AM
I'm rather annoyed though that these two options (5'4 105lbs + happy and 5'4 140lbs + unhappy) even affected anyone's body image at all

This phenomenon is unfortunately rather common to us poor human beings. We're rather suggestible. If you tell someone they suck at something right before they do it, they will inevitably suck.

BenPanced
02-07-2013, 05:55 AM
As a fellow of the International Institute of Pulling Random Numbers Out of My Ass, I'm here to state our studies have shown 100% of statistics can prove anything.

kaitie
02-07-2013, 08:50 AM
Someone who's 5'4". 140 pounds is not going to be a size 6.

I was a six when I weighed 140. Just depends on how you're built. I've put on a bit of weight, but I'm still an eight.

Granted, I don't think a six now is what it was ten years ago.

little_e
02-07-2013, 09:05 AM
Funny, doesn't everyone have issues about their esteem or body image whether or not they are actually skinny or fat? Even the most confident person has to be "like dude I could really lose a bit of weight." It's a complex human issue and not one that stems from "chick-lit" novels. If anything, I'd target "bad girls club" and "jersey shore." When my sister talks about those I feel like finding the nearest trash recepticle.
What? No. I have far more issues with other people assuming I must have body issues and the subject of bodies coming up ALL THE DARN TIME than I do with my own body. I'd hardly even think about what my body looks like if other people didn't keep bringing it up.

That and people staring at me. That always confuses me, until I remember the purple hair.

little_e
02-07-2013, 09:18 AM
Also... that thin girl has a BMI of 18. That's seriously underweight. That's flat-out sickly, both physically and in appearance. Don't envy that.
No. It is sickly for some people. It is completely normal for others.
I am a healthy person with similar proportions. So is my husband. So are my mother and my grandmother, his mother, and all three of our kids.

Why are we constantly judging people based on their proportions?

Kitty27
02-07-2013, 09:26 AM
I don't read chick lit,so I have no idea of what kind of characters are portrayed. But I have no body image issues. I am quite delighted to be 160. I am thick as a brick and loving it. Reading about a slim character doesn't bother me at all.

Have they completely forgotten cultural differences with regard to body image?

little_e
02-07-2013, 09:38 AM
As for the study itself, aside from the obvious flaws, I applaud the authors' attempt at quantifying/scientifically confirming something that a lot of people just assume.

Incidentally, given that they came up with nine different versions of the passages, they probably had more than just thin and happy or curvy and not. Those are just the examples cited in the article.

TMCan
02-07-2013, 10:02 AM
As a fellow of the International Institute of Pulling Random Numbers Out of My Ass, I'm here to state our studies have shown 100% of statistics can prove anything.

This is exactly what all these stupid surveys are. If you ask the right (or wrong) questions, you can prove anything. My first thought as soon as read the article was "What about the overweight MCs who love life? Those are the girls I want to read about!"

rhymegirl
02-08-2013, 03:51 AM
I was a six when I weighed 140. Just depends on how you're built. I've put on a bit of weight, but I'm still an eight.

Granted, I don't think a six now is what it was ten years ago.

Well, then it's got to be a manufacturing (clothing) difference.

I weigh 135 and I wear a size 10.

lolchemist
02-08-2013, 06:22 AM
Incidentally, given that they came up with nine different versions of the passages, they probably had more than just thin and happy or curvy and not. Those are just the examples cited in the article.

I was wondering about this too. It seems like a case of biased reporting to me because the writer of the piece didn't even bother to mention any of the positive results (I mean... there had to be at least ONE girl out of 159 who felt great about her body no matter which sample she read, or at least the sample with the larger girl who likes her body) and 159 divided into 9 is 17.6 meaning each sample was only read by 17 or 18 people. This is such a ridiculously low amount of people to base a whole study on I'm just staring at my screen in disbelief that anyone took it seriously enough to pay it any sort of attention at all.

DancingMaenid
02-08-2013, 02:13 PM
Well, then it's got to be a manufacturing (clothing) difference.

I weigh 135 and I wear a size 10.

Could be, but I think some of it is how people are proportioned, too. Fat distribution, fat percentage vs. muscle, etc.

Regarding the topic, I'm curious: I don't read much chick lit, but is it actually common for characters to lay out their height, weight, and clothing size like that? Because when I see a character describe themselves like that, it does feel like it's emphasizing weight as a number, and putting it out there in a more obtrusive way, than a description that just talks about how the character looks or is built.

James D. Macdonald
02-08-2013, 07:47 PM
Why are we constantly judging people based on their proportions?

Several industries base their entire business models and profit projections on it. That's why.

Xelebes
02-08-2013, 08:08 PM
The only conclusion I can draw from this study is to be aware of the mention of size. Or is size such an important issue in many stories?

ArachnePhobia
02-08-2013, 08:56 PM
Could be, but I think some of it is how people are proportioned, too. Fat distribution, fat percentage vs. muscle, etc.


Sizing can get really wonky. By my actual measurements, I should be a US size 12, but I've walked out of stores with clothes labled as low as 8 and as high as 18, but are all the same size.


Regarding the topic, I'm curious: I don't read much chick lit, but is it actually common for characters to lay out their height, weight, and clothing size like that? Because when I see a character describe themselves like that, it does feel like it's emphasizing weight as a number, and putting it out there in a more obtrusive way, than a description that just talks about how the character looks or is built.

That's the first thing I wondered, too! I also don't read a lot of chick-lit, but I had thought rattling off "police report stats" in descriptions was considered bad form, like the character looking in a mirror.*

*With the standard disclaimer there are occasionally good reasons to do it, much as there are good reasons to have a character look in a mirror.

LJD
02-08-2013, 09:26 PM
Regarding the topic, I'm curious: I don't read much chick lit, but is it actually common for characters to lay out their height, weight, and clothing size like that? Because when I see a character describe themselves like that, it does feel like it's emphasizing weight as a number, and putting it out there in a more obtrusive way, than a description that just talks about how the character looks or is built.

In Bridget Jones' Diary, most of the diary entries begin with her weight that day, and this is perhaps the most famous chick lit novel. Jemima J, another big chick lit book, is mostly about weight issues--the first line is "God, I wish I were thin." I'm pretty sure dress size and weight were mentioned specifically in that one. Good in Bed (Jennifer Weiner) is about a large woman (her ex-boyfriend writes an article in a national magazine titled "Loving a Larger Woman"), and this is an important part of the book, though I don't remember if numbers were specifically mentioned. On the other end of the spectrum, there's 32AA (Michelle Cunnah), the title, of course, referring to the MC's bra size.

I think it is more common in chick lit than in other genres, but it's certainly not like this information is presented in the vast majority of chick lit books. I don't remember this in any of Sophie Kinsella's books, for example.

crunchyblanket
02-08-2013, 10:20 PM
Also... that thin girl has a BMI of 18. That's seriously underweight. That's flat-out sickly, both physically and in appearance. Don't envy that.


My BMI is 18. I'm not "sickly". In fact, I can deadlift half my own body weight.

Think before you type.

Gilroy Cullen
02-08-2013, 10:32 PM
Also... that thin girl has a BMI of 18. That's seriously underweight.

To be perfectly honest, BMI is a wonky measure to go by. According to my doctor I should drop about 70 pounds to gain the proper BMI. That would destroy all the muscle mass I've got. From my personal feel of what's right, I've got 30 to go, not 70.

Roger J Carlson
02-09-2013, 12:08 AM
I'm not over-weight. I'm just too short.

dangerousbill
02-09-2013, 12:49 AM
Trying to find a cause-effect relationship of this sort from a broad cross-section of organisms as complex as humans is about as hard as jamming soft butter up a wildcat's a$$ with a hot poker.

I was just about to say that.

milkweed
02-09-2013, 01:47 AM
Seriously? What next? Are we going to distribute murder mysteries and then see if people have more of an inclination to harm others?

Well it the study is done by the univeristy near me it won't focus on harming others but whether or not reading violent material made you have an orgasm or not, the univ here comes up with some rather "interesting" research projects.

milkweed
02-09-2013, 01:58 AM
Well, then it's got to be a manufacturing (clothing) difference.

I weigh 135 and I wear a size 10.

Body shape has a lot to do with it as well, when I weighed 135 back in the dark ages of the 1980's I was wearing a 14-16W tops and a size 12 pant and I'm 5'6" Thank goodness I learned how to sew my own clothes!

Jamesaritchie
02-09-2013, 02:50 AM
Why are we constantly judging people based on their proportions?


I suspect much of it is survival instinct, future productivity, type of children we'll have, protectability, hunter/gatherer productivity, and all sorts of things that operate on a subconcious level. Humans may have a higher brain, but on many levels we still operate just as our distant ancestors did.

DancingMaenid
02-09-2013, 03:44 AM
In Bridget Jones' Diary, most of the diary entries begin with her weight that day, and this is perhaps the most famous chick lit novel. Jemima J, another big chick lit book, is mostly about weight issues--the first line is "God, I wish I were thin." I'm pretty sure dress size and weight were mentioned specifically in that one. Good in Bed (Jennifer Weiner) is about a large woman (her ex-boyfriend writes an article in a national magazine titled "Loving a Larger Woman"), and this is an important part of the book, though I don't remember if numbers were specifically mentioned. On the other end of the spectrum, there's 32AA (Michelle Cunnah), the title, of course, referring to the MC's bra size.

Yeah, that I can understand, because those all sound like books where the characters' weights or sizes are relevant to the story, or are things that the characters themselves are focused on. I can definitely believe that a character who's conscious of their weight might mention it.


I think it is more common in chick lit than in other genres, but it's certainly not like this information is presented in the vast majority of chick lit books. I don't remember this in any of Sophie Kinsella's books, for example.

Thanks for the info! I was curious. And yeah, it does seem like such a specific break-down of weight and size would probably be the exception rather than the rule.

Ken
02-09-2013, 05:09 AM
... read a Nancy Drew novel last year from the 1940's. Her height and weight were given at the outset. She was tall and "thin." Her "overweight" friend and fellow sleuth was also describe. Her weight was stated too as I recall. So this trend is nothing new and not confined to chic lit either as a fellow poster suggests.

kuwisdelu
02-09-2013, 08:18 AM
I don't read chick lit,so I have no idea of what kind of characters are portrayed. But I have no body image issues. I am quite delighted to be 160. I am thick as a brick and loving it. Reading about a slim character doesn't bother me at all.

Have they completely forgotten cultural differences with regard to body image?


I am thick as a brick

...which also means something different in some cultures.

:tongue :D ;)

And now I have the Jethro Tull album stuck in my head.

BenPanced
02-09-2013, 10:41 AM
As a fellow of the International Institute of Pulling Random Numbers Out of My Ass, I'm here to state our studies have shown 100% of statistics can prove anything.


This is exactly what all these stupid surveys are. If you ask the right (or wrong) questions, you can prove anything. My first thought as soon as read the article was "What about the overweight MCs who love life? Those are the girls I want to read about!"
80% polled said it doesn't matter; a good book is a good book is a good book.

25% polled said it's a minor concern and makes them think about reading a book with such a character.

15% polled said they've started a Facebook group on such injustices and are just fed up TO HERE with body fascism rawr.

5% had no opinion and were just there for the $25 and free cookies.

It's the remaining 5% that didn't reply we're worried about.