Academics from Virginia Tech looked at the effect protagonists and their body esteem have on female readers. The team concluded that health officials should be concerned about women’s responses to these books – the results have since been published in the journal Body Image.
The study took place after co-author of the study (and chick lit fan) Melissa Kaminski noticed how there had been plenty of research into the effect visual representations of women had on body image, but not on textual representations.
Researchers carried out the study using two books, Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin and Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker. Both stories featured heroines that have what are considered healthy weights, but suffer from poor body image. The researchers then adapted a passage from each book and came up with nine different versions. These alternative passages included a multitude of heroines, from an underweight woman with high body esteem to an overweight character with low body esteem.
These passages were then distributed amongst 159 female university students who were asked to rate how they felt about their sexual attractiveness and certain body parts after reading the text. The results revealed that when the story was about a thin heroine, the readers felt less sexually attractive, and when the story contained a heroine with low body esteem, readers felt more concerned about their weight than those in the control group.
The researchers say these results are concerning and could lead readers to develop disordered eating and other health issues. Academics suggest that studies in the future could be carried out investigating the use of chick lit narratives in a positive way, by using them as an intervention tool to help fight poor body esteem. Creations of stories where characters with low body esteem get help from friends and family could promote readers to do the same.
If you are concerned about your body image, or think you may develop disordered eating, it could help to speak to a counsellor. For more information, please see our page on Eating Disorders.
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