Body dissatisfaction and the effects of perceptual exposure on body norms and ideals

Int J Eat Disord. 2009 Jul;42(5):443-52. doi: 10.1002/eat.20640.


Objective: Body dissatisfaction is of high prevalence among women all over the Western world. It is often suggested that sociocultural processes are the main cause of such widespread dissatisfaction. Here, we consider how perceptual effects may influence ideas of body normality and body ideals.

Method: Women who varied on a measure of body dissatisfaction rated a range of bodies for how normal and ideal they looked. They were exposed to either thin or fat bodies, and then they rerated the bodies.

Results: Women's perceptions of body normality and ideal were easily malleable by exposure. In addition, greater body dissatisfaction and internalization of the thin Western ideal were related to (i) a smaller most normal and ideal body, (ii) a greater discrepancy between the most normal and most ideal-rated body, and (iii) a reduced effect of exposure to fat bodies.

Discussion: Reduced updating of perceptions of body normality and body ideals in response to experience may be one mechanism that maintains body dissatisfaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Conformity
  • Social Desirability*
  • Social Perception
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinness / psychology*
  • Young Adult