Ideal comparisons: Body ideals harm women's body image through social comparison

Body Image. 2019 Jun:29:100-109. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.03.004. Epub 2019 Mar 20.


Body dissatisfaction and self-objectification can arise when women view idealized thin bodies, as well as idealized athletic or curvy bodies. State-level social comparisons have been shown to mediate such effects, with mixed evidence for the moderating role of trait-level social comparison. An experiment tested the hypotheses that viewing messages idealizing thin, athletic, and curvy bodies would be associated with greater state social comparison as compared to a body acceptance condition, and that trait social comparison would moderate this association. Additionally, state social comparison was expected to mediate the association between viewing idealized images and negative body image. Data were collected online from 200 adult women. Regression analyses indicated that all three body ideals significantly increased state social comparison, which in turn predicted greater body surveillance, lower body appreciation, and, for thin and curvy conditions only, lower body esteem for looks. Further, trait social comparison moderated the association between viewing the curvy ideal and state social comparison. This study increases our knowledge of how state and trait social comparison function in relation to body ideals. Reducing social comparison to idealized images, as opposed to replacing the thin ideal with other body types, may be a superior approach to improving body image.

Keywords: Body ideals; Body image; Self-objectification; Social comparison; media.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Body Size*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Self Concept*
  • Thinness
  • Young Adult