Impact of Body Distortion
In fact, some girls develop distorted images of the differences between underweight and normal weight bodies.1 One study illustrated this concept by showing young girls images of underweight, normal weight, and overweight girls (Ahern, Bennett, and Hetherington):
Participants labelled [sic] many of the underweight images as “normal weight.” This supports the idea that women’s concept of normal weight has shifted so that they accept increasingly thin ideal as representing the norm. This is further confirmed by the observation that two of the images of normal weight women were consistently labelled [sic] as “overweight.” However, there was consensus (over 85%) on 5 of the underweight women. (2008:298)As described, many of the underweight images were marked as “normal weight” by the participants. Perhaps more telling of body image distortion is that at least ten percent of the “normal weight” images were consistently marked as being “overweight” (Ahern, Bennett, and Hetherington 2008:298).
Moreover, girls use this distortion, along with the notion that thinness leads to happiness, to determine that thin girls have more friends. A study by Dohnt and Tiggeman involved showing pictures of underweight/normal weight duos and normal weight/overweight pairs to pre-adolescent girls (2008:225). The girls were asked to choose which girl would have more friends and which one they would most like to play with. They had the option of choosing one of the girls or both for their responses. Unsurprisingly, the girls suggested that the normal girls would have more friends than the overweight girls and that they would prefer to play with the normal weight ones. No statistical significance existed between the normal weight and underweight duos, for the girls seemed to choose both to have more friends and would choose both or either for play (Dohnt and Tiggemann 2008:227).
1Underweight, normal weight, and overweight are based on Body Mass Index, BMI, a calculation based on height and weight—BMI = [(weight in pounds * 703) / (height in inches)2]—and endorsed by World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The definitions used here are Underweight = under 18.5, Normal weight = 18.5-24.9, Overweight = 25 and above.