Body Image: Healthy to Zero in 60 Seconds

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Janet Sahm Easter
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body image, body positivity

Art Credit: Cate Parr

How long does it take an image to change your perception of beauty?

One minute.

A recent study by PLos ONE indicates that when presented with an image from a magazine it takes as little as sixty seconds to alter a person’s definition of what is attractive.

The study found that when college-aged women were shown a series of plus-size models digitally altered with varying BMI’s, the participants skewed towards a BMI of 18.4 as the most attractive. The women were then shown a series of underweight models, and they were more likely to choose women with a BMI of 16.9 as the most attractive.

Did we mention that anything under an 18.5 BMI is underweight? The health risks of being underweight are just as dangerous as being obese. And yet, we are continually being shown images in media and magazines that are, well, poisonous.

Discovery News comments on how our society glorifies fragility, delicateness, and thinness for women, while the opposite is true for men—the bigger, the stronger, the better. "These days we regularly see images of underweight women as one of many beauty standards. In reality, the levels of thinness we're told are beautiful can be pretty dangerous for your health—things like brittle bones, constant illness, ongoing fatigue—being underweight is no healthier than being obese." Seeing these images, Discovery News reports, "has been directly linked by scientists to depressive moods, lower self-esteem, and eating disorders."

Ideals of beauty can greatly differ across cultures and notions of what we deem attractive are fluid. With as little time as it takes to change our perceptions of beauty for the worse, let's keep pushing to bring about real change for the better by asking brands to produce healthy, beautiful images—like Lean In's Getty Collection and the Aerie Real campaign, and of course Verily's own No-Photoshop policy.

Because even with our resolve, we’ve found that showing diverse beauty is still quite the feat. Take, for instance, when we do a product roundup for “Steals and Deals." Considering only 20 percent of models in agencies are of ethnic background, and an even smaller percentage of a healthy weight, we’ve found clothing store websites tend to show mainly light-skinned and underweight women to model their products.

It's one of our goals at Verily to produce more original photography that reflects the beauty and dignity of all women, which can contribute to a culture that increases demand for realistic imagery everywhere. We know it will take time; as Discovery News indicated, the effects of negative imagery over a span of years is difficult to reverse. But that shouldn't stop us from fighting.