Virginia Tech study finds fictional representations can affect female readers' self-esteem
They then distributed the passages amongst 159 female university students, who after reading them were then asked to rate how they felt about various body parts and sexual attractiveness. The study found that when the narrative was about a slim heroine, participants felt "significantly" less sexually attractive, and that when it featured a protagonist with low body esteem, readers were "significantly more concerned about their weight" than participants in the control condition.
"The negative effects produced from the current study underscore the concern of previous scholars for the potential effect of chick lit protagonists' obsession with weight and appearance," write Kaminski and co-author Robert Magee in the study, "Does this book make me look fat?". "Scholars and health officials should be concerned about the effect novels have on women's body image, especially since these issues could lead to disordered eating and other health issues."
The academics suggest that a future study could look at using chick-lit narratives as an "intervention tool" to fight poor body esteem in teenage females, with the creation of stories in which characters with low body esteem seek support from family and friends.