Body image, physical activity, and viewing patterns of physique images among women


Exposure to media images of thin-ideal female physiques is linked to numerous maladaptive psychosocial outcomes, yet factors associated with propensity for media exposure have not been identified. This study examined the gaze patterns of women who were implicitly exposed to images of thin-ideal and average weight female models, and to test if behavioural (physical activity) and personal (body image and affect) factors differentiate viewing patterns. Healthy weight females (N=32) completed a computer-based experiment and self-report questionnaires on affect, perceptions, and behaviour. In the laboratory, one calendar depicting a thin-ideal female model and another depicting an average-weight female model were placed on either side of the participant. Unknown to participants, cameras recorded their gaze behaviour. The number of looks at each image was analyzed. A MANCOVA controlling for ethnicity and propensity for social comparison revealed that physically active women gazed at the average-weight image relatively more than at the ideal image, whereas inactive women did the opposite (physical activity x image interaction, F(1,28)=4.36, p<.05). In addition, women with higher physical self-discrepancy gazed significantly more frequently at the ideal image compared to women low on self-discrepancy (attractiveness discrepancy x image interaction, F(1,30)=4.31, p<.05). Positive and negative affect were not significant factors associated with gaze patterns. Consistent with social comparison perspectives, the present findings indicate that physical activity and body image cognitions may differentiate the way women view and interpret physique images. These results offer insight into factors that should be targeted to protect from the potential deleterious effects of media image exposure.

Acknowledgments: Funding for this study was provided by a Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education Internal Grant