Watching stick-thin female frames on television can have an impact on women’s health, according to a new scientific paper.
Aric Sigman claims that seeing women on screen who are underweight but perceived as “normal” can be harmful to girls and women.
He said a biological mechanism which makes females become unhappy when they look at images of an abundance of underweight women has been identified.
The relationship between media and body image was previously treated as a psychological or cultural debate but now it must be treated as a medical one, said Dr Sigman.
“This is a medical and profound message. It is harmful to British girls and women,” he said.
Dr Sigman, who has collated research from across the globe for a paper in The Biologist, the journal of the Society of Biology, said that studies have found “strong and immediate” brain changes in confident and healthy women when they are exposed to images of thin and fat females.
He said if a researchers told the women they looked like an image of a bigger woman they found a reaction in the medial prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain associated unhappiness and sometimes self loathing.
Another study looked at a different part of the brain – the amygdala – which is associated with strong emotional reactions such as fear, threat and anxiety.
“They found it was significantly activated in healthy women when they were shown an image of themselves which was doctored to look a little bit wider,” said Dr Sigman, a fellow of the Society of Biology.
“A similar reaction occurred when women were shown words on screen such as obesity or fat”
He said the phenomenon is not just triggered with ultra thin catwalk models.
“Most realise those women are too thin,” he added.
“It is not just high status celebrities but other respected, accomplished women that we are exposed to every day – the news readers and the children’s television presenters who are just cruising below a healthy weight.
“These women are easy to identify with but they are not representative of the women of this country.”
His paper also looks a survival mechanism which is triggered when women compare themselves to wafer-thin counterparts.
He said females are deigned to evaluate other women around them – historically in their local mating pool.
The “contrast effect” used to occur in small villages but now woman compare themselves to a “proliferation” of images which they have access too.
“Women are being forced to compare themselves with an unprecedented point of comparison,” he said.
As a result of his findings, Sigman is urging the Government to intervene over the prevalence of thin women on television.