Chick lit and body image
You might want to think twice before revisiting that old copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Images in the media have long been blamed for low self-esteem among women, but a new report claims that the written word – specifically, “chick lit” – might be just as damaging.
Chick lit, the fiction genre aimed mainly at women, often features self-doubting heroines searching for the trifecta of love, career and a smaller pant size. According to a new study, protagonists who express negative feelings about their weight or body shape can make readers feel bad about themselves.
The researchers, from Virginia Tech, selected two popular novels – Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed and Laura Jensen Walker’s Dreaming in Black and White – that feature female protagonists with a healthy body weight but low self-esteem. They then rewrote passages from the novels, changing descriptions of the characters’ sizes and comments reflecting their self-esteem. The rewrites included versions that made the characters slim and insecure, overweight and insecure, slim and self-confident and overweight and self-confident, as well as versions that removed references to size and self-esteem altogether.
More than 150 college-aged women read the passages and rated how they felt about themselves after each. The researchers found that women who read versions about a slim character reported feeling less sexually attractive than participants who read about a heavier character. Those who read about an insecure heroine felt more concerned about their own weight.