STYLE

Skinny Celebrities May Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves, New Study Shows

02/22/2012 12:23 pm ET

Seeing celebrities and models who are skinnier than you makes you feel pretty crappy about yourself, right?

In "The Skinny on Celebrities: Parasocial Relationships Moderate the Effects of Thin Media Figures on Women’s Body Image," published this month in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, graduate student Ariana Young argues that seeing skinny models or celebrities can actually make us feel better about ourselves.

The study centers on two findings. In one, women who thought they shared a birthday with a slender model felt better about their bodies after seeing her photo than women who felt they had nothing common with the model.

Similarly, women who were shown one of their favorite thin celebrities felt better about their own figures than when shown thin celebrities who they didn't like.

The idea, says Young, is that we tend to assume a likeness between ourselves and the people we admire. By a process called assimilation, we associate the positive feelings we have about, say, Beyonce or Jennifer Aniston with positive feelings about ourselves. The "parasocial" (one-sided) relationship we establish with these slender celebs therefore protects us from potentially low self-esteem.

The finding flies in the face of both previous studies and conventional wisdom, which suggests that seeing skinny bodies in magazines lowers our self-esteem and can lead to unrealistic and potentially harmful body standards.

That conventional wisdom holds true when there's no connection between the viewer and the celeb in the magazine -- i.e. when no parasocial relationship exists. But because we adore Karlie Kloss and worship at the feet of Reese Witherspoon, seeing their lithe forms makes us happy and even positive about our curvier frames.

So what does this mean for the fashion and magazine industries? Well, feature the stars and models we love the most. Then everybody wins.

Read more about the study here or purchase a PDF copy of the original article, "The Skinny on Celebrities: Parasocial Relationships Moderate the Effects of Thin Media Figures on Women’s Body Image," here.

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