We've all heard this dubious piece of advice: stick a photo of a thin celebrity on your fridge. Keep a photo of your skinnier self on-hand. (Or, conversely, as Elizabeth Taylor preferred -- an averting heavier photo.)
But a new pair of studies from Tilburg University in the Netherlands revealed that for those who want to lose weight, taping up a photo of a skinny model didn't provide any extra motivation.
Researchers conducted two separate week-long experiments, using women who wanted to lose weight. In the first study, the participants were given food journals in which they were required to write down their daily food intake. On the front of the journals, the researchers had affixed either a photo of a fashion model or, as a control, a neutral logo. In the second study, women were given either the control image or the same photo, though digitally altered to depict the model as of average weight. They found that the fashion model failed against the logo -- and that it also underperformed when compared to the "normal-looking" photo.
"Female participants who were exposed to the thin model perceived their dieting goals as less attainable, engaged in more goal-inconsistent behavior (i.e., consuming unhealthy snacks), and had less success losing weight," the researchers wrote.
In fact, those who saw the skinny model each time they recorded their food actually gained weight because the task at hand -- rendering themselves fashion model skinny -- felt so impossible, it derailed their diet efforts, reported NPR.
The results are surprising in an increasing atmosphere, at least on the Internet, of what is often called "thinspiration" or "thinspo" for short. HuffPost's Carolyn Gregoire reported on the phenomenon last year:
The poster girl for thinspo bloggers is Cassie, the starry-eyed, anorexic pill-popper of the British teen television drama Skins, whose image pops up all over the thinspo blogosphere. The models most frequently featured are Karlie Kloss and Kate Moss. An iconic black-and-white photograph of Kate in an oversized T-shirt that reads "I Beat Obesity" is a recurring theme, perfectly capturing the ethos of the thinspo community.
Of course, the disordered eating habits of "thinspo" diarists are a far cry from those who are interested in losing weight healthfully with dietary and exercise changes. Among the many things that differentiate these populations is the idea of attainability: model photos didn't work for the study's subjects because they didn't think it was possible to look like someone with an entirely different body composition, while the "thinspo" community believes that they can, through sheer force of will, command their bodies to take on a certain appearance. However, using a different person's image as inspiration is certainly a shared -- and perhaps disordered in its own right -- behavior. That it doesn't work -- and that it is counterproductive to the goal of a healthy lifestyle -- is news for everyone.