+
upworthy
Pop Culture

Would we feel differently about our bodies if we didn't watch TV? Science seems to think so.

Researchers set out to study this question — and walked away with some really fascinating new data.

body image, television
Canva

Television has a way of tuning off... healthy images.

Do we all, instinctively, find the same types of bodies attractive? Or do TV, movies, and pictures in magazines subtly influence what sorts of bodies we're attracted to?

Researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K. set out to study this question — and walked away with some really fascinating new data.


The question they posed: Do people who have limited access to TV have different beauty ideals than those who watch more frequently?

It's hardly a secret that Hollywood prefers thin. A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that female characters who have bigger bodies were few and far between on TV at the turn of the last decade. When they did appear, they were less likely to have romantic partners and "less likely to considered attractive."

Things have improved in recent years but only slightly. And popular reality shows like, "The Biggest Loser" continue to sell the idea that weight loss is the ticket to feeling attractive.

It raises the question: Would we feel differently about our bodies if we didn't watch so much TV? Or if we saw more positive portrayals of people with bigger bodies on the air?

It's really hard to study this because there aren't a lot of places left in the world that don't have access to Western media.

entertainment, studies, American media, global affects

Even most dogs have access to American TV these days.

Image via Pixabay.

In order to get good data, you need to talk to people who not only rarely or never watch TV and movies, but who are hardly even exposed to them and the culture they help generate.

American TV and movies — and locally-produced TV and movies that draw inspiration from our TV and movies — are pretty much everywhere by now.

But there are some. And that's where the researchers went.

Country, TV access, body image, women

A map representing Nicaragua in South America.

Image by DaDez/Wikimedia Commons.

Specifically, they went to the east coast of Nicaragua, which is home to a number of remote villages, some of which have no or only partially electricity.

Researchers found a remote village with little TV access and asked participants there to react to various images of women's bodies of different sizes.

pageants, military, culture, BMI

A female Kansas National Guardsman competed in the 2014 Miss America Pageant.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica Barett/Kansas Adjutant General's Department Public Affairs Office.

The subjects were asked to rate each image on a scale of 1 to 5. Their responses were compared with those from an urban area and a similar village that had greater access to broadcast media.

Critically, the two villages chosen were very similar culturally — previous studies have had difficulty separating out media viewing habits from other cultural variables that might account for the difference in how the images were perceived. Standards of beauty vary from culture to culture, including certain cultures that prize fatness (much like the "thin ideal" in the West, this is often similarly harmful to women and girls).

The result? Participants in the village with the least media access preferred bodies with a higher body mass index on average than those in the urban area and more connected village.

There are caveats, of course.

Using BMI to measure normal versus abnormal weight has become increasingly controversial recently. It's also impossible to draw big, sweeping conclusions from a single study.

But it's real data. And it does suggest that perhaps we're not hardwired to find smaller bodies attractive.

scientific data, psychology, university studies, media

Science!

Photo by Amitchell125/Wikimedia Commons.

"Our data strongly suggests that access to televisual media is itself a risk factor for holding thin body ideals, at least for female body shape, in a population who are only just gaining access to television," said Dr. Lynda Boothroyd, senior lecturer in psychology at Durham University and co-leader of the study.

In other words, the more TV we watch, the more we're likely to be attracted to lower-weight bodies. The less TV we watch, the more we're likely to look favorably upon higher-weight bodies.

Most importantly, it's evidence that there's nothing inherently attractive about weighing less, and nothing inherently unattractive about weighing more.

It's just something we made up.

theme parks, globalization, studios, China

A sunny day captured at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Photo (cropped) by PoonKaMing/Wikimedia Commons.

But the good news is that we can un-make it up.How do we do that? Here's one idea: Let's get more people with more bodies of more shapes and sizes we can get on TV, in movies, and in glossy magazines — giving them real lives, real flaws, real romances, and presenting them, at least every so often, as attractive. Like, you know. Real people.This article originally appeared on 02.26.16

popular

Scientists tested 3 popular bottled water brands for nanoplastics using new tech, and yikes

The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

Suzy Hazelwood/Canva

Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

As opposed to microplastics, nanoplastics are too small to be seen by microscope. Their size is exactly why experts are concerned about them, as they are small enough to invade human cells and potentially disrupt cellular processes.

“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They’ve been found in human lung tissues. They’ve been found in human feces; they’ve been found in human blood,” study coauthor Phoebe Stapleton, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy told CNN Health,

We know that nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies. We just don't have enough research yet on what that means for our health, and we still have more questions than answers. How many nanoplastics does it take to do damage and/or cause disease? What kinds of damage or disease might they cause? Is whatever effect they might have cumulative? We simply don't have answers to these questions yet.

That's not to say there's no cause for concern. We do know that certain levels of microplastic exposure have been shown to adversely affect the viability of cells. Nanoplastics are even smaller—does that mean they are more likely to cause cellular damage? Science is still working that out.

According to Dr. Sara Benedé of the Spanish National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science Research, it's not just the plastics themselves that might cause damage, but what they may bring along with them. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms,” Dr. Benedé told Medical News Today.

Where is this plastic in water coming from? This study focused on bottled water, which is almost always packaged in plastic. The filters used to filter the water before bottling are also frequently made from plastic.

Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

The reality is, though, we simply don't know yet.

“Based on other studies we expected most of the microplastics in bottled water would come from leakage of the plastic bottle itself, which is typically made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” lead author Naixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University, told CNN Health. “However, we found there’s actually many diverse types of plastics in a bottle of water, and that different plastic types have different size distributions. The PET particles were larger, while others were down to 200 nanometers, which is much, much smaller.”

We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.

This is not a before picture.

When Molly Galbraith posted on Facebook a photo of herself on a beach in a bikini, her caption wasn't your usual "look at me" selfie.

"This not a before picture. This is not an after picture," she writes.

Based in Lexington, Kentucky, Galbraith is the owner and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong, a company that seeks to provide fitness solutions and community not influenced by the juggernaut, multi-billion dollar weight loss industry, and in her caption for the Facebook post, she creating a litany of what her body has experienced and withstood. "This is a body that loves protein and vegetables and queso and ice cream. This is a body that loves bent presses and pull-ups and deadlifts and sleep. This is a body that has been abused with fast food and late nights and stress. This body has been publicly evaluated, judged, and criticized."

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Gen X has hit 'that stage' of life and is not handling it very well

We are NOT prepared for Salt-n-Pepa to replace Michael McDonald in the waiting room at the doctor's office, thankyouverymuch.

Gen X is eating dinner earlier and earlier. It's happening.

The thing about Gen X being in our 40s and 50s now is that we were never supposed to get "old." Like, we're the cool, aloof grunge generation of young tech geniuses. Most of the giants that everyone uses every day—Google, Amazon, YouTube—came from Gen X. Our generation is both "Friends" and "The Office." We are, like, relevant, dammit.

And also, our backs hurt, we need reading glasses, our kids are in college and how in the name of Jennifer Aniston's skincare regimen did we get here?

It's weird to reach the stage when there's no doubt that you aren't young anymore. Not that Gen X is old—50 is the new 30, you know—but we're definitely not young. And it seems like every day there's something new that comes along to shove that fact right in our faces. When did hair start growing out of that spot? Why do I suddenly hate driving at night? Why is this restaurant so loud? Does that skin on my arm look…crepey?

Keep ReadingShow less

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


Photographer James Balog and his crew were hanging out near a glacier when their camera captured something extraordinary.

They were in Greenland, gathering footage from the time-lapse they'd positioned all around the Arctic Circle for the last several years.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

7 secrets to raising awesome, functional teenagers.

Step 1: Ditch the myth that all teens are sullen, angry creatures.

All photos used here are mine, used with permission.

My beautiful teens.


I occasionally get asked by mothers of young children what the secret is to raising great teenagers.

My initial response is that I have absolutely no clue. My kids are who they are IN SPITE of having me as a mother. (The young moms don't find that answer too helpful.)

Really, the first thing that I will tell you is to disbelieve the myth that teenagers are sullen, angry creatures who slam doors and hate their parents. Some do that, but the overwhelming majority do not. Every one of my kids' friends are just as happy and fun as my kids are, so I know it's not just us.

Keep ReadingShow less

Lee Loechler's incredible "Sleeping Beauty" proposal.

There are creative, romantic proposals, and then there's this one.

Lee Loechler recently proposed to his girlfriend, Sthuthi David, by taking her to a packed theater to see her favorite Disney movie, Sleeping Beauty. Little did she know that Loechler had spent six months altering the animation of the film's most iconic scene, changing the characters to look like the couple themselves and altering the storyline to set up his Big Question. And that's only the beginning.

Watching David's face during the scene change is sheer delight, as her confused look proves that she has no clue what is about to happen.

Keep ReadingShow less