A new study suggests that chick lit — oh, that loathed genre title — can have a negative effect on your body image, especially if the leading female protagonist is particularly focused on her looks and weight. Researchers at Virginia Tech took two 3,200-word excerpts from chick lit novels that referenced the lead character's appearance and, keeping with the original author's voice, changed the character's description of her body to, in one case, be underweight and and, in the other, be average to overweight. The protagonist's inner musings on her body also differed between excerpts, with some examples describing a lead character with high body esteem and others describing a lead character with low body esteem. The excerpts were then shown to a group of 159 college-aged women.
What researchers had first predicted — that reading a story with an underweight protagonist would cause the reader to feel more overweight — proved false, however, the women who read the excerpts with underweight lead characters were more likely to feel less sexually attractive than those who read the excerpts with average to overweight lead characters. Unsurprisingly, those who read the excerpts in which the lead woman spoke negatively about her body did become more focused on their own weight than those who did not.
The study's authors Melissa Kaminski and Robert Magee write that "it was more difficult for (fiction readers) to imagine the protagonist's weight...On the other hand, textual representations of body esteem seemed to have a strong effect on weight concern, possibly because novels allow for participants to enter the minds of the protagonists and read their innermost thoughts."
Chick lit may be hazardous to your health [The Pacific Standard]