Television and Beauty Ideals in Rural Nicaragua

This research project has brought together Psychologists and Anthropologists at Durham and Newcastle Universities, to study the impacts of television on beauty ideals in the Pearl Lagoon Basin of rural Nicaragua.
Project Leader: Dr Lynda Boothroyd, Durham University
Co-Investigator: Dr Martin Tovee, University of Newcastle
Steering committee: Prof Robert Barton, Dr Mike Burt, Dr Liz Evans, Dr Mark Jamieson

Research associate: Dr Jean-Luc Jucker
Doctoral researcher: Ms Tracey Thornborrow

Funding: This research is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (RPG-2013-113).
Pilot data were collected with funding from the Centre for Coevolution of Biology and Culture

All images copyright Jean-Luc Jucker

Project background: The Pearl Lagoon Basin is an area of Nicaragua which is currently in the process of receiving mains electricity for the first time.  Those living in the remote villages of the Lagoon have no access to the internet, or magazines, and can only access visual media through television.  As such, this represents a remarkable research opportunity for assessing the impact of visual media on perceptions of beauty, particularly the extent to which residents of the region adopt a preference for slim female figures. This issue is of key importance as preference for slim female figures have been implicated as a factor in disordered eating and body dissatisfaction seen in many Westernised culture.

Project studies:   The project has a series of studies designed to investigate different aspects of the link between television and beauty ideals.

Study 1: How do levels of access to television affect preferences for female body weight?
This study compared individuals in three locations with differing levels of access to television. We found that those living in the capital city of Nicaragua showed preferences for female body weight very similar to Western sample, favouring slim figures.  In contrast, those who had begun to access television only within the last few years preferred significantly larger bodies. Those with no day-to-day access to television had the strongest preferences for 'overweight' female figures.  When we concentrated our analyses on the women in the Pearl Lagoon Basin, we found that recent television consumption was the strongest predictor of their body weight preferences and in some analyses also predicted the likelihood of them trying to lose weight.
Published results can be found here: Boothroyd et al. (2016) British Journal of Psychology. (Open access version)

Study 2: How do nutritional stress and television access interact in body weight preferences?
Non-Western cultures may also prefer larger bodies due to a greater risk of insufficient food. Larger figures indicate a healthy person with good food resources.  In Study 2 we are recruiting participants from areas of the Lagoon basin which differ in television access, but have very similar diets - or who have very similar television access but very different diets.  By comparing across these villages, we will be able to assess the extent to which television access and nutrition may independantly, or interactively, affect preferences for body weight.
Published results can be found here: Jucker et al. (2017) Scientific Reports

Study 3: How does television access affect body satisfaction in women and girls?
A greater discrepancy between the perceived 'ideal' female shape, and ones own body shape, can lead to dissatisfaction and negative feelings about ones body.  This study is examining the extent to which villages with different levels of television access exhibit different levels of body dissatisfaction.  We are assessing this in both adult women, and in children, who will be assessed annually over three years.  Body dissatsifaction starts to develop very early in childhood in the West. This research will help us to understand the role the media may play in these problems, in both developing nations like Nicaragua, and in the West.

Study 4: What is the wider context of television access in the Lagoon?
While our primary interest in television is the fact that it allows the villagers to see and engage with Westernised beauty ideals for the first time, television also brings many broader benefits to the communities.  This study is using interviews and observations to understand the role the television plays in the villages of the Lagoon and how the residents feel about the programs and content they watch.  We are also considering the modes of 'consumption' that the villagers engage in, and how television fits into their lives.

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