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: Prof Lynda Boothroyd, Durham University
Co-Investigator: Prof Martin Tovee, University of Lincoln
Steering committee: Prof Robert Barton, Dr Mike Burt, Dr Liz Evans, Dr Mark Jamieson

Research associate: Dr Jean-Luc Jucker
Doctoral researcher: Dr 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 had 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.

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

How do levels of access to television affect preferences for female body weight?

(Open access version)
Boothroyd et al. (2016) 
Summary: Comparing two villages, with and without television, those lived in a village with no TV prefered larger female figures than thos who had had T for 5 years. Recent television consumption was the strongest predictor of body weight preferences and likelihood of women in the village trying to lose weight.

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(Open access version)
Thornborrow et al. (2018)  
Summary: When men created their 'ideal woman' using computergraphic software on a laptop, this in higher-media villages prefered female figures which were slimmer, and with larger breasts than in other villages. Follow up focus groups suggested that movement was more important than static appearance when men were judging attractiveness. Our participants suggested that they favoured body shapes which emphasised the movement of the lower body in walking or dancing.
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(Open access version)
Boothroyd, Jucker et al. (2020).  
Summary: This paper used three different approaches to provide convincing evidence that television is changing preferences. A cross-secitonal study of 300 individuals in 7 villages again showed that watching TV predicted a preference for thinner and curvier women. This was also true when looking at within-individual change in preferences from year to year amongst a small community who were tested multiple times. Finally, an experimental study showed that viewing high or low weight models on a laptop actively changed villagers' preferences.
How do nutritional stress and television access interact in body weight preferences?

Jucker et al. (2017)
Summary: 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. We therefore tested in villages which had high levels of nutritional stress and low media access, high nutritional stress and high TV access, and a vilalge with good nutrition and high TV access. We found that TV consumption remained important to predicting body size preferences across these communities, while measures of nutrition had very little impact.

How does television access affect body satisfaction in women and girls?
Summary: 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 assessed this in both adult women, and in children who were 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. Results will be submitted for publication in 2020.

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