Recent studies have documented a shift in the cultural ideal of physical attractiveness, with women subscribing to a visibly toned ideal that emphasises health and fitness. The present study experimentally investigated the impact of athletic and muscular fitness-idealised images compared to traditional thin ideal images on women's body dissatisfaction and exercise behaviour, under the framework of Social Comparison Theory. Participants were 106 female undergraduate students randomly assigned to view one of three sets of images (thin ideal, athletic ideal, or muscular ideal) followed by a bout of exercise. Acute exposure to athletic ideal and thin ideal images led to increased body dissatisfaction, but exposure to muscular ideal images did not. Relative to thin ideal images, fitness-idealised images did not motivate participants to engage in higher levels of exercise suggesting that this type of fitness inspiration might not motivate actual exercise behaviour.
- Social comparison