Books with self-conscious female character affect readers

SELF-scrutinising fictional heroines could be bad for your health.

Research by Virginia Tech found that reading "chick lit" books in which the protagonist worried about her weight made women uncomfortable about their own body image.

It looked at "the effect of protagonist body weight and body esteem on female readers' body esteem" and concluded that "scholars and health officials should be concerned about the effect chick lit novels might have on women's body image".

The report's authors took passages from two chick lit novels in which the protagonists have "healthy body weight" but "low self-esteem".

They then adapted the text from chapters of Something Borrowed and Dreaming in Black and White into nine versions in which the heroine's self-body image was distorted.

One variation read "I'm 1.6m, 63.5kg and a size 6", and another, "I'm 1.6m, 47.6kg, and a size 0".

Over 150 students were asked to note how they rated their own sexual attractiveness and body parts while reading each passage.

Participants said they felt "significantly" less sexually attractive when reading about a slim character, and significantly more concerned about their own weight when reading about a protagonist with low body esteem.

Melissa Kaminski, co-author of the report, said she was compelled to launch the study after noticing that "body image research frequently looked at how visual images of thin women negatively affected women's body esteem, [but] no research had examined how textual representations of body esteem and body weight affected female readers' body esteem".

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