Digital alteration disclaimer labels on fashion magazine advertisements: Role of social appearance comparison and effect on body dissatisfaction

Author: Belinda Bury

Bury, Belinda, 2016 Digital alteration disclaimer labels on fashion magazine advertisements: Role of social appearance comparison and effect on body dissatisfaction, Flinders University, School of Psychology

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Digital alteration is a practice now routinely used by the fashion, media and advertising industries to render already thin models even thinner and more attractive. One strategy that has been advocated by policy makers and governments in an attempt to reduce the known negative effects of exposure to thin idealised media imagery, such as in fashion magazines, is the use of disclaimers of digital alteration. More generally, the negative effects of thin ideal media exposure have been attributed to women comparing their appearance with the models and feeling worse when they do not measure up. The rationale behind the use of disclaimer labels is that they would highlight a model’s appearance as unrealistic, and thereby reduce comparison on the basis of appearance and preserve body satisfaction. As yet there is little evidence as to the effectiveness of disclaimers of digital alteration. Thus, the first major aim of the thesis was to determine whether there are certain conditions under which disclaimer labels appended to fashion magazine advertisements can be rendered effective. The second major aim was to investigate the role of social comparison as a potential mechanism underlying the effect (or lack of effect) of disclaimer labels. Finally, eye tracking technology was used to investigate the effect of the wording of disclaimer labels on women’s visual attention to various areas of the advertisements, and the relationship of this visual attention to social comparison and body dissatisfaction. Experiment 1 (Chapter 2) investigated the impact of experimental instructions on the effectiveness of disclaimer labels on fashion magazine advertisements. Disclaimer labels did not affect social comparison or body dissatisfaction, but social comparison instructions did. In addition, there was a three-way interaction between disclaimer labels, instructional set, and trait appearance comparison. For women in the distractor condition who saw disclaimers which specified the altered body areas, those high on trait appearance comparison experienced increased body dissatisfaction, whereas those low on this trait experienced decreased body dissatisfaction. Both Experiment 2 (Chapter 3) and Experiment 3 (Chapter 4) used eye tracking technology to verify that women do notice and attend to disclaimer labels. In Experiment 2, specifically worded disclaimer labels directed visual attention toward target body areas, with this effect stronger for women high on trait appearance comparison. In Experiment 3, this visual attention was associated with increased body dissatisfaction. Finally, Experiment 4 (Chapter 5) investigated whether a brief digital alteration informational message presented before exposure to the advertisements would enhance the effectiveness of the disclaimer labels. This was not found to be the case. However, trait appearance comparison moderated the effect of the message on women’s perceived realism of the models. Together, the experiments confirmed that women did notice and attend to the disclaimer labels, but that the disclaimer labels had no overall benefit on either social appearance comparison or body dissatisfaction. In fact, specifically worded disclaimer labels led to increased body dissatisfaction for some women.

Keywords: disclaimer labels, digital alteration, media, fashion magazine advertisements, social comparison, body dissatisfaction

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of Psychology
Supervisor: Professor Marika Tiggemann