Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Models 'not to blame for eating disorders'
Images of ultra-thin models like Kate Moss have caused controversy
Being exposed to images of ultra-thin models does not have a lasting effect on most teenage girls, according to a US survey.
It says only those with existing body image problems are significantly affected by the images.
The team of psychologists, led by Dr Eric Stice of the University of Texas, says the study contradicts previous research because it was conducted in real-life conditions, as opposed to a laboratory.
But eating disorder experts say the study is too small and superficial and goes against their own everyday experience counselling people with anorexia and bulimia.
The researchers, who unveiled their research at the American Psychological Association's annual convention in Boston, studied 219 girls aged 13 to 17.
The girls were given a 15-month subscription to a teenage magazine and then compared with a similar group who were not allowed to read the magazine.
The researchers say: "Despite the increased amount of time participants spent reading the fashion magazine, there were no effects on body dissatisfaction, thin-ideal internalisation, dieting or negative effect over time."
"This study suggests that the negative effects have little long-term impact," says Dr Stice.
Teenagers who already had a poor body image, however, felt more negative about themselves and more depressed after reading the magazine.
Despite the findings, Dr Stice says previous studies should not be discounted.
He says 41% of teenage girls said their most important source of dieting and health was magazines and 61% read fashion magazines regularly.
"I think the media reflects a larger cultural pressure for an ultra-slender body," says Dr Stice.
But he adds that parents and friends could send out alternative messages which could counter the fashion industry's obsession with thinness.
Gilly Green, a psychotherapist specialising in eating disorders at the Centre for Eating Disorders in London, England, said the research went against her day-to-day experience.
"From our experience, we live in a very image conscious society," she said.
"We often find that young girls previously satisfied with their body shape are going around carrying a thin image they have seen in the media.
"They begin to compare themselves unfavourably to that image for a variety of reasons.
She added that the research was "simplistic" and only looked at a small sample over a relatively short period.
And she said many young girls already had a negative body image before they reached the age of 13.
The centre has had calls from mothers of children as young as five.
She added that the current look for girls was for big breasts and no hips.
"It is quite an unnatural shape. We have to realise that few women are born a natural size six. We have to acknowledge our natural bone structure."
The centre runs a national helpline - on 0181 959 2330 - from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
It has been inundated with calls from women and worried parents and boyfriends.
"Many people say it has been a lifeline," said Ms Green.