How images of wealth and success can negatively shape body image

The advert for a facial cream shows a slender woman with perfect skin in an exotic holiday location.  How does it make you feel?

Research has already shown that exposure to images of ultra thin models has a negative impact on women's perception of their own bodies.  New research reveals how models displaying the trappings of wealth and success leads to a greater dissatisfaction for some women.

University of Sussex psychologist Eleni-Marina Ashikali led a study in which women were shown images of either luxury items (mobile phones, champagnes, expensive holidays), or neutral products (puppies, landscapes). The participants were then shown more images of neutral items that either featured thin, idealised models, or no models. 

The study revealed that the women who were 'primed' with the luxury item images first, and who had self-rated as being particularly attuned to notions of wealth, fame and image, reported more negative feelings about their bodies after viewing adverts featuring idealised models.

This study, published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, is the first to investigate the link between materialism and body image, and to show that the influence of materialism is a further factor that makes women more vulnerable to negative body image. Ashikali says that the results highlight the need for women to become more critical of the images and messages conveyed by the media.

"Body dissatisfaction is endemic among young women and has been identified as a consistent precursor or a range of mental and physical health problems," she says. ''Perfect appearance and an affluent lifestyle are typically shown together in the media.  But women would benefit from gaining greater awareness of marketing strategies."

"Our work highlights the need for less emphasis on the promised but unrealistic benefits of owning a particular product."

Notes for editors

  • This study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the British Journal of Social PsychologyMedia wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact
  • Article: "The Effect of Priming Materialism on Women's Responses to Thin-Ideal Media." Eleni-Marina Ashikali & Helga Dittmar. British Journal of Social Psychology. Published Online: March, 2011 (DOI:).
  • Eleni-Marina Ashikali, MSc Applied Social Psychology, is currently working on her PhD at the University of Sussex, which focuses on cosmetic surgery media and their influence on young women's body image, and on their attitudes towards cosmetic surgery. She can be reached for questions at
  •  University of Sussex Press Office: Jacqui Bealing, Maggie Clune and Danielle Treanor.  01273 678888,

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 8 April 2011