Research Spotlight: Saying no to thin at any cost

scaleModern culture’s perfect woman is ultra-toned and super-slender. Yet for the vast majority of women, the “thin ideal” is unattainable – and for some, it also can be destructive. Katherine Presnell, assistant professor of psychology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is helping at-risk teens challenge this ideal with the Body Project, an eating disorder prevention program developed with Eric Stice of the University of Texas. In their nearly 10 years of research, more than 1,000 high school and college women have completed the program, and independent studies nationwide have shown that the Body Project significantly outperforms other interventions in promoting body acceptance, reducing the risk of obesity and preventing eating disorders.

During small-group sessions with a trained leader, Body Project participants argue against the thin ideal. They write letters to hypothetical girls about its emotional and physical costs, and challenge negative “fat talk” while affirming strong, healthy bodies. “Many girls don’t question the messages we get from the media, the fashion industry, our peers and parents that it’s important to achieve the thin ideal at any cost,” says Presnell, who with Stice has published a facilitator guidebook and companion workbook, The Body Project: Promoting Body Acceptance and Preventing Eating Disorders (Oxford University Press, 2007). “We have the girls critically evaluate the ideal, and when they take a stance against their beliefs, that creates dissonance they work to resolve.” Learn more about the book.