Don’t Stop the Music: Does the Thin Ideal in Pop Music Lyrics Affect Women’s Body Image During Exercise?
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Viewing music videos emphasizing the thin ideal female body has been shown to have a negative impact on body image in young women, including increased body dissatisfaction, social comparisons, self-objectifications and body size discrepancies. However, it is unclear whether the changes in body image outcomes are due to the highly objectified images of women representing the thin ideal or the lyrics of the songs. This study aimed to explore the effects of music lyrics on body image during exercise in physically active female university students. A repeated measures design was used; 29 women completed two conditions in which they were asked to walk or run for 30 minutes while listening to music. In one condition, the negative music lyric condition, songs referred explicitly to women’s appearance, objectified the female body, or referenced the thin ideal. In the neutral music lyric condition, the songs did not refer to appearance at all. Participants completed state measures of mood, body satisfaction, self-objectification and body appreciation prior to and following each of their walks/runs. Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) was assessed following each walk/run and total distance traveled was recorded. Results indicated a statistically significant time effect (all ps < 0.05) for all outcomes except self-objectification, with women reporting feeling more confident, physically attractive, appreciative of their body, happier and feeling less fat, anxious, depressed and angry from pre- to post-exercise following both conditions. There were no effects of condition and no interaction effects. There were no differences between condition for RPE or distance travelled. This study highlights the positive effects exercise has on body image and mood outcomes and suggests that exercise may buffer the possible negative effects of objectifying lyrics. Music that is motivational, even with appearance-focused lyrics, may not be harmful to body image in exercise settings and may be used to keep women happier and more positive about their body following exercise.