Posh Spice, Calista Flockhart and other emaciated female icons of western culture may not be a bad influence after all. A study suggests that the stereotypical images of women portrayed in the media are less responsible for the incidence of anorexia and bulimia than assumed.
Iranian women living in Tehran and in Los Angeles reported identical levels of symptoms of eating disorders and dissatisfaction with their weight and shape despite the radical differences in their ways of life.
Traci Mann, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, United States, said: "These results suggest that exposure to western cultural influences may not be as strong a risk factor for eating disorders and body image concerns as previously thought."
Western standards of beauty have been implicated for a general preoccupation with thinness among young women.
Some scholars have suggested that the global spread of western culture has brought with it a surge in eating disorders.
Dr Mann and her colleague Panteha Abdollahi recruited 59 female Iranian students at a large public university in Tehran and 45 female students of Iranian descent at UCLA.
Women in Iran are required to wear full-length veils or overcoats and have little legal exposure to western culture and media. In Los Angeles, the situation is almost the polar opposite.
The volunteers completed a detailed questionnaire that probed their attitudes and concerns regarding their self-image and eating habits.
Among the few differences to emerge was that the Tehran women wanted to lose an average of 4kg. Those in the US wanted to lose 2.5kg. And a larger proportion of those in Iran reported taking vigorous exercise to control their shape or weight. The study is published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.