A study published by Australian psychologist Marika Tiggemann in the May issue of the journal Sex Roles will provide food for thought for women about to embark on the dreaded summer swimsuit trip.
The research was conducted at Flinders University in South Australia, with Tiggemann and her colleagues asking 102 female undergraduates to imagine four different scenarios: wearing a bathing suit in a dressing room, wearing a bathing suit while walking on a beach, wearing jeans and a sweater in a dressing room and wearing jeans and a sweater while walking on a beach.
They then had to fill out questionnaires about their moods, feelings about their bodies, and feelings about self-objectification, i.e. worrying about their looks and feeling shame about their bodies.
Unsurprisingly, the jeans caused less stress than the bikini, but more interestingly, the report shows the women were less stressed about hitting the beach scantily clad than they were about the actual process of trying on swimwear in a shop, suggesting a) that women are their own worst critics and b) the changing room environment should be avoided.
"The physical presence of observers is clearly not necessary" to bring on feelings of stress, explains the report.
"More particularly, the dressing room of a clothing store contains a number of potentially objectifying features: (often several) mirrors, bright lighting, and the virtual demand that women engage in close evaluation of their body in evaluating how the clothes appear and fit."
Tiggemann’s advice, via LiveScience, is that women should “avoid mirrors and comparisons with others” -- so put down that copy of the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and head to one of the many mail order sites that accept returned swimwear such as Net-a-porter or Figleaves.