Kim Kardashian's 'slim-thick' body type is more harmful than 'ultra-thin': New study

Has the
Has the "slim-thick" body type officially replaced the thin ideal? (Image via Getty Images)
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Images of unrealistically thin models and celebrities have permeated popular culture for decades, causing severe damage to women's body image and mental health in the process. However, a recent study reveals that a new body ideal may be causing even more harm than the ultra-thin “heroin chic” look that came to prominence in the ‘90s—and we have Kim Kardashian to thank for it.

Researchers at York University in Toronto conducted a study to find out how pervasive imagery of the “slim-thick ideal,” which has become popularized in mainstream media by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Beyoncé, contributes to young women’s dissatisfaction with their body. Described as “a curvier or more full body type” with a “small waist and flat stomach but large butt, breasts and thighs,” the study found that the slim-thick physique is actually more damaging to the way young women feel about their bodies compared to the ultra-thin body type.

“The thin-ideal has long been identified as a threat to women’s body image, and there’s been a call for body image campaigns and the media to showcase a greater diversity of body types,” researcher Sarah McComb tells Yahoo Canada. “However, even though the slim-thick body type touts a larger frame, it is not a healthier alternative to the thin-ideal for media consumers—it was actually more threatening to women’s body image.”

Kim Kardashian's
Kim Kardashian's "slim-thick" frame has replaced the thin ideal. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

McComb and Jennifer Mills, a registered clinical psychologist, surveyed 402 women between the ages of 18 and 25, which are proven to be the heaviest users of Instagram. The participants viewed 13 photos of influencers with different body types: slim-thick, thin and fit.

Both McComb and Mills say they were surprised to discover that those who compared themselves to slim-thick-ideal imagery “experienced significantly more weight and appearance dissatisfaction, and less body satisfaction” than those who compared themselves to thin-ideal imagery.

While the thin-ideal has long been considered the most desirable body type for women, at least in white-centred mainstream media, this research suggests beauty ideals may be shifting. The study points to the Kardashian-Jenner clan as well as other influencers and celebrities who regularly share these kinds of images with their massive social media followings as the reason for the change.

According to McComb, the slim-thick body type appeals to a greater number of women across ethnic backgrounds, while previous research shows that the thin-ideal has mainly appealed to white women.

Kate Moss's thin frame was an example of '90s thin ideal. (Image via Getty Images)
Kate Moss's thin frame was an example of '90s thin ideal. (Image via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the slim-thick body type isn't more attainable than the thin ideal. The study notes that it would likely require plastic surgery or strategic exercises that increase muscle mass on specific body parts to achieve the curvaceous look.

And yet, social media trends from 2021 show just how idealized this body type has become in recent years. According to the study, the hashtags #thick, #thicc, and #slimthick have earned millions of posts on Instagram while the hashtag #slimthicc currently has more than 134 million tags on TikTok.

“The media is the most powerful and impactful sociocultural transmitter of beauty ideals in our society,” McComb says. “What types of people and bodies are advertised in the media tells young women what body types are deemed as attractive and which are celebrated, and gives them the impression of what they should be aspiring to."

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However most of what we see in the media has been edited, airbrushed and altered—a process with which the Kardashians are notoriously familiar. This leads to imagery that is even more unattainable and can result in people taking dangerous steps to try and achieve the unachievable, especially those who are prone to “physical appearance perfectionism.”

Appearance perfectionism, or the act of holding unrealistic goals and expectations for one’s appearance and body, has been associated with many negative body image outcomes, the study explains, including disordered eating symptoms, appearance social anxiety, appearance and body shape dissatisfaction, unhealthy weight control behaviours, low appearance self-esteem, high impression management, high appearance management behaviours and perfectionistic self-presentation.

Kylie Jenner's curves make her an example of the
Kylie Jenner's curves make her an example of the "thin-thick" body type. (Photo by David Livingston/WireImage)

“Internalized pressure to have [a] slim-thick body type can lead to risky body modification practices, such as waist trainers and plastic surgery…that have no benefit to one's health and are solely about appearance,” Mills tells Yahoo Canada.

If we want to protect young people from the negative effects of over-consuming these images, Mills says regulations around how social media platforms collect data and “use tricks to hack into our attention span” could become essential.

“People should get to choose what they look at,” she says. “The combination of the current business model of social media and the way humans naturally think and feel makes it hard for people to ignore all the images around them. For some vulnerable people, that is going to lead to mental health problems.”

Mills also suggests being proactive in monitoring our social media use if we want to try and avoid the harmful impacts of constantly being bombarded with this unrealistic, unattainable imagery.

“Set your own limits, take a break from social media and the news,” she recommends. “Be mindful about the effect that your internet and social media use have on how you feel about yourself and your life.”

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