A study out of Michigan State University finds that young adult women who read the book are more likely to have a verbally abusive partner or show signs of eating disorders than those who haven't picked up a copy. And it's even more startling if you read all three books in the series — the study said those women are at a higher risk for binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.
All of those issues are risks linked to being in an abusive relationship, the same as the book's main character Anastasia. Lead investigator Amy Bonomi said the study didn't state if women experienced the unhealthy behaviors before or after reading the book, but said they are problems either way.
"If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma," said Bonomi, a professor at the university. "Likewise, if they read Fifty Shades before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it's possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors."
In the study, the researchers looked at 650 women from 18 to 24 years of age. Compared to those who didn't read the book, those who read the first installment were 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than a day, 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or used profanity against them, and 34 percent more likely to have a partner that showed stalking behavior.
Women who read all of the books were 65 percent more likely than those who did not read the books at all to binge drink, which is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month. They also were 63 percent more likely to have five or more sexual partners during their lives.
The study is the first to look at the links between books that depict violence against women and health risks. It was published in the Journal of Women's Health. Older research has indicated that watching violent television shows leads to antisocial behavior and real-life violence. Those who read glamour magazines have been linked to body-image obsessions, past studies have reported.
Bonomi said she's not calling for a ban on the book, and says women should feel free to read whatever they like — but they should know that the health behaviors evaluated in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship. She recommends that parents and teachers talk about body image, gender role expectations and sexuality as early as grade school. They need to consume media with a critical interpretation, too, she said.
"We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem," Bonomi said. "The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it."
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