A Michigan State University researcher recently found a link between women who read "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James and certain unhealthy behaviors, such as eating disorders and having a verbally abusive partner.
Critics panned "Fifty Shades of Grey" and its sequels for its depiction and glamorization of a woman in an abusive relationship. According to the study, women who read it are more likely to have already had these unhealthy behaviors before reading it, or started the behaviors after.
"If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading 'Fifty Shades' might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma," says Amy Bonomi, the study's lead researcher. "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."
Previous studies have looked at links between violent television shows and movies to real-world violence, but this is the first time that a book about violence against women has been seriously looked at. Researchers studied more than 600 women aged 18-24. Those who read the book were 25 percent more likely to have a verbally abusive partner and 34 percent were more likely to have a stalking problem. A whopping 75 percent had issues with body image and frequently engaged in related unhealthy behaviors, such as taking diet pills and fasting.
Among those readers, those who read all three books were more likely to binge drink.
In a previous study led by Bonomi, she suggests that "Fifty Shades of Grey" also leads to violence against women by "perpetuating dangerous abuse standards." The book's main character, Anastasia, is a classic abuse victim: she feels constantly threatened, changes her behavior to avoid her partner's anger and becomes trapped in a relationship with an abusive man. Bonomi challenges the way the book sensationalizes and glamorizes the abuse.
Although critics might suggest banning the books, researchers stress that isn't necessary. Bonomi suggests that parents and teachers engage young children in conversations about the issues brought up by the study. Parents should also teach children how to critically view media, as well.
"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."
"Fifty Shades of Grey," which was published in 2011, is an international bestseller. A movie based on the novel comes out in February 2015.