A Woman’s Body Image Improves When Men Prefer Fuller Figures

A woman looks in the mirror as she zips up her dressBody image issues are common among women and even young girls: among adult women, 91% experience dissatisfaction with their bodies, and 80% of 10-year-old girls expressing fears of becoming “fat.” These body image concerns can give rise to serious and even life-threatening issues. Teenage girls with low self-esteem are more likely to drink, and 13% of women report that they smoke to lose weight. Twenty-four million Americans struggle with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. According to a new study, though, women’s body image issues improve when they believe that men prefer fuller-figured women.

How Men Affect Women’s Body Image

Researchers from Southern Methodist University recruited nearly 450 women. Most of the participants were white. Researchers divided the women into groups, showing one group images of very thin women and another group images of women with fuller figures. Researchers then told some of the women that men preferred the thin models and the other women that men were more attracted to fuller-figured women. Finally, the women each completed questionnaires on body image and weight.

Researchers found that women who believed men preferred a fuller figure were more likely to report satisfaction with their own weight, while women who heard that women preferred thin partners experienced increased dissatisfaction with their bodies. Another trial revealed that women did not experience an improvement in body image when researchers told them that women find larger women attractive. 

Both men and women are bombarded with advertisements, with most people seeing about 5,000 ads a day, compared to 2,000 just 30 years ago. Many of these advertisements prominently feature very thin and highly sexualized women, potentially convincing female viewers that these models represent the female ideal. Andrea Meltzer, the study’s lead author, argues that many women may believe men prefer ultra-thin women.

The study didn’t evaluate how long the positive body image effects lasted. Given the influence of advertisements and other negative body image messages, though, Meltzer believes it’s likely that positive messages would need to be steadily repeated to have a lasting effect.


  1. Preidt, R. (2015, January 15). When women think men prefer bigger gals, they’re happier with their weight. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/01/15/when-women-think-men-prefer-bigger-gals-theyre-happier-with-their-weight
  2. Story, L. (2007, January 15). Anywhere the eye can see, it’s likely to see an ad. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/business/media/15everywhere.html?_r=0
  3. Teen health and the media. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage&page=fastfacts
  4. The issues. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nyc.gov/html/girls/html/issues/issues.shtml

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  • Lindall


    January 19th, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Well of course we do! It is hard to feel good about yourself if you are being told that sorry you are the way you are but men actually prefer something that looks totally different.
    Wouldn’t that make you a little wary of feeling good about yourself?

  • Carla


    January 19th, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    It is so much easier to feel good about yourself when you hear that there are others who are equally enamored with the real you. I think that many women, myself included, who have a very unrealistic idea of what we should look like and except for the like five women in the world who actually do look that way, all of this starts to feel a little too overwhelming. We beat ourselves up over something that for most of us is never going to be achievable. I think that if we all get real and understand that there is something beautiful in every single one of us, then we could all lead much happier and more fulfilled lives.

  • helna


    January 19th, 2015 at 8:08 PM

    what we see and perceive as “normal” tends to affect us. its just like this – in a world of people with three legs, we would be “abnormal” – if what is “normal” is tampered with through constantly being bombarded with the wrong message, then all of us and for all issues and aspects – like women and body image here – things will be distorted. We are setting ourselves for pain and agony by idolizing these “models” and, more often than not, their altered images. Images that are not even real!

  • Ann


    January 20th, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    When I was around 14 I assumed older women didn’t worry about such nonsense. Now at 58, I see I was wrong. The obsession to be not only thin, but young, wrinkle-free with big boobs has gotten worse as I have gotten older. Many of my friends are constantly looking for the next new miracle. Ironically enough, their husbands are getting older, fatter and balder. They take the signs of aging in stride. Sometimes I wish I were a man!

  • carolee


    January 20th, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    Is it not so sad that women still judge how “good” they are based on what others think about our size?

  • Aydan


    January 21st, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    I wonder how the thin women then feel.
    We always only think about those who are overweight, but there are women who are shamed for being too thin.
    How will they feel about themselves when they hear that a man is more attracted to someone with a fuller figure?
    Will there be people who care that they are being made to feel bad about themselves?

  • DeeDee


    January 25th, 2015 at 6:06 AM

    I am so OVER worrying what other people think about my size.
    So what if they don’t like me for what size I am
    There is someone out there for every one right?

  • charlotte


    January 27th, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    I hate it just how much I let what other people think of me, or what I guess I THINK that other people think of me, influence how I feel about myself.

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