Body 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.
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- Teen health and the media. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage&page=fastfacts
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