Magazines, movies and advertisements can and do affect our notions of body image, but a recent study shows that what men think about body size can determine what heterosexual women think about themselves.
As much as we try to avoid body image issues, women are inundated by messages from the media about what our bodies should look like. However, a study conducted by researchers from Southern Methodist University and Florida State University concluded that what men think can impact what straight women think about the ideal female body and their own body size.
The study involved three different groups of heterosexual women who were presented with different photographs of women. Some photographs depicted models who were around sizes eight to 10 (amazingly dubbed “plus size” in the study), and others showed the same models digitally altered to be 30 percent thinner, what is typical of a super-thin model.
The different groups of women were told different things — for example, one group was told that men preferred the women who were “average sized” over the ultra-thin models. When the data was crunched after the study was over, the researchers discovered that these women reported more satisfaction with their own body size when compared to women who were told that men preferred the super-thin models (as well as those who weren’t told of any preference at all).
The experiment was duplicated, with an additional group of women brought in who were told about other women’s opinions. The results were the same, and they also found that women really didn’t care too much about what other women thought. Incidentally, the opinions of the “men” weren’t from actual men — the stats they presented to the research subjects were constructed for the study.
I’d venture to say that women want to be thin because they’d like to be thin, fit and healthy, but we can’t really discount the findings of this study. It’s discouraging, but not totally unexpected, and body image issues can start at a young age. With how women are presented in the media, it’s no surprise that gender roles become imprinted on the very small (for example, my 5-year-old daughter wanted to know why a woman was driving a truck the other day), and along with that, a composite image of “ideal” body type begins to form.