Mental Health

What Men Want: Women’s Body Image Largely Influenced By False Assumptions Of Male Opinion

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What men think about women's bodies matters a lot, at least to women. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

According to a recent study, women’s self-esteem regarding their body is largely influenced by male opinion, regardless of who the male is. This finding, although depressing, is not exactly what one would call a ground-breaking discovery. What is surprising, though, is that despite all this female preoccupation with what type of body most men prefer, the truth is men aren’t really all that bothered with a woman's actual size.

Female Self-Esteem

In a study now published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers devised a way to measure how much a female’s self-esteem was influenced by male opinion without having to ask her directly. For the study, the researchers asked 74 heterosexual female undergraduates to look at images of models ranging in sizes from 8 to 10. These body types were chosen because they are larger than the average size 2 model and were thought to best represent the average female undergraduate's size. The mean age of the volunteers was 18, and 73 percent identified themselves as white.

The women were told that they were taking part in a study on the attractiveness of the female’s body and were asked to rate how attractive they found the images. One group was told that the images were chosen because men had found them to be attractive. Another group was told that the images were randomly taken from the media. In a second experiment, a group of women were told that men prefer ultra-thin women. After being shown the images, the women were asked to report their weight satisfaction.

Unsurprisingly, the women who were told that the images represented women deemed to be beautiful by a panel of ( completely fictional) men reported the highest weight satisfaction. Women who were told nothing about the images scored the same as those who were told that men preferred thin women, a result which surprised the researchers.

“We did not expect women who were led to believe that men desired the ultra-thin women would necessarily feel worse about their bodies than the women who were not given any information,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The overall results suggest that women are really concerned with what men think about their bodies, so much so that the opinion of an unknown and unseen male can completely change how they feel about themselves. But is all this concern a bit unnecessary? In an email to Medical Daily, lead researcher Dr. Andrea Meltzer explained her take on the results.

“I don't know that the association between women's body esteem and men's preferences is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing,” Meltzer said. “First, it is just one factor (out of many) that influences women's body image. Second, men's preferences are likely important to heterosexual women because they are interested in attracting men for potential relationships…”

Although the preoccupation with men’s opinion is understandable, many studies suggest it’s unnecessary.

What Men Want

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Iowa, found that the number one “essential trait” that men look for in a female partner is mutual attraction and love, LiveScience reported. Yes, it’s true. Men just want someone to love them. As part of the same study, researchers in Iowa found that men are becoming more interested in intelligence and financial stability, and less interested in chastity. And although men still label beauty as a “preferred trait,” this doesn’t exactly mean thin.

According to The Huffington Post, women constantly and consistency overestimate male preferences for slender figures, which is interesting because, evolutionarily speaking, women should be able to discern what body type men are most attracted to. This would allow them to strive to achieve this size and increase their chances of reproducing. But with the mysterious human species, this is not the case. However, researchers believe it's media, not nature, that’s to blame for this.

The truth is, there is no “ideal” female body size in the eyes of men. Men typically prefer a woman with a certain waist to hip ratio, but this does not mean that she has to be a certain size to obtain it. At the end of the day, each man has his own personal preference for what he finds to be attractive.

Source: Meltzer AL, McNulty JK. Telling Women That Men Desire Women With Bodies Larger Than the Thin-Ideal Improves Women’s Body Satisfaction. Social Psychological & Personality Science. 2015.

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