There was a fascinating study done on attraction and body image in 1985 titled Sex Differences In Perceptions of Desirable Body Shape. To be honest, I wish it was mandatory reading and discussion in school no later than 8th grade.
The gist goes like this:
248 male and 227 female undergraduates were asked to look at the drawings I’ve shared here and indicate “their current figure, their ideal figure, the figure that they felt would be most attractive to the opposite sex, and the opposite sex figure to which they would be most attracted.”
In other words, the women looked at the female drawings and asked themselves:
- Which one do I look like?
- Which one do I wish I looked like?
- Which one do men find most attractive?
Then they looked at the male drawings and and asked themselves:
- Which one do I find most attractive?
The men did the same thing, asking themselves the same questions, but with the genders reversed. The figure below shows the results. Take a look and then I’ll explain, just in case it isn’t entirely clear.
(A quick point that isn’t demonstrated in this image is that women were considerably more likely than men to estimate their current weight as heavier than what they really weighed. The assumption we can make from this is that these women saw themselves as heavier than they really were.)
First and most glaring, the women don’t seem to have any idea what men really find attractive. This is no small issue! If every young girl in the world could have this drilled into her head right after puberty, think of the heartache and anxiety it would relieve. We have talked about this attraction thing at length, but this one point alone could change the course of so many lives. If the undergraduates in this study can be considered an accurate sample, women are going through life thinking that men are looking for waifs and it just isn’t true. In fact, the men said they liked women a touch heavier than the average current weight of the women in this study!
Interestingly, what men think they look like, what they want to look like, and what they think women want them to look like are all basically the same. In other words, they appear to be looking at their bodies (at least at the undergraduate age) and thinking, “I’m good.”
Some will cry, “Society does this!!” But I’m not exactly sure. I agree that the images in marketing and the media are hard on women, but I think that all women must also see the real people around them and not find evidence for their assumptions. If men are picking women with the body shapes they are attracted to, and if those women are bigger than what women want to look like, where is the evidence for women to believe that they need to be smaller? “It’s in the media, Jason!!” Okay, but men aren’t dating media, they’re dating the women you actually see them with.
Let me say this a different way. A billboard or magazine ad cannot snatch your dream guy away from you. Only a real woman can do that. When men pursue the body shapes they find attractive, you might lose your dream guy to a woman who is smaller than you, but she is not likely to be a waif. With this information surrounding women throughout their lives, it should become irrational to want to be skinny. Yet that is what women profess to wanting when we look at the data.
This brings me to my second takeaway from this paper. Sadly, women judge what they believe that men find attractive as thinner than the reality, but then they go on to wish that they were even thinner than that! For someone like me, a guy who spends his time trying to help women get healthy and fit while learning how to love their amazing bodies, I find this completely maddening!! This isn’t just about trying to make you love yourself enough to change for the right reasons. It’s first and foremost about a complete perspective shift.
The MASSIVE problem behind the data in this study is that these young women had bodies that were just fine the way they were, but if we were to find these same women today, I’d bet my bottom dollar that most of them would be overweight. Why? Because they disliked what they saw in the mirror back in 1985 and most of them probably tried to change. How does the average woman attempt to lose weight? She restricts calories and does cardio. This eventually damages her metabolism (slows her thyroid) and she slowly gains fat despite all the starvation and running. What wasn’t actually a problem becomes one and decades of anxiety and desperation ensue. And it all makes me want to scream.
Women, if you are typical, your perspective is off when it comes to your own body. PLEASE try to see this. Take some time to REALLY think about it. You’re suffering at your own hands and there is no need for it. I don’t care who you are, right at this very moment, with no effort on your part at all, I can GUARANTEE you that you have traits that are extremely attractive. I can also guarantee you that your own opinion of how your body looks is not relevant and what other people think of your body is none of your damn business! Spend enough time convincing yourself that you are unattractive and you will become someone who repels others with the look on your face, the slump of your shoulders, the weary and untrusting look in your eyes. NONE OF THIS MEANS YOU ARE AREN’T PRETTY!! It just means you look miserable.
Now stand up, give yourself a good kick in the rear, smile, hold your head high, and go forth and be awesome!! Do it, or I swear to Zeus I will come find you and shake you by the shoulders.