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Mental & Emotional Health

Curvy Women Happier When Told That Men Desire Their Body Type

Women who are told that men desire larger-body women who aren’t model-thin are happier with their weight, according to a series of studies published online in January 2015 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Results of three independent studies suggest a woman’s body image is strongly linked to her perception of what she thinks men prefer, said lead researcher and social psychologist Andrea Meltzer, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

How women perceive men’s preferences influenced each woman’s body image independent of her actual body size and weight.

A release from the university quotes Meltzer, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at SMU, as saying, “On average, heterosexual women believe that heterosexual men desire ultra-thin women. Consequently, this study suggests that interventions that alter women’s perception regarding men’s desires for ideal female body sizes may be effective at improving women’s body image.”

The findings could have significant implications for women’s health and well-being, Meltzer said.

Prior research has shown that women satisfied with their body and weight tend to eat healthier, exercise more, and have higher self-esteem. They also tend to avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive dieting and eating disorders, and they suffer less from depression.

In contrast, other research has demonstrated that women unhappy with their body and weight have less sex, less sexual satisfaction, and less marital satisfaction.

“It is possible that women who are led to believe that men prefer women with bodies larger than the models depicted in the media may experience higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression,” Meltzer said.

A total of 448 women participated in the three studies, conducted by Meltzer and co-author James K. McNulty, Florida State University.

The authors note that prior research has shown that women who watch TV and read more fashion magazines are less satisfied with their weight and have a poor body image.

Meltzer and McNulty wanted to test whether a woman’s feelings about her own weight would be influenced if she viewed images of larger-bodied women when told they were judged attractive by men.

Women’s weight satisfaction improved after image manipulation exercise

In all three studies, female participants viewed images of female models with bodies larger than the thin-ideal wearing a variety of clothing, ranging from typical street clothes to bathing suits. In each image, the models’ heads were cropped so participants wouldn’t be influenced by facial attractiveness. The women in the images were cataloged by participants as ranging in U.S. clothing size from 8 to 10, which is slightly smaller than the average for American women, size 12-14, but larger than model-thin, typically size 2-4.

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