New research shows that negative body image and eating disorders in women could be tied to men’s perception of beauty. Women who believe that men desire women who have larger bodies are happier with their weight.
Three independent studies have shown that a women’s body image is strongly tied to what she thinks men like. This lends more credence to the call by many ED campaigners to stop using models that are far thinner than the average woman. The research could also lead to a form of intervention or other treatment for poor body image focused on changing what women think men want.
If such a treatment were available it could help many women struggling with body image and eating disorders according to the research. This is because women who are satisfied with their body image are statistically more likely to eat healthy, exercise and have high self-esteem.
"On average, heterosexual women believe that heterosexual men desire ultra-thin women," said Meltzer, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at SMU. "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." Meltzer added, “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."
This research strengthens many critics’ arguments about the role of advertising and other media in women’s mental health. By constantly showing women with unhealthy weights and unachievable bodies, society may be doing serious damage to people’s body image. More importantly, if changing the way the media portrays women is made a priority, it could do more than just improve body image. Many eating disorders are triggered by poor body image and a shift in the way women are portrayed could lower the total number of people struggling with an ED.