The body’s image is a reflection of how people feel about their body aesthetically and how attractive they perceive themselves to be. We can trace how humans put so much importance on beauty throughout history. But is it true that our current society’s standards do not have any effect on our perception of our own body?
Body image is defined as the subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established by both self-observation and influenced by noting the reaction of others.
In psychology and medicine, this refers to the person’s emotional attitudes, perceptions and beliefs regarding his or her own body. Being dissatisfied with one’s body is a precursor for negative self-worth and self-perception and the cause of somatoparaphrenia, body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and body integrity identity disorder. The higher the dissatisfaction over their body, the higher is the risk factor for these problems.
We often think of body image as only affecting women, but in reality, these issues affect men’s self-esteem and health as well. It has downed on men that, contrary to the myth that men are visual people while women are more attracted on men’s intellect, women like to look too. Today’s generation of women have become more open in ogling men in the way they also have been drooling over women and this has a certain effect on their security issues. Suddenly it is not just the women suffering from eating disorders but it has also taken its toll on men, with body dysmorphia and liposuction already on the rise.
Ideal Body Image: The Tug Of War Over Our Satisfaction And Dissatisfaction
We live in an image-conscious society. How we imagine others might see us influence our individual notation of body image and this feeling can either be extremely negative to very positive.
A person’s ideal body image represents the ideal that one seeks to emulate, may it be that of a celebrity, a fashion model, a fitness instructor or other role models. One’s perception of his personal body image being similar to one’s concept of an ideal body image brings about satisfaction. When one’s body image differs from what he perceives is ideal or once his own subjective feelings of dissatisfaction over his own physical appearance wins, dissatisfaction develops.
Overall perception may just be certain parts of our body that we like or dislike – and this shows in how comfortable we feel, how much control we initiate, how much agility we demonstrate and how attractive we become.
Culture – and not just exposure to magazines, TV, the Internet, radio, music and the like – contributes to how a person’s body image develops over time.
Studies show that children whose family are involved in physical exercises and put weight on the importance of healthy living tend to develop a more positive body image as opposed to those who get no support or experience strong pressure to achieve the ideals of being “thin and beautiful”.
Aside from our families, the circle of friends and our community as a whole conveying negative and positive messages about our body continuously, age is also a contributing factor. We change our body image as we go through several milestones starting from prepubescent childhood, puberty, menopause/andropause to old age. Emotions and illnesses also play a role.
The Change of “Ideal” Body Image Over Time
When we sit down to watch models on the catwalk, actresses on television, or ads on magazine centerfolds modeling clothes, cosmetics, and foods, we increasingly tend to find lean to ultrathin bodies. Most of them are 15% or less thin than their body weight with respect to their height (or age).
Constant exposure to this also changes what is ideal and beautiful to the society and promotes an irrational fear of being fat and ugly. Over time, this can increase the number and the age range of men and women who are not satisfied with their body shape, their body weight, and people who have distorted beliefs about how they look.
For instance, what type of body image is projected from the first moment our kids first got introduced to dolls? The Barbie Doll, for example, which has seen a lot of variations from the time it was first introduced in 1959, has always had “too much of a figure” that parents were even initially wary of introducing it to their children. From its stylish clothing and expensive accessories, make-up, bee-stung lips, peek eyebrows, heavy eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, hoop earrings, sunglasses to its shapely body, “Barbie represented all that a woman could be and more; she was famous, wealthy, and popular”. Similar dolls are now being manufactured by others, but the small waist, elongated neck, large breasts of these dolls could never mirror the physique of an average woman.
Young boys may also perceive the tall and slim physical profile of the male GI Joe dolls as their ideal body image. They appear tall, slim and muscular such as Batman action-figure dolls. Like Barbie dolls, this physique may also be unachievable during maturity and can affect their perception of ideal or normal.
All these have increasingly developed tendencies of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders among men and women adolescents. This has also increased the demand for weight-loss products, steroids and plastic surgery. When ideals and perceptions of the standards in the society become too difficult to achieve, people tend to develop emotional problems, body shame and other behavioural disorders.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all other mental illnesses and statistics show a very alarming figure. Musicians, models, ballet dancers, gymnasts, poets and commoners fell victims of this such as Karen Carpenter, Ana Carolina Reston, Isabella Caro, Margaux Hemmingway, Heidi Guenther, Leila Pahlavi and Anne Sexton.
Some Men Love Big Women, Just As Some Women Love Big Men
Generally speaking, a man’s subconscious mind also associates curves to a woman’s ability to conceive children. Their wider hips and bigger breasts are more capable of doing this compared to a super-slim, streamlined woman’s that isn’t as well-endowed. Curves makes them look like women – it means they take care of their bodies. They are soft, cushioned and thus more huggable – all the more reason why men drool when imagining them in bed.
If you are a man with extra pounds and view this as a total liability, think again. For women, there is something about large men that women find comforting. They think you can provide more, and you know how to enjoy life; you subconsciously remind her of her dad; you help her insecurity by making her feel more petite, and it makes her feel she is less susceptible to mate-poaching by other women.
Acceptance of the fact that most women could not really measure to some “ultra thin” expectations and to what most consider the perfect body-mass index (BMI) is the number of women around the world who hailed a photo of curvy mannequins wearing skimpy lingerie on the Internet from one of the department stores. It has garnered almost 50,000 likes (and counting) and was shared almost 15,000 times which is considered a “lot of attention for a hunk of fiber glass and plastic.” Most mannequins we see around us have tiny proportions and have long been critiqued for not reflecting the actual wide range of sizes and shapes of most women.
Confidence is an important matter for both genders. Confidence make them better lovers regardless of what shape they are.
Is it possible to infer a man’s personality based on his size preference on certain body parts? The answer is yes. Jerry Wiggins and Judith Cohen Conger from the University of Illinois made a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and found out something interesting among 95 male undergraduate college students who were shown a series of 105 pairs of nude female silhouettes with variations in the size of breasts, buttocks and legs.
In this study, they noted that men often refer to themselves as either “breast men” or “ass men” and according to their findings, men who have a preference for large breasts, large buttocks, and large legs as those who have a “need for achievement” while those who prefer small breasts, small buttocks and small legs are those who are “not cynical about authority and reported coming from an upper-class background.” The preference for the standard figure are associated with “heterosexuality and a tendency to be disorganized in personal habits.” They also have different findings for men with preferences on only certain body parts.
I would say that because of the relatively small number of respondents in the study and the fact that it was conducted in the 60’s made it less significant in drawing conclusions that we could concretely associate with modern-day male influences and character, but the study really has a strong entertainment value.
Does It Matter?
Let’s not be unfair. Not all sexes prefer the same size. There are men who like large breasts and hips – just as others are after the thin, anorexic or the completely opposite large ones. This goes the same for women’s preference towards men: it’s varied. In fact, for some, size does not even matter.
Physical attraction is just a temporary thing. It is difficult to quantify. Each of us has developed our own standards over time – and there are studies that prove how easily we shift these standards based on our family and friends, our culture and society including the media. Haven’t you wondered how for others the hourglass figure which was once coveted has fallen to the wayside in favour of the overall lean figure?
Surprisingly, it may not have anything to do with the body at all. It’s having a strong sense of self-worth that goes beyond the physical aspect.
Remember, if it’s only about being more attractive or sexy, we should not be pressured to strive to be of a particular size.
We should know, lasting relationships are not based on appearance alone but in the overall persona that includes character, health, simplicity, attitude and compassion, among other things.
True beauty shines like a beacon from inside out.
Never lose the essence of what really makes you uniquely attractive.
What Makes a Woman Beautiful
- Pierce Brosnan – By Rita Molnár (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
- Jamie Foxx – Georges Biard [CC-BY-SA-3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
- Karen Carpenter – By FP_Carpenters_1.jpg: Unknownderivative work: TheCuriousGnome (FP_Carpenters_1.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL , via Wikimedia Commons