A new study appearing in the journal Body Image shows that women evaluated as less attractive than their husbands feel more pressure to diet and be thin than women deemed more attractive than their husbands.
“The results reveal that having a physically attractive husband may have negative consequences for wives, especially if those wives are not particularly attractive,” said doctoral student Tania Reynolds at Florida State University (FSU).
As for men, however, their motivation to diet was low regardless of their wives’ attractiveness or their own.
The findings offer interesting insights into a relationship dynamic in which a woman fears she will fall short of her partner’s expectations. Understanding certain social factors which may increase a woman’s risk of developing eating disorders and other health problems could lead to earlier interventions.
“The research suggests there might be social factors playing a role in women’s disordered eating,” Reynolds said. “It might be helpful to identify women at risk of developing more extreme weight-loss behaviors, which have been linked to other forms of psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and dissatisfaction with life.”
The new findings add to existing research from the same research lab showing that marriages tend to be more successful and satisfying when wives are more attractive than their husbands.
“In order to better understand women’s dieting motivations, the findings of this study highlight the value of adopting an approach that focuses on a couple’s relationship,” said Dr. Andrea Meltzer, an assistant professor of psychology at FSU.
For the study, the researchers examined 113 newlywed couples — married less than four months, average age late 20s, living in the Dallas area — who agreed to be rated on their attractiveness.
Each participant answered several questions focusing in part on their desire to diet or have a thin body. Some questions included, “I feel extremely guilty after eating,” “I like my stomach to be empty,” and “I’m terrified of gaining weight.”
A full-body photograph was taken of every participant and rated on a scale of 1 to 10. Two teams of undergraduate evaluators studied the photos: one at Southern Methodist University in Texas focused on spouses’ facial attractiveness, while another at FSU looked at body attractiveness. The evaluators varied in sex and ethnic makeup.
According to Reynolds, some research has shown that women tend to overperceive just how thin their partners want them to be and, as a result, may inappropriately pursue dieting and a thin figure.
“One way to help these women is for partners to be very reaffirming, reminding them, ‘You’re beautiful. I love you at any weight or body type,’” Reynolds said. “Or perhaps focusing on the ways they are a good romantic partner outside of attractiveness and emphasizing those strengths: ‘I really value you because you’re a kind, smart and supportive partner.’”
Next, Reynolds would like to explore whether women are more motivated to diet when they are surrounded by attractive female friends.
“If we understand how women’s relationships affect their decision to diet and the social predictors for developing unhealthy eating behaviors,” Reynolds said, “then we will be better able to help them.”
Source: Florida State University
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