Beauty Redefined Blog

Sex Appeal and Thin Ideals: Are Men to Blame?


We know body hatred, self-objectification, disordered eating and cosmetic surgery are at all-time highs. So who is to blame for all the serious body image issues so rampant among girls and women today? Money? Media? Sexism? Psychological factors? While it’s likely a complicated combination of all of these, there’s another culprit that often receives the blame: MEN.

Under the belief that men are only interested in having model lookalikes and rail-thin trophy wives by their sides, too many women go to dangerous, unhealthy and exhausting extremes to become what they think men want. (And yes, I intentionally used the word “what” instead of “who.”) Whether it is disordered eating, exercise bulimia, life-threatening cosmetic surgery or just plain old body hatred that most girls and women live with on a daily basis, females are in an all-consuming battle for “beauty,” which today is equated with worthiness of male attention and sex appeal.

In media, male sex appeal is represented as being influenced by a huge variety of factors, such as humor, intelligence, charisma, athleticism, income, courage, etc., along with appearance. Female sex appeal is consistently and exclusively defined by appearance alone. That sucks. And though the body ideals perpetuated by media are frighteningly unrealistic, the promised reward of love and companionship that supposedly comes with attaining those ideals is all too real. Since the early days of mass media, the promise of love and desirability has been used by companies to sell everything from household appliances to cosmetics (think Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique”), and now it’s used to sell anything you can think of, either subtly or blatantly.

Happy, satisfying romantic relationships are a highly sought-after aspect of life, so it’s no wonder the promise of male attention and love is a dominant theme in media that flaunts idealized bodies and the strategies to get them.

Thin Ideals = Sex Appeal

And to complicate matters further, beauty ideals today are defined most prominently by thinness. Usually extreme thinness. Fitness magazines and others like Cosmo regularly equate thinness with not only health, but also sex appeal, as do an infinite number of entertainment media outlets and advertisers. Whether in blatant verbal terms or by the use of images or bodies that exclusively represent thin ideals, the idea that female attractivness is defined by thinness is so pervasive that it now goes unquestioned. This extreme thinness = sex appeal idea serves a very lucrative purpose in every industry that makes money off women’s body insecurity: cosmetics, plastic surgery, weight loss plans and pills, clothing, so-called fitness magazines, beauty, hair and skin care products, and any media supported by advertising dollars from these industries.

These companies rely on women believing that everything is at stake in fixing their “flaws” – from their health and happiness to their worth as women, but especially their ability to be loved by a man. But by convincing us all that only women with very thin, idealized bodies are good enough to catch and keep a man’s attention, they’re selling dangerous ideals while also perpetuating a myth about who is behind this whole thinness=attractiveness idea: it’s not about men. It’s about money.

Is This Really What Men Want?

Studies show over and over that women constistently overemphasize men’s preference for thin bodies, which helps to prove the thin ideal is really media’s ideal and not men’s. Some of these examples are scientific and rigorous, some are simple surveys, and some are scholarly hypotheses, but they’re all pretty revealing:

  • Numerous academic studies show that women overestimate the level of thinness desired by men. Past research has asked women to indicate the level of female thinness desired by men, and then separately measured men’s preferences for female thinness. Results overwhelmingly showed that compared to what women thought men wanted, men actually preferred a larger female ideal (1).
  • An August 2004 study published by Cosmopolitan magazine (of all sources!) declared that a full 61.6% of men preferred a “curvy” female body type with an average bust size, with 20.4% selecting “svelte with big breasts,” 11.6% for “model-thin and small-chested,” 4.7% “other” and 1.7% “big and bodacious.” Obviously, those aren’t clearly defined categories for scientific selection, but the clear winner remains.
  • Another 2008 study published in the UK magazine Fabulous showed that in surveys, the vast majority of women perceived the ideal body size as a size 6, while men believed the ideal female body looked like a size 10.
  • In The Evolution of Desire: Strategies for Human Mating, psychology professor David M. Buss (1994) points out how in massive studies of all ages, women chose slimmer-than-average physiques as the ideal for both sexes. But once again, when men selected a female physique that they perceived as most ideal, they chose a body type that was more average and larger than what was chosen by women.
  • A study reported in New Scientist revealed the body preferences of 100 men who were asked to rate the attractiveness of 200 female bodies of various sizes. The results showed that the men’s ideal most closely fit a normative body type represented by a U.S. size 10.

These examples help to refute the common belief among women that they need to achieve unrealistic thin ideals in order to be considered attractive to men. In all reality, those unnatural ideals benefit companies and not relationships. Too many industries thrive off women believing that they must continuously fix their “flaws” in order to be happy, healthy, successful and in this case, desirable or worthy of love. This is a lie. A profit-driven lie. Recognizing these dangerous messages found inside so many sources that claim to give women the tools to become sexy and successful is a major step toward rejecting them. We have to continuously reject harmful ideals that tell girls and women their sexuality, health and happiness is dependent upon whether or not they fit unrealistic beauty standards.

Andy Roddick, May 2007 Men’s Fitness. He said later: “I’m not as fit as the Men’s Fitness cover suggests…little did I know I have 22 inch guns and a disappearing birth mark on my right arm.”

Men Are Not Immune to Media Ideals

Interestingly, this for-profit lie isn’t reserved for just women. Scientific research has also discovered that men overestimate the degree of muscularity that women find attractive (2), assuming they need to have rock hard bodies and sport a six-pack to be found attractive. Just as so much research has demonstrated that females experience decreased body satisfaction after exposure to thin ideal media, studies also show that men’s body image satisfaction decreases after viewing images of the idealized male physique, such as in health and fitness magazines (3). Hand in hand with financial motivations, other factors are fueling the increasingly thinner female ideal and the increasingly muscular male ideal: competition for attention and selective media exposure. As proposed by David A. Frederick and several other scholars (2005), competitions for “prestige” in body shape often result in exaggeration of specific physical attributes over time as competitors strive to outdo one another. This idea also helps prove the power of media influence on our ideas of what is ideal and attainable, and on our own body dissatisfaction. Here is the UCLA scholars’ well-stated explanation of how this happens:

“The media highlights high-status individuals who display extreme versions of the bodily traits at issue, fueling prestige competition. In order to maintain their preeminence, celebrities must often work hard to manifest even more extreme versions of the attributes at issue. Similarly, magazines, videos, and TV programs frequently feature relatively unknown individuals who, because they display many other prestigious attributes (attractive faces, association with attractive members of the opposite sex, and a link to themes of sexual success), communicate the message that they possess a prestigious body form.”  Frederick et al., 2005

While the male examples of this phenomenon are hard to name outside of men’s health and fitness magazines (really – I can’t come up with any), the female examples of “otherwise relatively unknown individuals” who display extreme versions of body ideals and are constantly featured in media are endless: Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Heidi Montag, Nicole Ritchie, Kate Moss, every Victoria’s Secret and SI Swimsuit Issue model, almost every single fashion, fitness and lifestyle magazine, every TV program or publication that highlights “success stories” of celeb weight loss, body transformations, etc. Basically, ALL media is guilty of this obession with thin female bodies.

Thin Ideals and the Way We Feel

One of our 4 billboard images!

Weights and sizes of women featured in ALL media – from Playboy and Vogue to fitness magazines and primetime TV – have shrunk dramatically over the past several decades. Extensive research on 18 magazines read by adolescent girls shows that 87% of the female models shown in the pages were below average in weight – a proportion that grossly overrepresents the percentage of such bodies in the real world. Similarly, women’s magazines almost exclusively use models who are underweight, with a focus on products and articles that tell readers how to become thin, and a blatant emphasis on weight loss as the key to health, happiness and success in relationships (4). Even media and products aimed at 3 to 5-year-old girls are selling scary sexed-up thin ideals these days. Street advertising exposes people of all ages to harmful ideals all hours of the day. Since it’s rare to see an ad that does anything positive for female body image, we at Beauty Redefined have launched a campaign to raise money for billboards that promote positive body image across the U.S. We’ve already put up 13 of them from Utah to Pennsylvania and we’d love to put up more! If you can help, please do!

We can’t pretend like media’s constant connection between thinness and sex appeal isn’t influencing women in really scary ways. Whether it is in blatant discussion focusing on their bodies or by featuring such thin bodies so frequently (as almost all media are guilty of today), the appearance of extreme thinness has become the norm, and average-sized bodies have been become the abnormal.

  • The vast majority of girls and women now perceive underweight bodies and extremely low body weights as being ideally healthy (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 2007; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010; Wiseman et al., 2006)
  • Even underweight and average-weight females are striving for weight loss using dangerous and unhealthy means (Grabe et. al, 2008: Posavac, 1998; Eskes et al., 1998)
  • 66 % of adolescent girls wish they were thinner, though only 16 are actually overweight
  • 35 % of 6 to 12-year-old girls have been on at least one diet (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010).
  • More than half of adult women claim their bodies “disgust” them and 90 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance (Dove International, 2007)

If girls and women have such distorted ideas of what healthy and attractive is supposed to look like, then it’s pretty obvious males haven’t escaped these harmful messages about female bodies. Though the previously cited studies show promising differences between what women think perfect female bodies look like and what men think perfect female bodies look like, there’s still a big problem here. We can’t keep allowing female worth, health and desirability be defined by body size or shape.

One of our 4 billboard messages!

As long as media keeps perpetuating these myths about physical appearance, people are going to believe them. And as long as people keep believing that female desirability, worth and health are defined by thinness, media will keep perpetuating those myths. Clearly, this is a vicious cycle that is harming everyone in its path. Everyone. So what can we do to steer clear of its path and recognize its grasp on our thoughts and actions? A lot. Here are just a few strategies:

Unreal Ideals: Remember it is reasonable to assume no image we ever see of a woman in media has gone un-manipulated. Today, magazine editors refer to airbrushing as an industry standard. Plus, vertical film stretching to make women appear taller and thinner is a common technique, as are filtered lenses on cameras and soft lighting, which do away with wrinkles, pores, and other so-called “blemishes.” The next time you start comparing yourself to a woman in a magazine, remember that even she doesn’t fit the ideal she’s made to represent!

Go on a Media Fast: Choose a day, a week, a month, or longer to steer clear of as muchmedia as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic. One group of male college students in Utah went on a “media fast” for three months, and at the end of that time, they claimed they found the real women in their lives more attractive while they were on the fast, and continued to find them more beautiful once the fast was over.

The Power of Kindness: Choose to compliment the girls and women in your life for character traits, actions or talents you admire about them. The compliments that stick with you for a lifetime are often those that acknowledge your valuable qualities, like a good attitude, selflessness, talents, honesty and so much more than beautiful hair or a cute outfit.

RUN from Normalized Pornography: Depicting sexual images and dialogue is now a normal part of media all hours of the day, and it is presented as “safe” in advertisements, catalogs, TV shows, movies, men’s and women’s magazines, books, video games, websites, billboards, etc. Research is very clear that pornography changes the way men and women view each other, it gets in the way of us forming loving and healthy relationships, it skews our perceptions of attractiveness, our sense of self-worth, and our sense of others’ worth. Do not just walk away – RUN from it!

Object to Objectification: Girls and women exposed to sexually objectifying messages (which are inescapable in today’s media landscape) prove to experience body hatred, and both males and females learn to primarily view and value women for their outward appearance and actually endorsed objectifying images in the future. And a particularly scary fact is that research proves these harmful messages leave females preoccupied with their physical appearance, which then hurts their performance in school (including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills) and athletic activities. Yikes.

Be an Advocate: If our suggestion to turn away from media that degrades or otherwise hurts you is just not enough for you, consider your fierce influence as an advocate for women. When you come across a company’s advertising that fuels female insecurity or a magazine that objectifies women even as it claims to empower them, speak up! Blogging your disapproval is a great start, and so is posting links to news stories that reveal harmful ideals on social networking sites. Join us on our Facebook fan page for regular links to share and continue this conversation! We are currently working on raising money to promote positive messagse about female bodies on billboards across the country. If you can donate, please do!

Redefining Healthy: Getting back to reality involves figuring out what “health” really means – and it’s not what media shows us. For-profit media like fitness magazines or TV shows would have us believe health and fitness are all about what we look like, and any doctor can tell us that simply isn’t true. Talk to a doctor, nutritionist or other health specialist to figure out what healthy really means for you individually. Work with them to set healthy goals for yourself that aren’t based off profit-driven beauty ideals.

Emily, one of our 10 real, beautiful women who told the truth about weight.

Get back to Reality: Since we’ll see more images of women in one week of media viewing than we’ll probably ever see face to face, it’s important to give ourselves a reality check! When we look eye to eye with the women we know and love, we can remind ourselves what real women and real beauty look like. And this real definition of beauty is so much more than just looks! For a reality checkup, check out our project “Facts and Figures: 10 Girls Tell the Truth About Weight.”

Tell the Truth: Point out the difference between media representations of women’s bodies and real-life women’s bodies while watching TV or flipping through a magazine with friends or family. Saying these things aloud will help you train your mind and the minds of those you love to recognize what is real and what is far from the truth. Remember, honesty is always the best policy!

Be a Positive Example: Research and real-life experience make it clear that when women and girls speak negatively about their bodies and their appearance, they negatively impact those around them. That very much holds true for men and boys who make critical comments, whether jokingly or seriously, about real life women or media images. Start today with a goal that you will do your best to avoid saying anything negative about your appearance or other women’s appearances, either in your mind or aloud, and soon the negative self-talk that floats through your women’s minds will become less and less prevalent, too.

Be Critical of Media, Not Yourself or Others: While the U.S. is the No. 1 producer and exporter of media, we are also the only industrialized country in the world without some form of media literacy in public school curriculum. We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you and those you love!

  • Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media? Do you believe the females in your life would feel better or worse about themselves after viewing or hearing this media?
  • Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads and commercials and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
  • Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game or website you are viewing? (Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice)
  • Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time? Who are those messages promoting impossible ideals usually speaking to?
  • How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like the females in your life?

For more strategies to help take back beauty for ourselves, check out our list for girls and women and our list for boys and men.

By Lindsay Kite. 2011. “Sex Appeal and Thin Ideals: Are Men to Blame?” Published at March 15, 2011.

1) Prabu et al., 2003; Frederick et al., 2005; Cohn & Adler, 1992; Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Jacobi & Cash, 1994
2) Frederick et al., 2005; Oliviarda et al., 2004; Frederick & Haselton, 2003
3) Thompson & Heinberg, 1999; Botta, 2003; Morry & Staska, 2001

  1. Robert Mitchell
    Robert Mitchell03-16-2011

    Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

  2. Cristina

    I’m so glad I stumbled onto this website. The message you are pushing resonates with me as I’ve felt this way about media and it’s representation of women for years. To find my thoughts mirrored in your organization is gratifying and makes me hopeful that things might change for the better over time. Thank you thank you thank you!

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined02-07-2012

      Thank you so much, Christina! You should definitely be hopeful for the future. We are. You will help make sure it is more beautiful than the world is today!

    • dave

      Men are judged by our looks as much as women, look at the first thing a girlfriend will ask about a new man “is he cute”. We not only have to look good, but also have to generate money and provide protection. We have to lift weights , run, work hard on the job and take martial arts. Women just have to not eat if they got halfway lucky with the genes.
      The way men are protrayed in the media is usally dumb and bossed around by a superior woman, so it’s no easier there. If you want to look at who has it harder, just look at suicide, incarceration, victims of violence, victim or murder, killed on the job; all FAR MORE likely for men. Our leaders like Obama just saw a political advantage to be a “White knight” and favor women, who now take most spots in colege as well. That is what the election was about, biggest gender gap EVER, . Lifelong democrats voted for Trump because as men we want to be able to make a pass at a woman or make a joke at work and not get fired , arrested or have money extorted from us with a lawsuit.
      The tide has changed, it always does.

  3. Shae

    But… but… but… don’t MEN run most form of media? Aren’t they in control of what’s published, what’s filmed, etc? If so, then they are the ones to blame.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined02-07-2012

      You’re absolutely right that men dominate all media industries, but saying “men are to blame” is different than blaming the men who make the decisions for media. By blaming them as a gender, we alienate millions of good, ethical men who can help us in this fight against harmful messages. There’s a huge stereotype about these types of female-led movements that we’re man-haters, and that is absolutely not the case. We’re careful to avoid that label! But YES, the men who overwhelmingly dominate the media industry do share a heavy load of blame.

      • Archy

        Putting the blame solely on men would be silly. How many women are purchasing the products, the magazines that peddle the material, rewarding the industry with money? Both genders have responsibility in the mess.

        Advertising won’t change if their campaigns are rewarding with people purchasing the product, magazines won’t change if people continue to buy them so it’s about time everyone takes a bit of responsibility than simply blaming “the men” especially when there are quite a lot of females in the industries alongside the men.

        You have power with your money, use it for good and let the companies know why you won’t be buying their product. Get enough people onboard and you’ll really shake up the basket. It’s easy to blame “the men” but much harder to step up and take some of the blame if you’ve rewarded the industry with your attention and money.

  4. Lisa

    I’d like to “testify” about abandoning normalized forms of pornography, specifically women’s fitness magazines. I used to subscribe to the two probably best-known women’s fitness magazines, but decided to cancel to subscriptions about 4 years ago. I realized that these magazines were full of mostly, partially and sometimes fully naked women, many in highly unrealistic body condition (plus whatever photoshopping may have been applied). Instead of inspiring me, I realize they’d become the proverbial carrot in front of the cart that I could never reach. The images trounced any helpful content, often filling me with guilt, physical self-loathing, and a chronic sense of dissatisfaction. As your post notes all too well, how could I possibly be attractive to my husband, looking as I did? When I realized the thought cycle the magazines’ would induce, I also woke up to the messages that having these “fitness” magazines could have on my children (2 boys, 2 girls). My daughters could receive the same messages I had. My sons could easily come to believe that physical beauty & size was paramount in women. I don’t think these publications are evil, nor should they be the scapegoats of all things. But I can say that having them out of my life has helped. I would advise any woman to think twice about the content of the magazines she reads.

  5. Becca

    I wonder what positive women’s magazines there might be out there? Ones that show healthy women of ALL body types/sizes/colors, and one that promotes HEALTH and FITNESS in women, rather than THINNESS and PHOTOSHOPPEDNESS. Anyone know of any?

    If not, who wants to start one? I think Beauty Redefined should. :) I would subscribe to a women’s health magazine that showed beautiful NON-photoshopped women of all shapes and sizes, and talked about how to keep yourself healthy, both physically AND emotionally/mentally as a woman – basically a magazine teaching women to do these very things the Kite sisters are trying to teach us all. I LOVE health and fitness magazines – I like to get tips on healthy foods to eat, and how to work out so I can keep myself healthy and fit. But I, too, am concerned about the images in those magazines. It’s almost like a double standard – the magazines talk about how to prevent health problems, but at the same time show unrealistic images of women who, in order to be that size, are probably NOT actually healthy and probably have physical or mental health problems.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined02-07-2012

      Options are few and far between! Ms. Magazine is one of them, since they aren’t funded by advertising, so they aren’t required to uphold any type of beauty ideals. That makes the magazine extremely unique. For girls and teens, there are a couple of GREAT options: New Moon Girls ( and Bella (based in Australia but available internationally – amazing for teens. Absolutely the best, most professional, entertaining AND empowering magazine for females I’ve ever seen:

  6. SilverRain

    Considering I didn’t reach a size 10 until I was ten pounds UNDER the minimum recommended body weight range by the BMI*, I would say that size 10 is unrealistic for some of us!

    *In the interest of full disclosure, it wasn’t an eating disorder. It was an extremely active lifestyle, and I couldn’t keep the pounds on. Has never happened again before or since. -l-

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined02-07-2012

      Ugh, BMI is crap. Have you read my research on it? And we want to note that we don’t want to shame thinness in any way! (We’d never assume a thin person had an eating disorder, but your full disclosure is welcomed :) We don’t even want to promote a size 10 – or ANY other size – as an ideal. We’ve got to get past meaningless physical standards of beauty! We were hesitant to even share any numbers or sizes used in those studies, but they do show an alternative to what media sells as “ideal.”

  7. Angie

    I agree with Becca… I would totally subscribe to a Beauty Redefined magazine : ) I used to loooooove reading magazines, but over the last year I’ve stopped buying them because I felt they were contributing to my body-image issues.

  8. Jacob Edgel
    Jacob Edgel02-07-2012

    It feels good to have women share my view. Being a man I see the effects it has had on me and my lovely wife. As a man, those images are appealing. They are engineered to be that way. But they are absolutely false. Woman cannot obtain those bodies and maintain them without extreme diet and workout habits. Bottom line, they are not happy. Chasing a false sense of what womanhood is. They don’t understand their real worth. The main problem is women buy into it. They have nothing else to go off of. Self appreciation is not taught in any one of our schools. Women are more then sex objects and more then eye candy.

  9. Vincent

    The fashion model sizes are too unrealistic. Besides most men don’t like twiggy women. So who they are trying to appeal to I don’t know. The problem is women put too much stock in their looks as far as their self esteem goes. My self esteem comes from my religious beliefs in God instead of how attractive I think I may be to a female or how much money I have or the kind of job I have. I lost weight so I would feel better and look better. I also needed too because I had high BP and needed to get to get it under control.

    I know that I won’t look like the guys in the fashion magazines and I’m o.k. with that. I can only do what is physically possible for me. I don’t sit around all day and moan because I don’t look like the sexy hunk in the fashion mag. I know there are guys that do get depressed cause they can’t get the physique the fashion models have, but I have to be realistic. And that is the case with women.

    Don’t let t.v. or the fashion industry tell you what you should look like. Be realistic. Do your best to get into shape and be healthy for you for your own health sake. I did my own research to find out what to eat and the types of exercises that will benefit me. Everyone’s body is different. Be your own person instead of whining that you don’t look like JLO or for the guys who don’t look like Brad Pitt or the guys on Men’s Health, be your own person. Be your own hero. I joined and other free sites to find out how to lose weight and get into shape. I got lots of good free advice there too.

    • Vincent

      Besides who cares who is in charge of the advertising industry? Let’s face it- we’re adults and the kids who watch t.v. need adult supervision, by us who are the adults. Are we as “adults” going to jump off a building because it was suggested by someone on t.v.? Come on people- use your brains for something besides a hat rack. Be your own person- don’t be a drone- or a robot for God’s sake! I don’t need some spokes person model whatever telling me I need to look like so-in-so to be liked by the opposite sex. Don’t be so naive. Grow up! Let’s all just whine and boo hoo cause we feel bad about ourselves. Geez!

  10. Ashley Pariseau
    Ashley Pariseau02-11-2012

    Thin women tend to lead the glamorous lives, especially when they are thinner than normal thin every day women, but not thin enough to the point where they start looking gaunt. Examples are Paris Hilton, the Victoria’s Secret women, Megan Fox, the Olsen twins, etc. These body types are the ones getting the compliments from women, attention from men, and the highest paying acting and modeling job opportunities.

    Just yesterday I was on a forum where a 20 year old girl posted a thread asking if it looked like she gained weight because she was worried when her family stopped commenting on how thin she was and stopped trying to suggest she eat more. She talked as if she liked the special attention she received from her thinness, as it was validation to her that she was still thinner than a common every day thin girl. I asked her what her size was in numbers because she appeared in the photos she posted to be very close to my own size, and I was right. She was 5’2, 90 lbs, with a 32B bust, 23 inch waist, and 33 inch hip area, which is almost exactly what I am. I reassured her her that she still looked thin and fit, and she did. She basically looked like a supermodel (minus the height part).

    My point is that I think some girls like being known specifically for being among the thinnest of the people around them. It’s something that sets them apart and gets the attention. Even when other women react in disgust, that translates as jealousy to them, so they don”t even care if you think they look “scary”….if anything it just feeds their egos. They don’t want to be normal or average. And men still love it too. Even though a lot of men will claim they like women with meat on their bones, they are still attracted to those skinny girls.

  11. Paula

    I love this article. Have any of you ever noticed most of the thin supermodels modeling famous designer clothes are rail thin and have similiar body dimensions to young men? Except for perhaps an A-cupbra size. It is strange. Who designs their clothes lines for adolescent young boys i mean women with breast.

  12. JP

    I’m glad that I found your website as I was browsing around the web looking for body image for a paper that I am working on! I have been both at a normal weight for my size and at a typical supermodel weight (skin and bones). I am 5’4″ tall and previously weighed around 120 lbs and loved the way that I looked…I felt good at that weight and while I was not super-thin, I was in shape and felt good about myself. I didn’t want to be super-skinny, and have always thought that a woman’s body is supposed to have curves despite what I see in the media messages. I developed adult onset epilepsy out of nowhere in 2010 and one of the medications I was put on caused me to drop from 120 lbs down to 92 lbs in 3 months without changing my exercise frequency or eating habits!! I have managed through weight training and increased healthy calorie intake to get my weight up to 98 lbs, but I am still very thin. The only thing that saves me from looking like a skeleton is that I have a very small build and I tend to prefer looser clothing. I got the most compliments on how I looked at 120 lbs from men; now I get a lot of compliments from women about how they wished they looked like me. I encourage them to be happy with their size. It’s just scary to me that the images from the media have convinced so many women that it is desirable to be 15+ pounds underweight. At least now I have a website that I can send them to when the next one tells me she wants to weigh 98 lbs, too…

  13. Steve

    Problem is you keep comparing a size 6 to a size 10. If the obesity numbers are correct, a size 10 is also becoming quite rare. Most men with overweight wives/girl friends would be quite pleased if they dropped down to a size 10.

    These blogs are written by women. As a man, I can tell you that regardless the media campaigns, most men are sexually more attracted to a particular body shape (not too thin or too heavy). Simply calling an obese woman beautiful (which she may be in many respects) will not make her as sexually attractive to the majority of men as the size 10 woman.

  14. Steve

    I’ve thought about it and I think in some ways what we are attracted to is youthfulness. We find men with hair more attractive than bald men; we find people with wrinkles less attractive than those without. In the same way, in most cases, being thinner makes people look younger. If you look at before-and-after photos, I would guess that four out of five times, the individual looks younger after losing weight.

  15. Bob Van Gunten
    Bob Van Gunten04-27-2012

    If signals from men, media, fashion industry etc. are trying to influence women to be thin then they are failing and quite miserably so, at least in the last few decades which have seen skyrocketing obesity and general overweight in both genders. What was once considered to be a normal body mass is now considered unusually thin in contrast to todays new “norm”. YES there are those who are obsessively and dangerously thin, but to blame it on outside pressure to do so is an over simplification which clouds the issue. Also, WHO do we blame for the increasing average weight in this country (go to any foreign country and you will be taken back by the low incidence of overweight people) and actual morbid obesity? There MUST be an outside influence!!! I mean, women DON’T make bad choices unless coerced by men, RIGHT???
    Point #2 is that men I have met are not interested in seeing women who are unhealthy in either way…neither unhealthily thin nor unhealthily overweight. When I was a teenager in the 60’s, majority of people were at healthy weights which is rare today and seen by some as “thin”. Please, can we stop the extremes of either and just eat with common sense???? It shouldn’t be that hard….

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined04-30-2012

      Bob, your view on men/media/fashion failing to promote thinness in the actual population is a common one. It seems logical to think that the pervasive increase in images of thin women across all media sources over the past few decades would lead to a thinner population, but it actually has a contradictory effect for many women. We see that the intense focus on thinness for women has contributed to driving women to extremes in how they treat their bodies — some girls and women see those thin ideals and believe they can get there if they skip enough meals, run long enough and have enough self-control, and that thinking leads many females (and increasingly males) to disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders. On the other end of that spectrum, many girls and women see the stark difference between media ideals and their own bodies and experience increased body shame and dissatisfaction. It’s a well-proven fact that body shame is rampant among women and girls of all ages, and it has a terribly negative effect on a woman’s health. When someone feels terrible about her body (especially in a culture that often values womens solely for their appearance), she’s much more likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle, engage in unhealthy eating habits like binge eating, and avoid physical activity due to feeling “too fat to exercise” and fear being looked at and judged by others. You can see how the excessive focus on thinness in profit-driven mass media could have a negative impact on a population. Your comment that “women DON’T make bad choices unless coerced by men, RIGHT???” is a direct contradiction to everything I wrote in this piece. And your 2nd point aligns with my work. We’re entirely opposed to the extremes in diet and exercise that are affected by unrealistic thin ideals and the objectification of women in mass media. For more information on our stance on health, including healthy weight, see this post:

      • Grackle

        Excellent response.

  16. david

    it has to do with stimulus struggle(seen in birds also) women have red lips, this is seen as a sex signal, women then accentuate this with lipstick (known as a super stimulus), overtime the accentuated red lips become the new normal. and the normal lips don’t look so hot, then the red lipstick is the new normal so they start making neon sparkly lipstick to further the stimulus. Okay now apply that to media getting more and more sensational, women getting pushed to thinner and thinner, men getting pushed to look like chiseled marble and have tattoos and trashy clothes, or expensive luxury goods, athletes pushed to be larger and on performance enhancing drugs. To read about this, there is a book by Desmond Morris called the Human Zoo, it is an easy read though I fear the internet has ruined much of our cultures taste for books. i am a male by the way.

  17. Crystal

    Thank you for having the courage to take a strong stand as advocates for women and girls everywhere! As a photographer, I’d just like to point out that “film stretching” and “airbrushing” really aren’t used anymore- it’s all digital now. Which I think is even more dangerous, because it can look THAT much more realistic. There is a software that is advertised widely for portraits called Portrait Professional, and their ads always make me SO sad. They take normal, lovely women and make them look like CG ideals. If you look them up, it’s a great example of what is widely done and accepted in the photography community. I edit my photos to a particular style, and I color correct, but my husband and I committed this year to refraining from photoshopping signs of life from our clients. We see ourselves as family historians, and we like the idea of capturing people as they ARE- and they are beautiful.

  18. Richard

    Firstly I’d like to complement you on an article which doesn’t try and force too much blame on men or patriarchy for this sort of thing, does emphasise that most men don’t like the sort of unnaturally thin waists so often typified by media ideals (looking at that silhouette at the top of the page, I thought- yuck! That looks like someone who almost has been forced into that shape in an almost disfiguring way, it looks so unnatural and somehow wrong) and at least mention how pressure is put on men to look a certain way, at least to an extent.

    To blame the purveyors of media disproportionately however is perhaps wrong- they are under a mandate to maximise profit and shareholder value, not to uphold social good in so doing, and therefore will do whatever they can to this end, even if it means playing up to audience insecurities, if not expectations. The whole thing is a self-reinforcing feedback loop, if you ask me- audience thinks a certain way, media capitalises on that, re-enforcing the way the audience might have thought to begin with.

    Perhaps the media has influenced these ideals of physical attractiveness on what men themselves see in a woman, even if it’s not to the extent percieved by some. So, whilst we cannot naturally like the “Barbie-doll” style proportions and whatever else you might name not to do with figure, we might still have unrealistic expectations and not appreciate real women for what they are. And ignore the fact that ideals and reality are going the other way (obesity seems to be on the increase despite thinness prevailing in the media?) Also, as to the “normalised pornography”, who consumes that? Erm… mostly us men. So I suppose we are partly to blame. Indeed, we are ALL to blame, but I’ll not get too far into that. If each of us swept before our own door, the whole world would be clean…

    • Grackle

      The fault DOES lie with the Patriarchy, though. The thing that some people don’t understand is that “men” and “the Patriarchy” are not mutually inclusive. All of us, regardless of gender, were born into this crappy system through no fault of our own. The difference is that men lucked out a bit by being born male, so although living in a patriarchy screws them over, it screws women over more. Men also get more benefits as a result of this system. But that doesn’t mean that men ARE the Patriarchy–to believe that, you’d have to believe that men are, at a basic level, evil and violent, which is moronic. Very few of even the most radical feminists would agree with that idea.

  19. Deanna Kate
    Deanna Kate07-30-2013

    What I told my daughter as she was growing up was this. I pointed out how much money models make and told her they were paid that much because they were rare, that rarity was often a basis for something being worth a lot. And I told her they were rare because they were simply genetic freaks of nature. I also explained that the people paying them that much were doing so in order to get us to pay for their products, and to make us feel that we needed their products in order to feel whole and satisfied.

    The perspective seems to have work. While I (who grew up with a slender mother who commented negatively on how overweight the world was becoming) was bulemic as a teenager and young adult, my daughter has reached adulthood being quite happy with who she is.

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