By guest bloggers Angie Bohnen and Laura Walters from the family life class.
(Part one of two)
Sociology of Family Life began with probably the most interesting topic to present day college students, sex. David Buss, in The Evolution of Desire, introduced us all to sex. A more intricate form of sex than what was learned in elementary school, Buss informs us of the development of sex, starting with our ancestors. One sub-theme explored in the book is what men want. Buss makes it clear that men want beauty and that all men have standards of what beautiful is. Beauty encompasses many characteristics such as full lips, lustrous hair, clear and smooth skin, and body shape. The idea of body shape is of utmost importance in today's society due to the alarming rate of females who partake in eating disorders in response to the sociocultural pressures that emphasize small equals beautiful.
Body shape and size are the most variable characteristics of beauty and vary from culture to culture. For example, some cultures view beauty in the form of a plump body rather than a slim body. In the United States, the rich distinguish themselves through a thin body. Men have evolved to prefer women with features of status, and thus have developed the mentality to seek thinness. There are huge discrepancies, however, as to what women think men want and what men actually look for in women. In chapter three, Buss cites a study performed by Paul Rozin who investigated women’s and men's perceptions of the desirability of plump versus thin body types. Women were asked to indicate their ideal body image and the ideal body image that men want. Women consistently chose images that were thinner than average. These results indicate that women believe that men desire thin women. Another study that investigated these differences was that of Drs. Wendy Stuhldreher and William Ryan (1999). The researchers analyzed the actual and ideal body images of undergraduate college women. The conclusions of their study showed the same female gender pattern. This pattern was that women not only perceived themselves as being heavier than they wanted to be, but also thought of themselves as heavier than what men found attractive. What the women did not know was that the undergraduate men in the study were actually attracted to a heavier figure than what the women chose to be ideal.
Distortion in women's body image is an extremely important health concern. Mossavar-Rahmani, Pelto, Ferris and Allen (1996) found a positive correlation between inaccuracy of body size and dieting. Women who think they are bigger than what they are tend to diet more frequently. Further conclusions of the Stuhldreher and Ryan study include patterns of women wanting to lose weight, recent dieting to lose weight, avoiding fast food, and avoidance of high fat foods. Also common to those who wanted to lose weight was the use of diet pills, laxatives, and purging after meals.
It has been discovered that distortions in body size and shape begin to develop in childhood. It has been documented that young girls favor more thin bodies and adjust their eating towards that form. Gustafson-Larson and Terry (1992) found that 60% of fourth grade girls wanted to be thinner and participated in weight-related behaviors. As a result, some of these girls will inevitably develop anorexia or bulimia later in their lives. Why does this happen though? Certainly, it must not come from the male population as reported studies have shown that men prefer a heavier body type than the actual ideal form that women choose. Men actually tend to like what women most dislike.
[The cited articles are:
Stuhldreher, W and Ryan, W. Factors Associated with Distortion in Body Image Perception in College Women. American Journal of Health Studies. 1999; 15:8-13.
Mossavar-Rahmani, Y, Pelto, G. H., Ferris, A. M. & Allen, L. H. (1996). Determinants of
body size perceptions and dieting behavior in a multiethnic group of hospital staff
women. Journal of The American Dietetic Association, 96(3), 252-256.
Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]