Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Men Really Want

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.]

11 comments:

Ken Lammers said...

I must say this is true. There was a young lady whom I liked but was never attracted to because she was far too skinny. We went our separate ways for a couple years and then met again. She was working insane hours, didn't have the time to work out like she did when we were in school, and had gained at least 15 pounds. 15 very attractive pounds.

Of course, she got paranoid about it and even hired a personal trainer, getting back down to where she'd been previously. Personally, I thought it was a mistake, but how do you tell her that? No matter how you say it, it's going to sound like "Honey, I preferred it when you were fat."

Gruntled said...

Too skinny interferes with having babies. Surely that message will resonate with most women.

Stuart Gordon said...

So what is the source of the misperception? Women themselves? "The media?" I sense that women compete with one another not for the attention of men, but for the envy of other women. That may be a horribly sexist notion, but who is that buys the fashion and lifestyle magazines? Why does this misperception continue to fuel the diet industry? (I realize, quite soberly, that eating disorders have much to do with self-control, and perhaps little to do with men's or other women's perceptions.)

Gruntled said...

I don't know the whole answer, but I do think the fashion industry is partly to blame. At the core of that industry are designers who don't really like women. From the models they choose, I think they prefer boys.

No Spring Chicken said...

Most women, I think, know perfectly well that most men do not prefer underweight women -- but the preoccupation with looking emaciated (rather than just normally slender) has a lot more to do with status among other women than it does with attracting men. Do men get into body building to attract women or to increase their status among men?

Gruntled said...

Yes, Non-Chicken, I can see your point. Still, strong men can beat up other men. What, exactly, is the advantage to women over other women in being emaciated? They can wriggle through fences better?

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you came across this recent article.

Gruntled said...

Thanks, Anon., for the link. I still think sexual selection is mostly correct, but it should be importantly different species in which males help tend the offspring, vs. those in which they do not.

Do all the scientists in that article seem to have implausible names?

Paul Jolly said...

Overweight=unhealthy; unhealthy=unattractive. Obviously there is that basic socio-biological base for the drive to be thin in women (or at least to not be fat), but you can’t tell me that Kate Moss was healthy looking.

Human sexuality is so complex, it’s hard to nail down women’s weight loss drive to a single thing, or even a few things.

cynthia m. said...

a couple of points:

1. perhaps women strive for the emaciated look so they can seem more "delicate" next to men...it has been my experience that many, many men will go for a petite girl-not exactly a skinny girl but someone who is small-boned, short, "feminine"....if you are NOT a petite gal, being exceptionally thin may help you feel more delicate next to men.....

2.i think some of the focus on weight may be cultural....black men and hispanic men, i would suggest, are more accepting of curvy girls...my husband is hispanic and he LIKES a girl w/ a little meat....have you ever watched Univision??? those latinas are NOT skinny!

Gruntled said...

I think Marilyn is still the model ...