While the cultural debate of nationalized health care is whether or not to let obese people and smokers die(1), a new paper in Spain says males are pressuring women to be thin and it is making females less happy.

The psychologists also contend that women who are not comfortable with their body perceive women with a normal body as a threat. Specifically, when these women see a "normal" body they experience feelings of displeasure and lack of control, since they feel they have not any control on their own body and cannot make it be as they want.

The undergraduate surveys were conducted by psychologists at the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment of the University of Granada. The results said that women who are not comfortable with their body feel embarrassed and uneasy when they see themselves in a picture or video, especially if they are imitating the poses of a professional model.

The researchers performed four experimental studies with university students. 550 students participated in the first two studies (408 women and 142 men), 61 participated in the third study (28 women highly discomforted with their body and 33 moderately unsatisfied with their body) and 60 in the fourth study (30 healthy women satisfied with their body and 30 women with bulimia nervosa unsatisfied with their body).

Blanca Ortega-Roldán Oliva, one of the authors of this study, explained that the bodies that most like men and women are those of professional female models with a normal weight. "Men and women found these bodies highly pleasing and stimulating, although they made them feel a lack of control. This means that a sexy and stimulating body makes people feel a lack of control, as these bodies are considered difficult to attain or even unattainable".

The psychologists concluded that the body of a model with a normal weight negatively affects women that are highly unsatisfied with their body. Thus, unsatisfied women consider these bodies "unpleasant, very activating and unattainable (perception of lack of control)". The reason for this perception is that these women cannot objectively evaluate a normal body in emotional terms, since they cannot avoid comparing themselves with it. This makes them feel upset, as they feel their body does not meet their beauty standards.

Spanish model Nereida Gallardo makes women feel self-conscious about their weight, and also about not being cool enough to smoke cigarettes.  Link: Livejournal

The Ideal Woman in Spain

In the light of the results of this study, the University of Granada researchers have demonstrated that the ideal woman in Spain does not coincide with that proposed by the media, which is currently the aesthetic and social standard. Thus, "Spanish men and women prefer the bodies of healthy models with normal weight". This fact "should be taken into account by the advertising and fashion industry and governments, so that they help prevent the growing incidence of body dissatisfaction and the associated eating disorders," the researchers recommend.

Finally, social pressure on women's body might come from men, since they prefer thin women and stigmatize female obesity more than women. "Therefore, the conclusions drawn in this study should have an impact on programs aimed at preventing body dissatisfaction among women," Ortega-Roldán says.


(1) Do penalties for smokers and the obese make sense?  By Mike Stobbe, Associated Press Writer