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How Women’s Perceptions of Peer Weight Preferences Are Related to Drive for Thinness

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine how women’s perceptions of their peers’ weight preferences were related to drive for thinness. First, we examined the degree to which women were accurate in their perceptions of the female body sizes that their male and female peers preferred. Second, we examined the perceived weight preferences of women’s female peers, male peers, close peers, and distant peers to determine whether women perceived these peer groups as having different weight preferences for women’s body size. Finally, we investigated whether drive for thinness was related to the degree that women felt discrepant from their peers’ weight preferences. One hundred and thirty-three women from a small, liberal arts college in the Northeastern United States completed an online survey that included measures of actual and perceived weight preferences, drive for thinness, and demographic information. Information on actual weight preferences were also collected from 44 men to provide information about male peers’ weight preferences. Results indicated that women underestimated the body size that both women and men most preferred. Second, women perceived their female peers as preferring a thinner female size than their male peers, and their distant peers as preferring a thinner body size than their close peers. Finally, women who perceived their body size as being discrepant from the preferences of their close peers’ weight preferences, particularly close female peers, exhibited greater drive for thinness.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Clare Mehta for providing feedback on a draft of this manuscript. The research was supported by a grant received from the Faculty Development Committee of Emmanuel College.

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Correspondence to Linda Lin.

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Lin, L., McCormack, H., Kruczkowski, L. et al. How Women’s Perceptions of Peer Weight Preferences Are Related to Drive for Thinness. Sex Roles 72, 117–126 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0446-4

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Keywords

  • Body image
  • Social norms
  • Social comparison
  • Relationship proximity
  • Eating disorders
  • Weight norms