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Thin Is In? Think Again: The Rising Importance of Muscularity in the Thin Ideal Female Body


Research has documented an increased emphasis on fitness in media targeting women. However, it is unclear whether this emphasis has resulted in increased muscularity in the perceived ideal female body shape. We sought to evaluate whether the ideal female figure has incorporated increased muscularity into the existing ideal body type that already emphasizes thinness. In Study 1, 78 female undergraduates evaluated images of U.S. beauty pageant winners over the past 15 years on dimensions of thinness, muscularity, and attractiveness. Results indicated that muscularity and thinness ratings of pageant winners significantly increased over time. In Study 2, 64 female undergraduates evaluated two different versions of the same image of a model: a Thin Muscular image and a Thin Only image in which the appearance of muscularity was removed through digital editing. When images were presented in pairs, results indicated that participants found the Thin Muscular image more attractive than the Thin Only image. These results suggest that the current perceived ideal female figure includes both extreme thinness and muscularity and that women prefer this muscular thin figure to a solely thin figure. These findings have implications for clinical treatments related to body image, compulsive exercise, and media literacy.

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Correspondence to Frances Bozsik.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

Institutional Review Board approval was obtained from Missouri State University prior to the administration of the study.

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Bozsik, F., Whisenhunt, B.L., Hudson, D.L. et al. Thin Is In? Think Again: The Rising Importance of Muscularity in the Thin Ideal Female Body. Sex Roles 79, 609–615 (2018).

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  • Thin ideal
  • Muscularity
  • Thinness
  • Physical fitness
  • Social media
  • Body image
  • Internalization
  • Women