Gender Discrepancies in Perceptions of the Bodies of Female Fashion Models

Abstract

For over 30 years, researchers and journalists have made the claim that men do not prefer the level of thinness typically embodied by female fashion models, along with the secondary claim that women overestimate the extent to which men find these ultra-thin bodies attractive. The current studies examined men’s and women’s perceptions of the bodies of fashion models shown in media images, as well as how each gender believed the other would perceive the models’ bodies. In Study 1, 548 U.S. college students rated the body size and attractiveness of 13 images of models from women’s fashion magazines. Respondents also indicated how they thought the other gender would rate the models on these dimensions. In Study 2, 707 men and women recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk completed the same rating task. Overall, both men and women overestimated how ideal the other gender would find the models’ bodies (both in terms of thinness and attractiveness). This misperception was strongest when women estimated how men would react to the models’ bodies. Results were consistent with previous studies suggesting that men do not find the ultra-thin body ideal for women as attractive as women believe men do. These gender-based misconceptions may contribute to the negative effects of viewing ultra-thin media images on women’s body image.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Archer, D., Iritani, B., Kimes, D. D., & Barrios, M. (1983). Face-ism: Five studies of sex differences in facial prominence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(4), 725–735. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.45.4.725.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bair, A., Steele, J. R., & Mills, J. S. (2014). Do these norms make me look fat? The effect of exposure to others’ body preferences on personal body ideals. Body Image, 11, 275–281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.04.004.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Beasley, B., & Collins Standley, T. (2002). Shirts vs. skins: Clothing as an indicator of gender role stereotyping in video games. Mass Communication and Society, 5, 279–293. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327825MCS0503_3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bergstrom, R. L., & Neighbors, C. (2006). Body image disturbance and the social norms approach: An integrative review of the literature. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 975–1000. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2006.25.9.975.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bergstrom, R. L., Neighbors, C., & Lewis, M. A. (2004). Do men find “bony” women attractive? Consequences of misperceiving opposite sex perceptions of attractive body image. Body Image, 1, 183–191. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1740-1445(03)00025-1.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Botta, R. A. (2000). The mirror of television: A comparison of black and white adolescents' body image. Journal of Communication, 50, 144–159. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2000.tb02857.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon's mechanical Turk a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 3–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610393980.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Calogero, R. M., Boroughs, M., & Thompson, J. K. (2007). The impact of Western beauty ideals on the lives of women: A sociocultural perspective. In V. Swami & A. Furnham (Eds.), The body beautiful (pp. 259–298). London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230596887_13.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Cattarin, J. A., Thompson, J. K., Thomas, C., & Williams, R. (2000). Body image, mood, and televised images of attractiveness: The role of social comparison. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 220–239. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2000.19.2.220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Clark, L., & Tiggemann, M. (2006). Appearance culture in nine- to 12-year-old girls: Media and peer influences on body dissatisfaction. Social Development, 15, 628–643. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9507.2006.00361.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cohn, L. D., & Adler, N. E. (1992). Female and male perceptions of ideal body shapes: Distorted views among Caucasian college students. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 69–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1992.tb00240.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Crossley, K. L., Cornelissen, P. L., & Tovée, M. J. (2012). What is an attractive body? Using an interactive 3D program to create the ideal body for you and your partner. PLoS One, 7, e50601. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050601.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. Davison, W. P. (1983). The third-person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly, 47, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1086/268763.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. de Freitas, C., Jordan, H., & Hughes, E. (2018). Body image diversity in the media: A content analysis of women’s fashion magazines. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 29, 251–256. https://doi.org/10.1002/hpja.21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Dittmar, H. (2007). Consumer culture, identity, and well-being: The search for the “good life” and the “body perfect”. New York: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Dittmar, H., & Howard, S. (2004). Thin-ideal internalization and social comparison tendency as moderators of media models’ impact on women’s body-focused anxiety. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 768–791. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.23.6.768.54799.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dohnt, H. K., & Tiggemann, M. (2006). Body image concerns in young girls: The role of peers and media prior to adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 141–151. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-005-2020-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Eastwick, P., Eagly, A., Finkel, E., & Johnson, S. (2011). Implicit and explicit preferences for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner: A double dissociation in predictive validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 993–1011. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024061.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Engeln-Maddox, R. (2005). Cognitive responses to idealized media images of women: The relationship of social comparison and critical processing to body image disturbance in college women. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 1114–1138. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2005.24.8.1114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Engeln-Maddox, R. (2006). Buying a beauty standard or dreaming of a new life? Expectations associated with media ideals. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 258–266. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00294.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Ethan, D., Basch, C., Hillyer, G., Berdnik, A., & Huynh, M. (2016). An analysis of weight loss articles and advertisements in mainstream women’s health and fitness magazines. Health Promotion Perspective, 6, 80–84. https://doi.org/10.15171/hpp.2016.14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Fallon, A. E., & Rozin, P. (1985). Sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 102–105. https://doi.org/10.1037//0021-843x.94.1.102.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A.-G., & Buchner, A. (2007). G*power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 175–191. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Frederickson, B., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Furnham, A., & Swami, V. (2007). Perception of female buttocks and breast size in profile. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 35(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2007.35.1.1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Goodin, S. M., Van Denburg, A., Murnen, S. K., & Smolak, L. (2011). “Putting on” sexiness: A content analysis of the presence of sexualizing characteristics in girls’ clothing. Sex Roles, 65(1–2), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-9966-8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2006). Ethnicity and body dissatisfaction among women in the United States: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 622–640. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.132.4.622.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Grabe, S., Ward, L. M., & Hyde, J. S. (2008). The role of the media in body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 460–476. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.134.3.460.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Greenberg, B., Eastin, M., Hofschire, L., Lachlan, K., & Brownell, K. (2003). Portrayals of overweight and obese individuals on commercial television. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 1342–1348. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.93.8.1342.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  30. Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.10005.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Grossbard, J. R., Neighbors, C., & Larimer, M. E. (2011). Perceived norms for thinness and muscularity among college students: What do men and women really want? Eating Behaviors, 12, 192–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2011.04.005.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. Hitsch, G., Hortaçsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). What makes you click? – Mate preferences in online dating. Quantitative Marketing and Economics, 8, 393–427. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11129-010-9088-6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Katzmarzyk, P. T., & Davis, C. (2001). Thinness and body shape of playboy centerfolds from 1978 to 1998. International Journal of Obesity, 25, 590–592. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0801571.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Kraeplin, C. R. (2011). Minority females & the thin ideal: Ethnic versus mainstream fashion magazines and their effects on acculturation and body image in young Black & Latino women. Journal of Research on Women and Gender, 2, 50–82 https://gato-docs.its.txstate.edu/jcr:80aa1400-2b34-462d-867d-3a0be5a6f921/Kraeplin-Minority%20women%20&%20acculturation%5b2%5d.pdf.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Kronenfeld, L. W., Reba-Harrelson, L., Von Holle, A., Reyes, M. L., & Bulik, C. M. (2010). Ethnic and racial differences in body size perception and satisfaction. Body Image, 7, 131–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.11.002.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. Lamb, C. S., Jackson, L. A., Cassiday, P. B., & Priest, D. J. (1993). Body figure preferences of men and women: A comparison of two generations. Sex Roles, 28, 345–358. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00289890.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2009). “Everybody knows that mass media are/are not [pick one] a cause of eating disorders”: A critical review of evidence for a causal link between media, negative body image, and disordered eating in females. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 9–42. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2009.28.1.9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Lewis, M. A., & Neighbors, C. (2006). Social norms approaches using descriptive drinking norms education: A review of the research on personalized normative feedback. Journal of American College Health, 54, 213–218. https://doi.org/10.3200/JACH.54.4.213-218.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Marketdata Enterprises. (2009). The US weight loss & diet control market. Lynbrook: Marketdata Enterprises.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2015). Telling women that men desire women with bodies larger than the thin-ideal improves women’s body satisfaction. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 391–398. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550614561126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Milkie, M. (1999). Social comparisons, reflected appraisals, and mass media: The impact of pervasive beauty images on black and white girls' self-concepts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 62, 190–210. https://doi.org/10.2307/2695857.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Owen, P. R., & Laurel-Seller, E. (2000). Weight and shape ideals: Thin is dangerously in. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 979–990. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2000.tb02506.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Owen, R., & Spencer, R. M. (2013). Body ideals in women after viewing images of typical and healthy weight models. Body Image, 10, 489–494. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.04.005.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. Paraskeva, N., Lewis-Smith, H., & Diedrichs, P. (2017). Consumer opinion on social policy approaches to promoting positive body image: Airbrushed media images and disclaimer labels. Journal of Health Psychology, 22, 164–175. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105315597052.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Perloff, R. M. (1999). The third person effect: A critical review and synthesis. Media Psychology, 1(4), 353–378. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532785xmep0104_4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Pope Jr., H. G., Gruber, A. J., Mangweth, B., Bureau, B., Decol, C., Jouvent, R., … Hudson, J. I. (2000). Body image perception among men in three countries. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 1297–1301. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.157.8.1297.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Puhl, R., Andreyeva, T., & Brownell, K. (2008). Perceptions of weight discrimination: Prevalence and comparison to race and gender discrimination in America. International Journal of Obesity, 32, 992–1000. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.22.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Roberts, A., & Muta, S. (2017). Representations of female body weight in the media: An update of playboy magazine from 2000 to 2014. Body Image, 20, 16–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.08.009.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Rozin, P., & Fallon, A. (1988). Body image, attitudes to weight, and misperceptions of figure preferences of the opposite sex: A comparison of men and women in two generations. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 342–345. https://doi.org/10.1037//0021-843x.97.3.342.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Salk, R., & Engeln-Maddox, R. (2012). Fat talk among college women is both contagious and harmful. Sex Roles, 66, 636–645. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0050-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological Science, 18, 429–434. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01917.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Seacat, J., Dougal, S., & Roy, D. (2016). A daily diary assessment of female weight stigmatization. Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 228–240. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105314525067.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. Stanford, J. N., & Mccabe, M. P. (2002). Body image ideal among males and females: Sociocultural influences and focus on different body parts. Journal of Health Psychology, 7, 675–684. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105302007006871.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Stice, E. (1994). Review of the evidence for a sociocultural model of bulimia nervosa and an exploration of the mechanisms of action. Clinical Psychology Review, 14, 633–661. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-7358(94)90002-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Stice, E. (2002). Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 825–848. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.128.5.825.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Stice, E. (2005). Sociocultural influences on body image and eating disturbances. In K. D. Brownell & B. T. Walsh (Eds.), Eating disorders and obesity: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 103–107). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Stice, E., & Shaw, H. (1994). Adverse effects of the media portrayed thin-ideal on women and linkages to bulimic symptomatology. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 13, 288–308. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.1994.13.3.288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Stice, E., Shaw, H., Becker, C. B., & Rohde, P. (2008). Dissonance-based interventions for the prevention of eating disorders: Using persuasion principles to promote health. Prevention Science, 9, 114–128. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-008-0093-x.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  59. Sypeck, M. F., Gray, J. J., Etu, S. F., Ahrens, A. H., Mosimann, J. E., & Wiseman, C. V. (2006). Cultural representations of thinness in women, redux: Playboy magazine's depiction of beauty from 1979 to 1999. Body Image, 3, 229–235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.07.001.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. Tai, C. (2016). Diversity report: Were the Fall 2016 fashion ad campaigns as inclusive as fashion week? Retrieved from http://thefashionspot.com.

  61. Tantleff-Dunn, S. (2002). Biggest isn't always best: The effect of breast size on perceptions of women. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(11), 2253–2265. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2002.tb01862.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Thompson, J. K., & Stice, E. (2001). Thin-ideal internalization: Mounting evidence for a new risk factor for body-image disturbance and eating pathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 181–183. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Thompson, J. K., Schaefer, L., & Menzel, J. (2012). Internalization of thin-ideal and muscular-ideal. In T. F. Cash (Ed.), Encyclopedia of body image and human appearance (pp. 499–504). London: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Tovee, M., & Cornelissen, P. (2001). Female and male perceptions of female physical attractiveness in front-view and profile. British Journal of Psychology, 92, 391–402. https://doi.org/10.1348/000712601162257.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. Tylka, T., & Wood-Barcalow, N. (2015). What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Body Image, 14, 118–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.04.001.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Want, S. C. (2009). Meta-analytic moderators of experimental exposure to media portrayals of women on female appearance satisfaction: Social comparisons as automatic processes. Body Image, 6, 257–269. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.07.008.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. Warren, C. S., Gleaves, D. H., Cepeda-Benito, A., Fernandez, M. D. C., & Rodriguez-Ruiz, S. (2005). Ethnicity as a protective factor against internalization of a thin ideal and body dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 37, 241–249. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.20102.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  68. Wasylkiw, L., Emms, A. A., Meuse, R., & Poirier, K. F. (2009). Are all models created equal? A content analysis of women in advertisements of fitness versus fashion magazines. Body Image, 6, 137–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.01.005.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  69. Wiseman, C. V., Gray, J. J., Mosimann, J. E., & Ahrens, A. H. (1992). Cultural expectations of thinness in women: An update. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 11, 85–89. https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-108X(199201)11:1<85::AID-EAT2260110112>3.01.CO;2-T.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

This research was supported by a grant from the Northwestern University Undergraduate Research Program.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah N. Johnson.

Ethics declarations

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

All procedures performed in both studies were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board at Northwestern University and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Johnson, S.N., Engeln, R. Gender Discrepancies in Perceptions of the Bodies of Female Fashion Models. Sex Roles (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01167-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Body weight
  • Media exposure
  • Body image
  • Imagery
  • Human sex differences
  • Thin ideal
  • Media images
  • Gender differences