Meeting the perfect woman and man

ArgentieriCuriosità, Psicologia, RicercaLeave a Comment

Do you know summer is coming?
Do you know the infamous “bathing suit test” is coming as well?
As if we could forget it…

Recently, the brand Bluebella, which markets sexy clothing and accessories, asked its customers to create the perfect man and woman assembling pieces of bodies of  famous people. A sort of modern monsters of Frankenstein.
It was not totally unexpected noticing that the ideal woman has different forms and characteristics depending on the tastes of guys or women. And, vice versa, the ideal man is different in the eyes of a woman or a of man. Here are the results of the collage:

According to masculine taste, both male and female body must be … more exaggerated than the female choice: more hair, breasts, hips and thighs for the perfect woman; most biceps, pectorals, quadriceps and football fame for the perfect man.
The explanation for a greater emphasis on physical appearance may be that men are more aroused by visual stimuli and therefore give greater importance to physical attractiveness.

It would be also interesting to ask customers what they thought about their appearance.
Finding someone who is 100% satisfied with their body is virtually impossible.
Body dissatisfaction is defined as the distance between one’s real body and weight and the ideal ones.
We have no general statistical information, because the research on these topics is mainly on clinical samples, or with people who are already admitted to hospital with a disorder.
Indeed, dissatisfaction with one’s body is one of the main symptoms of eating disorders, which, as we know, are mainly anorexia, bulimia and binge eating (bingeing).
The main problem occurs when we associate this body dissatisfaction to our self-esteem and identity. Besides, people who claim to have been teased for their physical appearance reported more severe symptoms of eating disorders.

Eating disorders occur in different ways depending on culture and historical period. It would seem that the goal of thinness is present in cultures where food is plentiful. Although some early research and theories (for ex. here) affirmed that eating disorders were concentrated in the highest socioeconomic population, more recently this social differences diminished. More research is needed to understand whether it is due to purely economic factors, to changes in beauty canons transmitted by the media or to the greater attention to eating disorders.

The media, in fact, are often referred to as a major responsible for the spread of the value of thinness: underweight models on the catwalk, use photo editing softwares to show actresses and celebrities on the cover, a large presence of food tips and diets in magazines (source).
The idealized image proposed by the media is done almost exclusively by people of normal weight or, increasingly, underweight, therefore not representative of the diversity present in reality. Studies state that is the type of program watched, rather than quantity, to make a difference: soap operas, movies and music videos are associated with dissatisfaction with one’s body and boost the thinness.

Think of the most famous and enduring soap opera in the history of television: The Bold and the Beautiful. Every actor under 60 years is a body builder, while women are perpetually and perfectly made up, combed, thin and young. And here we are talking about images seen by 500 million people worldwide, 5 days a week.
According to Nigella Lawson, famous English journalist and food writer, the problem is not much about fashion models, who are supposed to be fit. What she can’t understand is why extremely fit actors are chosen for roles who are not supposed to be catwalker: doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers, even grandmothers. The conveyed idea is that real life people constantly are (and in a certain sense MUST be) gym addicted and dressed to a T.

There is also a problem of circularity between cause and effect: it is necessary to clarify whether exposure would influence the development of eating disorders or, on the contrary, if those who already experience body dissatisfaction actively seek confirmation in television programs, periodicals or Internet.

It is worth to mention an interesting study of Becker in which he compared the prevalence of eating disorders before and after the arrival of television in the Fiji islands in 1995. In the culture of these islands a healthy appetite and a round body were appraised, synonymous with wealth and family care. In 1998 the use of diets have increased from 0 to 69% and young islanders reported show peotagonists as models and inspiration for their willingness to weight loss.

If eating disorders were prerogative of Caucasian girls of middle/high class, the pervasiveness of the phenomenon has also affected the other half of the sky. The idealized image of the male body by the media has bumpy muscles, with a moderate weight, virtually no fat, with a particular emphasis on defined abdominal and pectoral muscles (Fairburn, C.G., Brownell, F.D. (2002). Eating disorders and obesity: A comprehensive handbook. Guildford Press, New York).

Needless to say that being thin but muscled for males is NOT NORMAL, exactly like being skinny with big boobs for females. But for the guys you add one more risk factor, that is muscle dysmorphia, or reverse anorexia: focus is not on weight loss, on the contrary men want to gain weight because they see themselves too thin, even if already muscular (Fairburn, C.G., Brownell, F.D. (2002). (Pope, H. G., Philips, K., & Olivardia, R. (2000). The Adonis complex: the secret crisis of male body Obsession. Simon & Schuster).

In this regard, we recall the research of Pope in which they confronted some toys depicting the same male character in 1978 and 1998: in 20 years the standard portrait has increased muscle mass. Using allometric methods, the authors showed that no bodybuilder in the real world could achieve those standards.

Moreover, read our article about Lammily, the doll with real women proportions and more appreciated than Barbie by kids.

The widespread presence of these images gives the idea that it is the normality. If the media will continue to promote the unattainable perfect body (that body obtained by fashion models and actors whose work is focused on the physical aspect and for which they provided money and resources; bodies with no fat and stretch marks thanks to photo editing) , it is no wonder that we will continue to chase and try to get this ideal, putting at risk our health with impossible diets, wrong physical exercise and performance-enhancing drugs.
This could lead to an increase of boys and girls not only too focused on the exterior, but also deeply dissatisfied.