Researchers discover an ugly truth about attractiveness

July 14, 2017 by Dave Heller, Florida State University
Researchers discover an ugly truth about attractiveness
Tania Reynolds is a doctoral candidate in FSU's Department of Psychology. "These findings are interesting, and we can use them in a productive way."

In today's appearance-driven world, body image can be a powerful influence on our choices and behaviors, especially related to dieting. That image is sometimes shaped or distorted by many factors, including mass media images, parents, relationships, even our moods.

New research from Florida State University finds another factor—attractiveness of a romantic partner—can be a driving force behind the desire to diet and seek a slim , though that motivation contrasts sharply between men and .

Doctoral student Tania Reynolds and Assistant Professor of Psychology Andrea Meltzer found that women evaluated as less attractive were more motivated to diet and be thin if their husbands were attractive.

"The results reveal that having a physically attractive husband may have negative consequences for wives, especially if those wives are not particularly attractive," Reynolds said.

That extra motivation to diet, however, did not exist among women judged more attractive than their husbands. As for men, their motivation to diet was low regardless of their wives' attractiveness or their own.

The study, published in the journal Body Image, offers productive insights about relationships in which a woman fears she'll fall short of her partner's expectations. Understanding the predictors that increase a woman's risk of developing eating disorders and other health problems could lead to earlier assistance.

"The research suggests there might be social factors playing a role in women's disordered eating," Reynolds said. "It might be helpful to identify women at risk of developing more extreme weight-loss behaviors, which have been linked to other forms of psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and dissatisfaction with life."

Meltzer added: "In order to better understand women's dieting motivations, the findings of this study highlight the value of adopting an approach that focuses on a couple's relationship."

The study advanced existing research from the Meltzer lab that found marriages tend to be more successful and satisfying when wives are more attractive than their husbands. It examined 113 newlywed couples—married less than four months, average age late 20s, living in the Dallas area—who agreed to be rated on their attractiveness.

Each participant completed a lengthy questionnaire focusing in part on their desire to diet or have a thin body. Some questions included, "I feel extremely guilty after eating," "I like my stomach to be empty," and "I'm terrified of gaining weight."

A full-body photograph was taken of every participant and rated on a scale of 1 to 10. Two teams of undergraduate evaluators studied the photos: one at Southern Methodist University in Texas focused on spouses' facial attractiveness, while another at FSU looked at body attractiveness. The evaluators varied in sex and ethnic makeup.

Reynolds said some research has shown women tend to overperceive just how thin their partners want them to be and, as a result, may inappropriately pursue dieting and a thin body.

"One way to help these women is for partners to be very reaffirming, reminding them, 'You're beautiful. I love you at any weight or body type,'" Reynolds said. "Or perhaps focusing on the ways they are a good romantic partner outside of attractiveness and emphasizing those strengths: 'I really value you because you're a kind, smart and supportive partner.'"

Reynolds thinks an interesting next step for research would be to explore whether women are more motivated to diet when they are surrounded by female friends.

"If we understand how women's relationships affect their decision to and the social predictors for developing unhealthy eating behaviors," Reynolds said, "then we will be better able to help them."

Explore further: At peak fertility, women who desire to maintain body attractiveness report they eat less

More information: Tania Reynolds et al. Adopting a dyadic perspective to better understand the association between physical attractiveness and dieting motivations and behaviors, Body Image (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.05.001

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4 comments

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BubbaNicholson
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2017
Axillary pheromone determines this, including distortions of perception which allow increased portions and acceptance of increased size. Bad thinking does not cause any disease at all. Bad thinking is a symptom of disease. The title is inherently misleading as there is no "truth" in psychobabble.
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Jul 15, 2017
@idiot illiterate pseudoscience fraud bubba the quack
The title is inherently misleading
repeating your fraudulent claims don't make them more true

to date, there is roughly 100,000% more evidence in psychiatry and psychology than in your pheromone claims [hyperbole intended, but still factual]

1- if you were even semi-literate, you would understand that this is a news aggregate releasing articles that give general information about a study

2- if you don't have any scientific evidence refuting the study (and you've shown exactly zero in your history on this site alone), then you should understand that your opinion is about as relevant as a turd in a cesspool

3- unless you can actually provide empirical evidence in the form of studies, which you've not been able to do, then you're demonstrating absolutely no comprehension of the scientific method, making you a practitioner of pseudoscience, not science

ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet Jul 16, 2017
This reeks of "fat acceptance" ideology. Dieting because your partner is attractive is not an "ugly truth" or "negative consequence" or "disordered eating". It is usually a desirable outcome. There may be some who suffer from anorexia but in todays world plagued by obesity epidemic it is an exception rather than a rule.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2017
Chronic overpopulation has always plagued humanity ever since we became able to hunt the predators which were keeping our numbers in check. Other species exhibit various behaviors and physiological changes to limit pop growth and we should expect to find similar in our species as well.

The main thing that anorexia does is disrupt the reproductive process. Women stop ovulating. It returns their physiology to a pre-pubescent state. So it is possible that environmental cues consistent with overcrowding such as may be found in cities; competition for resources, lack of housing and work, stable families and a peaceful home environment, may trigger this response.

It could even be the result of epigenetic influence due to a mothers perception of overcrowding, which is also a distinct possibility re homosexuality.

In both cases the main effect they have on the group as a whole is to limit growth.

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