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 body, though that motivation contrasts sharply between men and women. 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.”