The Messed-Up Way a Man's Opinion Can Affect Your Body Image

A recent study found that men's unsolicited "hot or not" comments may unconsciously influence the way you view your own body, for better or worse.

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Here's one good way to tell if you need to cut a guy out of your life: he makes any of those unsolicited "hot or not" comments about a woman's weight. A recent study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science found that these opinions may unconsciously influence the way you view your own body, for better or worse.

Researchers from Southern Methodist University had a group of almost 500 women look at pictures of women who were voluptuous—or, in the researchers' words, larger than the "thin-ideal" perpetuated by the media—and then asked them about how they felt. The twist: One group of participants was told the women in the photographs were judged by men to be attractive, while another group was told the men thought they were unattractive. (A control group wasn't given any info about the pictures.) In the end, the women were much more positive about their own bodies when they thought the men liked thicker women.

At first read, this really puts a damper on feel-good sentiments like those of plus-size model Ashley Graham: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or 22 as long as you’re taking care of your body, working out, and telling yourself ‘I love you’ instead of taking in the negativity of beauty standards,” she recently told People. How can we focus on ourselves and derive value from our own sense of self-worth if the opinions of men affect us so viscerally?

Thankfully, there's apositive way of looking at these findings, too. In fact, the researchers themselves considered their results good news: "This study suggests that interventions that alter women's perception regarding men's desires for ideal female body sizes may be effective at improving women's body image," lead author and social psychologist Andrea Meltzer of SMU told Huffington Post Canada.

The researchers write that, "one source of women’s body dissatisfaction appears to be the media’s suggestion that men desire extremely thin women." But—at least if Meghan Trainor is to be believed—there are plenty of men who are All About That Bass. Maybe all this means is that we need to hear more from those guys. If we did, perhaps it would help us appreciate the diversity of body types and attractions, and we wouldn't be so affected by the "media's thin ideal."

Regardless, we're going to keep promoting the idea that there's no such thing as the perfect body. Whether you're muscular or thin or fat, everybody deserves to feel good about themselves.

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