Having a too-hot husband could turn you into a too-thin wife, study shows

31 July 2017
By Fashion Quarterly
Voted the Sexiest Man Alive in 1997 and 2006, George Clooney met his match in wife Amal.
Voted Sexiest Man Alive in 1997 and 2006, George Clooney more than met his match in human rights lawyer Amal.

Your self-esteem can be derailed if you think you don’t measure up to your partner.

If you consider your partner to be more attractive than you are, it could impact on the way you choose to stay in shape, according to new research.

A University of Florida study found women who believed their husbands were better looking were more likely to be driven to diet, than those whose who thought their partners were less so.

Researchers questioned over 100 newly married couples about body image, dieting and whether or not they felt pressured to be thin.

As well as answering a lengthy questionnaire, the participants were also rated on attractiveness. Each had a full body photo taken that was then given to an outside group who ranked the person’s image between one and 10.

View from behind of a Woman looking her reflection in the mirror

Lead author, doctoral candidate Tania Reynolds told EurekAlert: “The results reveal that having a physically attractive husband may have negative consequences for wives, especially if those wives are not particularly attractive.”

The study, published in the journal Body Image, found women who consider themselves as less attractive than their romantic partners, felt more pressure to diet.

Interestingly, the study found men weren’t affected in the same way, no matter how good looking their wives were.

“The research suggests there might be social factors playing a role in women’s disordered eating,” the PhD student said.

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“It might be helpful to identify women at risk of developing more extreme weight-loss behaviours, which have been linked to other forms of psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and dissatisfaction with life.”

woman standing on scales

The findings show its likely body image problems can be caused by women ‘over-perceiving’ how thin their partners think they should be.

“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’,” Ms 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.'”

The new study comes after separate research found marriages were more likely to be successful if wives were more attractive than their husbands.

Assistant Professor Andrea Meltzer, who carried out the previous study, said Reynolds’ work sheds an interesting light on the complex dieting situation.

“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.

As the movement towards body acceptance grows, Ms Reynolds believes it’s important to keep finding ways of understanding what drives women to diet.

She said she hoped the research could go further by looking at other ways women’s self-esteem was affected that could result in negative body image.

“If we understand how women’s relationships affect their decision to diet and the social predictors for developing unhealthy eating behaviors,” Ms Reynolds added, “then we will be better able to help them.”

Skinny girl holding her waist looking in mirror

Although Reynolds’ paper goes some way to addressing body image issues women face as adults, it’s worth thinking about the fact that current figures show 80 per cent of girls between eight and 16 struggle with the way they look.

It’s sobering stuff when you think about it and something we’ve all got a responsibility to try and change.

Dr Philippa Diedrichs, a research psychologist and associate professor at the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, has carried out extensive research into how body image can affect girls’ lives and has worked with beauty brand Dove to develop a programme for helping those affected by low-self-esteem.

“Research shows that when girls and women experience low body confidence their relationships with family and friends can be negatively affected, and their aspirations for education and work are curtailed,” she says.

“That’s why it is incredible important to equip Kiwi kids with the tools to challenge appearance pressures and to develop body confidence.”

To learn more about the Dove Self Esteem Project, selfesteem.mydove.co.nz.

Photos: Getty Images

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