To ask the average female college student how she sees herself is to ask a very personal question.
Psych Central, a popular website for psychological diagnoses, states that a whopping 80 percent of women today are unhappy with their bodies and more than 10 million of these women are suffering from eating disorders.
Another article in The Telegraph found that the female mind on average distorts her figure to be larger by two-thirds than what she actually looks like. When asking men how they see these women, the majority, in fact, viewed these women as underweight.
The Huffington Post recently published a study executed to determine the difference between what women believe men want in a woman versus what men actually want. The study revealed that women exaggerate how thin men want them to be. Women have believed for quite some time that their bodies need improvement and that men desire extremely slim women. What men actually preferred turned out to be much more realistic.
At many universities today women are struggling with these exact same issues. Female college students are finding themselves believing they must be thinner to impress their fellow male students and that excessive work at the gym is the answer.
In 2014, The Today Show asked 40 heterosexual college students to design the ideal body for themselves and the opposite sex. Based on the results of the study, men and women actually had very similar ideas of the ideal female body. Females in this study designed their bodies to be much smaller than the average woman today and while men did too, their preference was notably less of a dramatic departure from reality. However, the key is that the average woman today is much larger than the average woman of even 50 years ago. So while the ideal woman hasn’t changed, the average woman has.
The study above also revealed that female representations of the “perfect” body were perfectly constructed, unrealistic human beings. Men in general were content with a much more natural and healthy body figure; their ideal woman was not overly thin or dramatically weightless. Overall, men preferred a fuller woman.
Since females tend to design an unrealistic ideal figure, often times the way they see themselves is unrealistic as well. The goals they’re aiming toward seem impossible–because they are. In today’s media, the ultra-slim female image is praised on a grand scale. Eating disorders are increasing dramatically.
So how did we get to this dangerous point? Another article on Psych Central notes that two-thirds of college students are affected by magazine images and more than half of them want to lose weight. The article then goes on to note that 50-70 percent of women believe themselves to be overweight before reading the magazine, with those percentages increasing after.
So is the media to blame? Has the ideal figure been misshaped and presented to the world? According to multiple sources, yes.
After speaking with an Darryl Goetz, a Minneapolis-based therapist, I discovered that many women today suffer from disorders because they don’t see these goals as impossible. “They set unrealistic standards for themselves,” Goetz said.
They convince themselves that they can go without food because they’re working toward a goal. The United States has the largest percentages for both obesity and eating disorders; there seems to be no in-between. Women are either slightly unhappy with their weight or are suffering from a poisonous disorder.
But how do we explain why men see women so drastically different? After polling several male students around Notre Dame, I found that while men overall are interested in all sorts of women, many believed their ideal woman to be “fit” and “healthy.”
“She cares for her body,” said junior Grant Koch. Another man, who wished to remain anonymous, mentioned that because women are obsessing over the “thin” trend, some men are beginning to jump on the bandwagon. He noted that sometimes men find themselves being attracted to “leaner women.” Sophomore Matt Mitan agreed. “It’s becoming a social expectation/pressure for girls to be lean and fit.” Milan said. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily how it should be but it’s definitely a reality.”
So what should we make of all of this? With a larger average woman, the gap between what women wish they were and what they actually are is increasing dramatically, leading to unhealthy weight-loss methods and disorders. Because of this obsession and ideology, men today find themselves at a crossroads between moving with women or against them.
Ultimately, it is up to women today to love themselves, live healthy and change this curve. We have more power than we think.