The pursuit of thinness long has been a major preoccupation for American women. But why are women trying to be downright slender, as opposed to maintaining a healthy weight?  If it’s for the approval of men, then women seem to be putting themselves through needless worry and discomfort.

I work with a lot of women with body image issues so the question of what men find attractive and what women think men find attractive is of particular interest to me. Many women suffer a great deal believing that they’re not thin enough to be attractive to men.  But are their
expectations shaped by men?  Let’s take a look.

During decades of practice numerous women have told me how they try to avoid being seen naked by their husbands or boyfriends.  Other times I’ve heard women share that they believe they will never find a man to love them because they don’t have the “perfect” body they assume men seek.

Research investigating what body shape most men prefer has revealed some interesting things.  For example, it appears that:
•       Men find a greater range of female body shapes attractive than women do.
•       The body shape that men generally find attractive in women has a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. That’s the ratio of a 28-inch waist and 40-inch hips, though the study found that size wasn’t as important as the balance. Men like curves. If you doubt it, consider actor Christina Hendricks, who stars in the television series Mad Men.  Today’s men find her shape incredibly attractive, even though the show is based on 1960’s standards. Interestingly, in a study with blind men, the same ratio was found to be most attractive to the males in the study.
•       The average American man is less bothered by a few extra pounds in a woman than her being what he considers “too thin.”

Apparently, American women consider the most beautiful female figure to be one that is thinner than average while American men prefer a more rounded shape.  Could this be why fashion models are so thin?

So, who are women wanting to please?  Is it men or other women?  Do they even know?  If it’s men, they seem to be missing the mark.  If it’s women, why would that be? What would pleasing other women with respect to body size accomplish? If it’s other women that American women wish to please, why is it worth going through such pain?  These are questions each woman ought to ask herself.

There are men out there who are already attracted to women who themselves are convinced that they aren’t at all attractive. Perhaps these women could profit from looking at what they might be passing up, and reconsidering their distorted expectations.

Of course, there are men who expect their women to look a certain way at all times, and these women have my sympathy and my earnest hope that their husbands and boyfriends can get over themselves. Or that these women can find a better man.

If you’re feeling bold, try asking the men you know what they find attractive in women. I found an informal survey by MSN that indicated most men prefer women who are comfortable in their own skin to those who trowel on heavy makeup and are obsessed with whether their stomachs are flat.

While the best thing for all of us — both men and women — is to accept who we are and pursue having the healthiest and fittest body we are naturally capable of achieving, letting go of any mistaken ideas of what is attractive to the opposite sex is not a bad place to start.

Previously published in the St. Petersburg Times