A mixed-method, factorial examination of men's and women's perceptual and affective responses to ideal, actual, and average male and female bodies
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Body image issues have traditionally been perceived as women’s issues, but this is no longer true. Both men and women are impacted by social pressures to look perfect (Calogero & Thompson, 2010; Grogan, 2008). Adolescents and young adults are most at-risk for maladaptive behaviors related to body image issues (Eisenberg, Wall, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2012; Fernandez & Pritchard, 2012; Frederick et al., 2007; Salk & Engeln-Maddox, 2012). The literature on body image dissatisfaction is immense, but only 12 research articles were published between 2005 and 2015 dealing specifically with men’s and women’s perceptions of the ideal female and male bodies. Eight these studies were international and used samples that may not represent the U.S. population. Many used relatively small samples that limited statistical power (Warner, 2008). Finally, most of the studies used a small number of artificial body stimuli (e.g., figural outlines, body silhouettes) and required that subjects choose a single stimulus that captured the “ideal” male or female body. There were three overarching goals of the present mixed-method, factorial examination of men’s and women’s perceptions of male and female bodies: (a) to correct some of the methodological flaws of previous studies, (b) to contribute to the literature on the basic processes involved in body perception, and (c) to inform the therapeutic efforts of clinicians who work with clients with body image issues. Results showed that participants used different perceptual filters when perceiving male and female bodies. Female stimuli were sorted on the basis of observers’ evaluative and affective reaction. Males were sorted based largely on judgments of potency. Men were more likely than women to identify female bodies as ideal if they were curvy, with larger breasts, and less muscle definition. Women more frequently viewed athletic female bodies as ideal. There was far more gender consensus on the ideal male body. Both men and women reacted more negatively to same-gender ideals than to opposite-gender ideals. Men and women reported equal levels of body dissatisfaction. Personal fitness variables shaped several aspects of body perception and over a dozen statistically significant correlations linked physical fitness variables to body perception outcomes.