Northwestern University Study Examines Men and Women’s Perceptions of the Ultra-Thin Body Type

A new study by psychologists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois finds that the ultra-thin image of high fashion models is not as attractive as commonly believed to either men or women.


Researchers surveyed a large group of U.S. college students who rated the body size and attractiveness of 13 images of models from women’s fashion magazines. Respondents, who were equally divided between men and women, also indicated how they thought the other gender would rate the models on these dimensions. Subjects rated the size of the models’ bodies on a scale ranging from 1 “way too thin” to 7 “way too fat”, and the attractiveness of the models’ bodies on a scale from 1 “extremely unattractive” to 7 “extremely attractive.” The college students were then asked to complete the two scales a second time for each model, this time indicating how they thought members of the opposite sex would rate them.


The results showed that both men and women overestimated how ideal the other gender would find the models’ bodies (both in terms of thinness and attractiveness). This misperception was strongest when women estimated how men would react to the models’ bodies.

The authors conclude that “men do not find the ultra-thin body ideal for women as attractive as women believe men do. These gender-based misconceptions may contribute to the negative effects of viewing ultra-thin media images on women’s body image.”

The study was authored by Sarah Johnson, a graduate of Northwestern Univerity and now a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, and Renee Engeln, a professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University.

The full study, “Gender Discrepancies in Perceptions of the Bodies of Female Fashion Models,” was published in the journal Sex Roles. It may be accessed here.

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