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Modern women happier with their bodies than ever before, study finds

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Moya Crockett
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We’re often told that the combined effect of social media pressure, selfie culture and a fixation with ‘clean living’ has turned us into a generation of neurotic, appearance-obsessed narcissists.

So it’s thoroughly refreshing to learn that modern women are more content with their bodies than in years gone by – at least as far as their weight is concerned.

Researchers in the States analysed more than 250 studies conducted between 1981 and 2012, representing over 100,000 female and male participants, in order to observe changing trends in how people felt about their bodies. Their findings, presented at the American Psychological Association’s 124th Annual Convention, show that women’s unhappiness with their weight has gradually declined over time.

Perhaps predictably, men were generally more satisfied with their weight than women. What’s more surprising is that, whereas women’s body confidence increased over time, men’s level of dissatisfaction remained relatively constant throughout. 

this-girl-can

Contemporary campaigns like 'This Girl Can' aim to boost women's body confidence.

“While women consistently report being more dissatisfied with their bodies than men as far as thinness is concerned, that dissatisfaction has decreased over the 31-year period we studied,” says Bryan Karazsia, PhD, of the College of Wooster, Ohio, who conducted the research.

Karazsia says that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the findings show a growing acceptance of different female body shapes since the early 1980s. During that era, Jane Fonda-esque gym bunnies and Amazonian supermodels were held up as the ideal body type – until the similarly unattainable (for most women) ‘heroin chic’ physique was ushered in in the 1990s.

Pop culture in the 2000s wasn’t much better for women, as far as body acceptance was concerned. High-end fashion designers continued to send severely underweight models down the catwalks, while Hollywood celebrities favoured a bolder, brasher look: think mid-noughties Victoria Beckham or Paris Hilton. 

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Contemporary female celebrities including (l-r) Ashley Graham, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian have shown that body confidence needn't equate with thinness.

Today, however, things have changed. While women are still subjected to societal pressures about how we ‘should’ look (see: that infamous ‘Are you beach body ready?’ advert), the rise of social media has also made it much easier for us to kick back against those messages (see: the response to those very same adverts).

And although it would be inaccurate to suggest that modern female celebrities are necessarily ‘representative’ of ordinary women – they’ve still all got hired glam squads, after all – there’s undeniably a more diverse range of body ‘ideals’ from which we can choose. Stars including Beyoncé, Ashley Graham and Kim Kardashian have all contributed to an understanding that thinness isn’t a necessary factor in body confidence.

“The last two decades have witnessed increasing attention and awareness on a body acceptance movement aimed primarily at girls and women,” Karaszia observes. This, he says, combined with the increased visibility of non-size zero female role models, could help explain women’s growing satisfaction with their weight.

Images: iStock, Rex Features

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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