One man thinks he’s found the answer to solving women’s body image problems: male approval.
Child health expert Aric Sigman told The Telegraph that in order to combat the “neurosis” young women have about their bodies — specifically about being fat — educators should be enlisting young men to tell their slightly younger female peers what they find attractive about women.
“Boys don’t have in any way near as rigid a view on what an attractive figure should be and they value many other physical qualities, including eyes, hair, and body language,” Sigman told The Telegraph.
“An increase in fat on hips, thighs and bottoms is not only natural but good for girls because it is appealing to males,” said Dr. Sigman. “It protects girls from heart disease and diabetes and the great news is that men like that body fat on women.”
Fact: Body dissatisfaction is at epidemic levels among young women. Research has shown that over 80 percent of American 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and a 2015 study showed that 80 percent of this same demographic have been on a diet.
Other fact: Using male approval as a short-term fix for these systemic issues is not the answer.
As The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman sarcastically put it: “If there’s one thing women around the world have been lacking, it’s men telling them exactly what they find attractive in a lady.”
Women learn from an early age that what matters most is how our bodies look. No matter how hard we try to control that image, and no matter what genetic lottery we’ve been dealt, it’s an impossible game to win. Real women have curves, but at the same time, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. We are collectively, acutely aware that our wages, love lives and our overall value as women are impacted greatly by what’s on the outside.
And therein lies the real issue: We live in a world where the female body is the ultimate arbiter of worth. Tying the solution to women’s anxieties about their bodies only serves to reinforce the underlying problem.
Sigman’s ideas also seem to assume that a) all young women are attracted to men, and b) that young men don’t experience body dysmorphia. Spoiler alert! Young women who aren’t straight and young people who aren’t female still grapple with shame and stigma when it comes to their bodies. A 2014 study found that nearly 18 percent of boys expressed concern about their bodies or weight.
Luckily, there are plenty of men and women who do understand these nuances and are doing work that could really make a difference in these arenas. (Tess Munster’s Eff Your Beauty Standards project and Nikolay Lamm’s “Normal Barbie” are just two of many.)
Combatting body image issues requires more than assuring young women that random dudes in the grade above them may find them sexually attractive. We are more than our bodies. Let’s start looking for solutions to these issues that recognize that.