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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sexy women make everyone feel bad

Everyone knows that the way women are portrayed in our culture - sexy, skinny, tall - makes the average woman feel a bit like the gum I had to peel off my shoe this morning. When we look at magazine ads or watch TV shows, we women feel inadequate - and it's no wonder, when the average woman model weighs up to 25% less than the typical woman and maintains a weight at about 15 to 20% below what is considered healthy for her age and height. But the 40,000 or so ads the average American is exposed to a year aren't just affecting the girls. A new study coming out of the University of Missouri found that men react negatively to unrealistic ads, too. What's interesting is it wasn't images of hot men that got the guys feeling self conscious - it was images of hot women.

The research began by trying to see if men were as negatively affected by men's magazines as women are by Cosmo and the like. Men that were given men's magazines like Maxim had lower self image, which got the researchers to question exactly what about the magazines cause the drop in self esteem. So they showed men just the pictures of objectified women, men, and the articles and again checked their esteem levels. They found that, surprisingly, it wasn't the images of idealized men that made the guys feel inadequate - it was the women. Even more surprising was that the male fashion group reported the least amount of body self-consciousness among the three groups - the guys couldn't care less what the other men looked like.

If you've ever been in high school, it's obvious why seeing a hot woman would make a less than ideal looking guy feel bad. I mean, what guy hasn't choked when trying to talk to the head cheerleader? Attractive women are intimidating, and the mere sight of one is enough to cause any average joe to give themselves a quick once-over.

The theory is that a beautiful women makes a man self conscious because the he's reminded that he's not in her league - that is, they take one look at a hot girl and quickly realize there's no way they're good-looking enough to bang her. Since women have the larger investment in offspring, they tend to be considered the 'picky' ones, evolutionarily speaking. The men and their billions of sperm have to compete with other guys to convince a girl that they've got the genes to be worth it.

To test this theory, the researchers performed one more experiment. They broke the men into two groups - one received magazine layouts of sexually idealized females and the received the same layouts with average-looking 'boyfriends' added to the photos, with captions about how the female models are attracted to the average-looking men. The men who looked at just the model were more self-conscious, presumably because when the other men saw the bombshells liked 'normal guys,' they no longer felt she was out of reach.

Personally, I'd like to see if images of hot men have the same effect on women. Despite the evolutionary argument, I think that women would have the same reaction to male models as men do to female ones. After all, you don't hear a girl say "oh crap! I gotta go fix my hair!" when this guy walks in the room:


I want you. I need you. Oh baby - oh baby.



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