Body Image and Its Effects on Relationships

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The article named, “Body Image Disturbance and Relationship Satisfaction Among College Students”, written by Colleen E. Paap and Rick M. Gardner looks into the minds of college aged students and their body images, as well as what effect those can have on a relationship. It is important to study this topic, as it is prevalent in many lives. Men and women across the globe struggle with their opinions of their bodies and researching the effects a negative opinion of one self can have towards how a partner may perceive you is helpful in preventing it from having an effect in the first place.

The authors theorize that body image directly correlates to relationship satisfaction. According to Paap and Gardner (2011), “It is hypothesized that the respondents’ perceived partner’s beliefs about the respondents’ body size and perceived partner’s satisfaction in the relationship will predict relationship satisfaction.’ (p. 716) Essentially, if one person in a partnership has a negative view of their body and thinks that the other person wants something different, it will negatively impact the relationship.

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To begin testing their theory, researchers went to the University of Colorado Denver and Metropolitan State College. Studied were a variety of students, with the majority being Caucasian, heterosexual females. They measured the responses by using the Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale. They were first asked to respond based on a scale with the options “extremely satisfied” to “extremely dissatisfied”. Most answered in the extremely satisfied option. They were then asked to respond to questions with a scale of options going as follows, “almost always”, “often”, “sometimes”, “rarely”, and “never”. Those options were used in regard to how the responders’ felt about their bodies, dieting practices and/or exercise.

Via an engine called ‘Survey Monkey’ they compiled all the data they collected. The results show that on a scale of 1 to 21, the average was 17.34, meaning the relationship satisfaction was on the higher end of the spectrum and the body dissatisfaction questions averaged at 12.75%, which indicated that responders wanted to be smaller then what their body was. The article states (2011), “Body dissatisfaction with the partner’s size was 2.58% indicating respondents desired their partners to be smaller.” (p. 717) and “67% reporting such thoughts “sometimes” or “often”” (p. 717) regarding body concerns.

The researchers considered the different variables this study could encounter such as the differences between males and females and if the study would be different with homosexuals as apposed to heterosexuals. The data concluded that not enough homosexuals participated in the study to be analyzed. Regarding the results in differences between genders, Paap and Gardner say this (2011)

“No significant differences between males and females on relationship satisfaction, body image, self-esteem and weight loss thoughts… no differences between how satisfied the genders were… in their relationship… no gender differences between how much dissatisfaction respondents perceived their partner had about their body size. However, there were significant gender differences in how dissatisfied respondents were with their own body size, with females having significantly more dissatisfaction. Females wanted to be 15% thinner while males wanted to be about 8% thinner.”. (p. 718)

To summarize the findings of the results, females expressed a desire to be thinner and would think that their partners would want them to be thinner. Males don’t really seem to want to be thinner but have expressed a desire for their partners to be thinner. The research also showed that when one person in the relationship expressed desire to be thinner and had little confidence with their body around their partner, it made their partner less satisfied in the relationship. Partners who were both confident and expressed satisfaction in the relationship, reportedly stayed to together longer than other couples in the survey.

For a more personal analysis on this paper, one could compare relationships in our own lives to this study. The researchers themselves could benefit from using their findings and implementing them into their own lives. Being confident is a learned trait, we as humans are not born with the ability to look at ourselves and see no flaws. Humans will always compare themselves to others and because of that, this study was beneficial to help understand the way relationships are affected by the way we see and talk about ourselves. Reading this paper, we can now see the error in our ways and work to fix it and build stronger relationships. The study could have benefited from having more homosexual students participate as there relationships matter as much as any heterosexual one. Personally, the data would have been interesting to see as it would have created a broader view point and given a larger perspective.

To conclude the research done by Paap and Gardner, they found that body image is directly impacted by the relationships we make, the study more so focused on romantic relations. The data showed that while females tended to be more self-conscience, they were satisfied by their partner and would not change their physical appearance. Males, however, were satisfied in the relationship if their partner was not overtly negative in their opinion of their body. Some males expressed a desire that their partner be thinner, while females mostly did not. Papp and Gardner’s study ultimately concluded that satisfaction in a relationship is directly impacted by the way the partners see themselves and their mind set on their own bodies. In the end, the study was considered successful and will be useful to researchers for years to come, and will be beneficial for anybody to read on and learn.

  1. Paap, C. E., & Gardner, R. M. (2011). Personality and Individual Differences. Body Image Disturbance and Relationship Satisfaction Among College Students, 715–719. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.019


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