Is there a correlation between obesity in women and standards of beauty?

People spend a lot of time in the US talking about how there are very unrealistic depictions of women in the media. A third of women in the United States are obese, and people often point out that depicting a conventionally attractive woman as ‘thin’ isn’t neccesarily an accurate portrayal of an average woman in the United States.

I’m curious about two things: First, does a higher rate of Obesity (US has the highest rate in the developed world) alter American standards favorably or unfavorably toward obese women?

Second, do other countries have the same correlation? Some countries in Europe, South America, and Asia have comparitavely few obese women- to the point that in some places its extremely rare. I’m wondering if cultural standards in these countries lean either favorably or unfavorably toward obese women.

There is a common perception that in regions more prone to famine/scarcity of food obesity is considered a more ‘desirable’ quality because it implies the obese person has a lifestyle/status/fortune to be well fed, and those qualities may benefit a potential partner. But in places like the United States where obesity is quite common, is the opposite true? The fatter we get, the more obsessed we are with getting thin?

The…“physical appearance penalty” for obesity is less if you are fat and black or hispanic than if you are fat and white.

This suggests to me that cultural standards drive perception of obesity wrt beauty.

However so does Madison Av, and that might be slower to change…

I’ve also heard that before, but again I wonder if economics play into it. Black and Latino groups tend to be on lower income levels. Is this truly a cultural thing then?

And what about other countries, say Germany or Japan? Are there similar pressures for women to be thin?

Back when I was a substitute teacher, a local school I was subbing in had a group of exchange students from Germany.

Aside from being much more fair-skinned/light haired than the rest of the student body, they were significantly more thin- not in an unhealthy way, but very noticible from the rest of the students. I got to wondering about people in countries like Germany or Japan, if they would find someone overweight just as attractive, or if there would be a stronger taboo.

Is your wife out of town? Or are you perhaps trapped somewhere in a windowless room?

You’ve been obsessing a lot about the lives, minds and bodies of others this week.

Back when I would read about it, the argument was that ~100+ years ago being overweight or slightly obese was considered somewhat attractive since only the wealthy could afford the lives of leisure and high quantity/variety of food that allows obesity. All the poor and working class people with their lives full of physical labor (60-100ish hours a week between work and at home) and their bland diets couldn’t get fat.

I have no idea to what degree that was true though.

I’d say in the US, about 80-90% of women feel they are too fat (the majority of whom look fine as they are mind you). So I don’t think the high rates of obesity have made people more tolerant of being fat, if they had then the vast majority of women wouldn’t worry about it.

One argument I’ve heard (again, a sociological argument and I don’t know how valid) is that part of why being thin is attractive for women is that it is so hard to achieve unless you have excess time and money. Being thin requires you to have enough time and money to devote to being thin. You have to eat costlier foods (healthy foods cost more), you have to have enough leisure time to spend 10 hours a week working out and prepare meals, you may need to hire a personal trainer or diet counselor. Plus if you have more pressing responsibilities (health issues, job issues, family issues, etc) losing weight loses priority. The people who have too little time or money and too many more pressing responsibilities can’t devote themselves as much to being thin. In some ways being thin is viewed as peacock feathers, a sign you have so much free time and money you can devote some to trying to become thin. Basically the opposite of attitudes 100 years ago when only those with too much time and money could afford to get fat.

Moderator Note

I fail to see how a remark like this belongs in General Questions. No warning issued, but there’s no reason to make personal remarks of this kind.

General Questions Moderator

From the Venus of Villendorf to classical, to renaissance, to romantic to modern, to 70 years of Playboy, they get skinnier and skinnier.

(Therefore no correlation? Just fewer resources per capita.)

China resident here. The baseline of what is considered normal weight and what is considered fat is definitely lower here.

However, apart from that difference, it’s just like where I’m from (the UK):

  1. Just about all women here think they need to lose weight
  2. This is reinforced by the fact that most famous female models are much skinnier than the average woman
  3. Men on average seem to prefer heavier women than this “ideal”. I wish I was the only guy here with an interest in the curvier women, but it ain’t so

So yeah, lower obesity rate here but just the same kind of body image issues

Ancient Greek statues of women tended to be pretty slender. So I don’t know if there’s really a thinning trend in history.

For countries where obesity is not as much of an epidemic as it is in the US, I’m curious if this affects men’s tastes. For example, I have a mutual friend who is white but likes to date Asian guys. Apparently according to the Asian guy’s peers she is much fatter than most Asian women though to most other Caucasians she would be considered “slender”. So perceptions of ideal body shape are often cultural.