When it comes to overall life satisfaction, body image still plays a major role, according to a new survey of more than 12,000 American adults by researchers at Chapman University. The findings show that body image also affects one’s relationship “attachment style,” with body-dissatisfied individuals being more likely to engage in anxious attachment behaviors.
“Our study shows that men’s and women’s feelings about their weight and appearance play a major role in how satisfied they are with their lives overall,” said lead author David Frederick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University.
For the survey, the researchers asked participants questions about their personalities, beliefs about romantic relationships, self-esteem, television viewing, and personal characteristics.
For women, satisfaction with their personal appearance was the third strongest predictor of overall life satisfaction, behind only satisfaction with financial situation and satisfaction with romantic partner. For men, personal appearance was the second strongest predictor of life satisfaction, behind only satisfaction with financial situation.
Making personal appearance a high priority is certainly a problem, as very few people are actually satisfied with their looks. “Few men (24 percent) and women (20 percent) felt very or extremely satisfied with their weight, and only half felt somewhat to extremely satisfied,” said Frederick.
“These findings are consistent with the emphasis placed on the importance of being slender for women and for appearing athletic and/or lean for men. It would seem therefore, that we still have a long way to go before we achieve the goal of Americans being truly happy with their bodies.”
According to the findings, individuals who were unhappy with their weight reported having significantly less satisfaction with their sex lives and lower overall self-esteem. Relationship attachment styles were also tied to how people felt about their bodies.
Women who were dissatisfied with their weight and overall appearance were more likely to have anxious and fearful attachment styles. People with an “anxious” attachment style are often preoccupied with their romantic relationships and fearful that their partners will leave.
Frederick noted that, “body dissatisfaction and anxious attachment styles can lead to an out of control spiral and fuel each other. People who are less confident in their appearance become more fearful that their partner will leave, which further fuels their worries about their appearance.”
The findings also showed that people with poor body image had higher neuroticism, had more preoccupied and fearful attachment styles, and spent more hours watching television. In contrast, satisfied people had higher openness, conscientious, extraversion, are more secure in attachment style, and had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction.
“These findings highlight the high prevalence of body dissatisfaction and the factors linked to dissatisfaction among U.S. adults,” said Frederick.
The study is published in the journal Body Image.