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Dr. Ahlishia Shipley Asks: Do Studies Show that Women Want to be Valued by their Appearance?

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Dr. Ahlishia Shipley, CFLE

Observing a woman being stared down by a male stranger because of her alluring figure is not an uncommon scene. Beauty and sex appeal are highly held attributes in our society or at least this seems true when we take a glance at the images flashing before us on the television screen.

What we may not see, however, are the negative emotions many women experience when they are valued on the basis of their appearance. Past research has shown female objectification often leads to anxiety and lowered self-esteem. According to the theory on sexual objectification, women may adopt these ‘outsider views’ on various levels and engage in self-objectifying by treating themselves as an object to be appraised on the basis of appearance.

Much of this research has focused on interactions with strangers as opposed to intimate partners, which begs the question, how do women feel when they are valued for their bodies by a boyfriend or husband?

Actually, research on this topic in the relationship context is limited, but at least one previous study has demonstrated a negative connection between a partner’s body objectification and a woman’s relationship satisfaction. Luckily, researchers have expanded on this area of research in two independent studies published in a recent article. The team focused on the link between ‘body valuation,’ as they described it, and relationship satisfaction. They went a step further by taking a new look at the extent to which male partners also valued women’s nonphysical characteristics and the influence of perceived commitment level.

 

The first study included over one hundred dating college females. These women were asked to report how much they feel their boyfriends value their body and their nonphysical attributes, such as creativity, intelligence, patience and generosity. They were also asked to report their overall relationship satisfaction and how committed they believed their partners were to the relationship.

 

Since the first study provided data from more unpredictable relationships among college students, the second study provided data representing more stable, long-term relationships by targeting sixty-nine married couples. Whereas the dating women in the first study offered perceived reports of their partners’ body and nonphysical valuation, husbands in Study 2 gave actual reports of how much they value their wives in these two domains. Similar to Study 1, wives’ reported on their relationship satisfaction and partner’s commitment to the marriage. All of the women in both studies reported their age and body dimensions to calculate body mass index (BMI).

 

For both of these studies, the researchers predicted that  women who have committed male partners who value both their bodies and nonphysical qualities should feel more satisfied because they are meeting their partners’ physical and nonphysical desires.  On the other hand, the team believed women valued for their bodies but not their other attributes could conceivably feel like sexual objects to their partners leading to relationship dissatisfaction, particularly so with uncommitted partners.

 

So, what did they find out?

 

Well, the researchers were right. The studies did support their predictions by demonstrating that body valuation, nonphysical valuation, and perceived partner commitment influence women’s relationship satisfaction. Simply stated, women in the studies were more satisfied when a) partners valued their bodies to extent that they also valued their nonphysical qualities and b) they believed their partner was committed to the relationship.

 

On the other end, placing high value on a female partner’s body did not have a significant association with her relationship satisfaction when the partner did not also value her other nonphysical attributes, even if she thought he was committed. Along the same lines, body valuation was negatively related to relationship satisfaction if the woman felt her partner was uncommitted, no matter how much he valued her nonphysical qualities.

 

Although the two studies did offer robust findings, the act of expressing value for a partner in a relationship varies across couples and cultures. Since the samples were mostly White, findings should be interpreted with some level of caution. For example, the authors noted that the effects of body valuation on the relationship satisfaction of Black women could be different than the effects reported in these studies because body-related standards, to a degree, are qualitatively distinct and nuanced in Black culture.

 

However, on a practical level, the findings offer implications for the ways in which couples express appreciation for their partners. The studies also highlighted the important role that perceived commitment can have on relationship satisfaction. Research suggests that couples should express appreciation and commitment in ways that are meaningful to the other partner to experience better relationship outcomes. According to Dr. John Gottman, a noted relationship scientist, this awareness can be built and maintained through the act of intimate conversation, where the main goals are showing interest and genuinely listening to your partner.

 

Speak up! What personal qualities do you want to be valued for by a partner – physical, nonphysical or both?  How would you like a partner to show their appreciation for your qualities in ways that are meaningful for you?

182 Comments

  1. ST

    September 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    This has always been true. In fact, this is old news. ALL of us want unconditional love and to be valued for who we are. We do things to attract others, but at the end of the day, we still want to be valued for who we are, not what we look like. The hype suggesting you have to look a certain way comes about by gimmicks from TV commercials selling beauty products. Though people buy into the hype, it changes nothing about how we feel when we are REALLY cared for.

  2. andre matthews

    December 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    What has been drilled into women throughout the centuries ,their beauty is their calling card …especially the las few years. That female executive that qualifies to be a boss sadly has to be HOT ! also ..it puts undue pressure on improving what you are on the inside.

  3. Devon

    December 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    The ONLY women who say a woman’s appearance doesn’t matter, are the ones who are unattractive in some manner. Of course appearance matters, that’s why we take the time to work out, eat well, dress stylish and elegant and keep our hair looking nice, particularly natural haired sistas like myself.

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