A study has concluded that gay men and heterosexual women are driven to stay thin out of a desire to stay sexually competitive.
The research, headed by Singapore Management University’s Norman Li, sought to test the belief that “restrictive eating attitudes and behaviours” are related to mating desirability and revolve around appearing thinner.
The researchers showed pictures of high-status but similarly attractive same-sex individuals to over 800 people in Texas.
They discovered that among gay men and heterosexual women this tended to lead to greater body image dissatisfaction and more restrictive eating attitudes.
Interestingly, the people depicted in the pictures were not overly thin, but the pictures nevertheless still led to a desire to reduce the viewer’s weight.
According to Li, the focus on weight may be related to the fact that – especially in the West – individuals tend gain weight as they age, thus leading people to equate weight with aging.
He also said that our fascination with looking at magazines and media featuring attractive people could have an evolutionary basis related to our ancestor’s need to be aware of the appearance of their competitors for mates.
“Fashion models, celebrities and television characters are not actually our peers,” Li told New Scientist, noting that, “Their presence makes us look to standards that are largely unattainable or ultimately harmful.”
The researcher were, however, unable to account for the fact that heterosexual men and lesbian women were not significantly influenced by the images that they were shown.