Brief research report
The swimsuit issue: Correlates of body image in a sample
of 52,677 heterosexual adults
David A. Fredericka,b,c,*, Letitia Anne Peplaua, Janet Leverd
aDepartment of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, United States
bUCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development, United States
cUCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture, United States
dDepartment of Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles, United States
Received 18 April 2006; received in revised form 1 August 2006; accepted 7 August 2006
personal characteristics to body satisfaction. This study of 52,677 heterosexual adults ages 18–65 examined associations of body
satisfaction to age, height, gender, and body mass index (BMI). Age and height were mostly unrelated to body satisfaction.
Consistent with an Objectification Theory perspective, fewer men than women reported being too heavy (41% versus 61%), rated
their body as unattractive (11%versus21%), or avoidedwearing a swimsuit in public (16%versus31%). Men felt better about their
bodies than women across most of the weight span, although among underweight individuals, women felt better than men. Slender
women (BMIs 14.5–22.49) were more satisfied than most other women (BMIs 22.5–40.5). Among men, underweight and obese
men were least satisfied. These findings highlight gender differences in the association of weight to body satisfaction.
# 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Body image; Body mass index; Age; Height; Adults; Objectification
Men and women who have negative attitudes about
and health issues (Sondhaus, Kurtz, & Strube, 2001),
including the development of disordered eating patterns
(Cash & Deagle, 1997). The present study of 52,677
heterosexual women and men examined how gender,
age, weight, and height relate to body satisfaction in
greater detail than was possible in most previous
smaller studies, where variation in these characteristics
To explain body dissatisfaction, Fredrickson and
Roberts (1997) developed Objectification Theory. They
proposed that Western women learn to assess their own
value as a function of how they believe their bodies are
viewed by others. From this perspective, women are
more likely than men to experience anxiety regarding
their appearance, particularly in situations such as
wearing a swimsuit where others can evaluate their
bodies (Frederickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge,
1998; butsee Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004). Consistent with
this perspective, we predicted that women would report
poorer body image than men (Feingold & Mazzella,
1998). We believe, however, that some men are also
concerned with how their appearance is judged by
others, even if it is to a lesser degree than among
Body Image 3 (2006) 413–419
* Corresponding author at: 1285 Franz Hall, Department of Psy-
chology, 3rd Floor Mailroom, University of California, Los Angeles,
CA 90095-1563, United States. Tel.: +1 310 665 0784.
E-mail address: email@example.com (D.A. Frederick).
1740-1445/$ – see front matter # 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
women. We therefore predicted that a significant
minority of men would also report body dissatisfaction.
The objectification framework can be extended to
individuals age, they move further from the youthful
appearanceideals, butobjectificationpressures may also
(Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001). We predicted that for both
men and women, body and weight satisfaction would be
generally similar across age groups (see Cash & Henry,
1995; Tiggemann, 2004).
InAmericatoday,slender women andlean,muscular
men are considered most attractive (e.g., Frederick,
Fessler, & Haselton, 2005; Spitzer, Henderson, &
Zivian, 1999). Thus, heavier men and women may be
more concerned than others with how their appearance
is evaluated. Further, very slender men, but not women,
because they do not possess a body type that cor-
responds to the ‘‘powerful ideal’’ for men (Frederick,
Forbes, Grigorian, & Jarcho, 2006). This would lead
to an interaction between gender and body mass index
(BMI), with women reporting worse body satisfaction
than men across most of the weight spectrum, but better
body satisfaction than men among slender individuals
where women match the conventional ideals but men
do not (Frederick et al., 2006; McCreary & Sadava,
For men, height can be an especially important
masculinity (Ridgeway & Tylka,2005).JacobiandCash
(1994) found that 62% of college men (versus 46% of
women) wished to be taller. This suggests that men may
We predicted that most tall men would be satisfied with
their height but most short men would not.
A different pattern was predicted for women.
Shorter-than-average women may feel that they are
treated with less respect, while very tall women may
experience anxiety over violating gender-role expecta-
tions. By signaling dominance through height, tall
women defy societal norms (Boyson, Pryor, & Butler,
1999). In the 1960s, doctors who believed that height
was a social disadvantage for women prescribed
estrogen to limit the height of girls. This was done
despite negative physical side effects (Venn et al.,
2004). Growth-suppression treatment is still offered by
one in three American pediatric endocrinologists for
women projected to be above 5 ft 10 in. or 6 ft 0 in.
assess tall women’s satisfaction with their height.
A 27-item survey posted on MSNBC.com and
Elle.com in February 2003 was completed by visitors
volunteering for a ‘‘Sex and Body Image Survey’’. A
computer program prevented multiple survey submis-
sions from a given computer station.
Most respondents (98%)were from the MSNBC.com
website and only 2% were from the Elle.com website.
of body fat level and health. We examined heterosexual
participants ages 18–65, with body mass index (BMI)
scores ranging from 14.5 to 40.5, women shorter than
74 in. tall, and men ranging in height from 62 to 78 in.
tall. The analyzed sample consisted of 25,714 men and
The mean age was 33.5 (SD = 10.9) for women and
36.9 (SD = 11.8) for men, t(52,675) = 34.90, p < .001,
d = 0.30. Three age groups were created. The percen-
tages of men and women in each category were: 18–34
(47%, 59%), 35–49 (36%, 31%), 50–65 (17%, 10%).
The mean height in inches was 5 ft 10.7 in.
(SD = 2.8 in.) for men and 5 ft 5.1 in. (SD = 2.7 in.)
forwomen,t(52,675) = 237.44,p < .001,d = 2.07.Five
height groups were created to facilitate data presenta-
tion. For men, these were: Very Short (5 ft 2 in.–5 ft
4 in.; 1%), Short (5 ft 5 in.–5 ft 7 in.; 20%), Average
(5 ft 8 in.–5 ft 11 in.; 39%), Tall (6 ft 0 in.–6 ft 3 in.;
36%), and Very Tall (6 ft 4 in.–6 ft 6 in.; 4%). For
women, thesewere: Very Short (5 ft 0 in. or under; 2%),
Short (5 ft 1 in.–5 ft 2 in.; 16%), Average (5 ft 3 in.–5 ft
6 in.; 51%), Tall (5 ft 7 in.–5 ft 10 in.; 28%), and Very
Tall (5 ft 11 in.–6 ft 2 in.; 3%).
D.A. Frederick et al./Body Image 3 (2006) 413–419414
Body Mass Index
BMI is a standard measure used to estimate an
individual’s level of body fat calculated from weight
and height (Strain & Zumoff, 1992; Welborn, Knuiman,
& Vu, 2000), although it can also be affected by other
factors (e.g., muscularity). The mean BMI was 26.6
(SD = 4.1) for men and 24.2 (SD = 4.8) for women,
t(52,675) = 60.42, p < .001, d = 0.53. BMI scores were
divided into categories endorsed by the National
Institute of Health (1998): Underweight (14.5–18.49),
Healthy (18.5–24.99), Overweight (25–29.99), and
Obese (30–40.5). The percentage of men and women
in each were: Underweight (1%, 6%), Healthy (37%,
60%), Overweight (43%,21%),and Obese (18%, 13%).
We then further subdivided each of these groups by
half. Thus, eight categories were created: Lower
Underweight (14.5–16.49), Upper Underweight (16.5–
18.49), Lower Healthy (18.5–21.74), Upper Healthy
(21.75–24.99), Lower Overweight (25–27.49), Upper
Overweight (27.5–29.99), Lower Obese (30–34.99),
Upper Obese (35–40.49). The percentages of men and
women in each category were: Lower Underweight
(0.3%, 0.5%), Upper Underweight (0.8%, 5%), Lower
Healthy (8%, 31%), Upper Healthy (29%, 30%), Lower
Overweight (24%, 12%), Upper Overweight (20%, 8%),
Lower Obese (14%, 9%), Upper Obese (4%, 4%).
Measures of body image satisfaction and concern
with weight and height
Body image: self-rated attractiveness
‘‘How do you feel about your body?’’ Responses
were given on a four-point Likert scale: ‘‘I have a great
body’’= 4, ‘‘I have a good body’’= 3, ‘‘My body is just
okay’’= 2, and ‘‘I find my body unattractive’’= 1. The
percentages of men and women responding in each
category were: Great (7%, 5%), Good (47%, 36%),
Okay (36%, 38%), and Unattractive (11%, 21%). This
measure was strongly correlated for both men (r = .75,
p < .01) and women (r = .75, p < .01) with the widely
used seven-item Appearance Evaluation scale of the
Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire
(Cash, 2000) among a separate sample of 153 male and
303 female college students.
Body image: comfort in a swimsuit
‘‘How do you think you look in a swimsuit?’’
Responses were given on a three-point Likert scale:
‘‘Good; I’m proud/not at all embarrassed to be seen in a
swimsuit’’= 3, ‘‘Okay; I don’t flaunt it but my self-
consciousness doesn’t keep me from wearing a swim-
suit’’= 2, and ‘‘So uncomfortable that I avoid wearing
one in public’’= 1. The percentages of men and women
responding in each category were: Good (25%, 12%),
Okay (59%, 57%), and Uncomfortable (16%, 31%).
This measure was highly correlated with self-rated
attractiveness in the current sample (r = .62, p < .001
for men; r = .61, p < .001 for women). In the college
sample mentioned earlier, a significant correlation was
found between scores on the swimsuit item and scores
ontheAppearanceEvaluationscale(r = .62,p < .01for
men; r = .58, p < .01 for women).
Satisfaction with weight
‘‘Are you self-conscious about your weight?’’
Response options were ‘‘Yes, I’m too thin’’, ‘‘Yes,
I’m too heavy’’, and ‘‘No’’.
Satisfaction with height
‘‘How do you feel about your height?’’ Response
options were ‘‘I wish I were taller’’, ‘‘I wish I were
shorter’’, and ‘‘I feel okay about my height’’.
Statistical significance and effect sizes
Because our large sample size provided the power to
detect even miniscule effects, we set p < .001 as the
criterion for statistical significance and calculated effect
sizes (Cohen’s d) for mean comparisons. Cohen (1988)
to small, medium, and large effects. All correlations
reported represent Pearson’s r.
Table 1 summarizes the main results.1As predicted,
women scored lower on self-rated attractiveness than
did men, t(52,675) = 32.69, p < .001, although the
difference was small, d = 0.29. Women were twice as
likely as men to say that they were so uncomfortable
they would avoid wearing a swimsuit in public, and
women scored lower on comfort in a swimsuit than
men, t(52,675) = 50.70, p < .001, d = 0.44. Women
were also less likely than men to report that they were
satisfied with their weight. Overall, women were more
D.A. Frederick et al./Body Image 3 (2006) 413–419 415
1Due to space limitations, statistical tests for some data, particu-
larly data presented as percentages, are not reported. For specific
comparisons, p < .001 was used as the criterion for determining a
significant difference. Statistical information on these comparisons is
available from the authors upon request.
likely than men to report beingtoo heavy,and men were
more likely to report being too thin. Men and women
were generally similar in their overall satisfaction with
As predicted, the association between age and self-
rated body attractiveness was very small, r = ?.06 for
men and r = ?.08 for women. The correlation between
age and comfort in a swimsuit was also small, r = ?.04
for men and r = ?.08 for women, all ps < .001.
However, as shown in Table 1, a greater percentage
of older women than younger women reported being
unattractive and feeling uncomfortable wearing a
swimsuit in public.
As predicted, individuals with higher BMI scores
reported lower self-rated body attractiveness and
comfort in a swimsuit among men (rs = ?.37; ?.31)
and women (rs = ?.53; .42), all ps < .001. As shown
in Table 1, thinner women were generally more
satisfied with their weight than were heavier women
D.A. Frederick et al./Body Image 3 (2006) 413–419416
Male–female differences in body satisfaction across age, BMI, and height categories
Gender differences Participants’ self ratings‘‘Are you self-conscious about your weight?’’
Comfort in a
in a swimsuit
%Too Heavy%Too Thin %No
MenWomen MenWomenMenWomen MenWomenMenWomen
Overall0.290.44112116 31 416172 52 37
0.910.98528 1041 37872061 13
?0.19148 19 1924 11 37 443945
Gender differencesParticipants’ self ratings ‘‘How do you feel about your height?’’
Comfort in a
in a swimsuit
%Satisfied %Wish Taller%Wish Shorter
Men WomenMenWomen MenWomenMen Women
Note: The first two columns present the effect sizes for differences between men and women’s mean body image score (positiveeffect sizes indicate
menreportedbetter bodyimage thanwomen).The percentage‘‘unattractive’’ and ‘‘uncomfortable in a swimsuit’’ columnsrepresent the individuals
with the lowest possible score for the self-rated attractiveness and comfort in a swimsuit measures.
(see Table 1). Thinner women were also generally more
satisfied with their overall appearance, although there
was a downturn for very underweight women (see
Fig. 1). Among men a curvilinear trend was found:
compared to average weight men, a greater percentage
of heavy and thin were dissatisfied with their weight
(see Table 1). This curvilinear pattern is shown
graphically in Fig. 1.
Gender differences and BMI
to feel too thin (see Table 1). Gender differences in body
satisfaction were dependent on BMI. A 2 (Gender) ? 8
(BMI Category) between subjects ANOVA forself-rated
attractiveness found significant main effects of sex, F(1,
52,659) = 113.84, p < .001, and of body fat level F(7,
52,659) = 1593.16, p < .001. A significant interaction
was also found, F(7, 52,659) = 211.16, p < .001. This
span, men reported better body image than women, but
among underweight individuals, women reported better
body image than men. See Table 1 for effect sizes for
genderdifferencesby BMIcategory. Resultsforcomfort
in a swimsuit (not shown) were very similar to those for
There was little association between height and self-
rated body attractiveness or comfort in a swimsuit with
correlations ranging from r = .00 to .05 for both women
and men. Tall and short individuals did, however, differ
in their feelings about their own height. As shown in
Table 1, the majority of shorter-than-average men
wanted to be taller, and most taller-than-average men
were satisfied with their height. Among women, most
average-height and tall women were satisfied with their
height; shorter-than-averagewomen were least likely to
report being satisfied with their height. Very tall women
fell in between. The percentage of the tallest women
(6 ft 1 in. and 6 ft 2 in.) satisfied with their height was
less than for other very tall women (5 ft 11 in. and 6 ft
0 in.; data not shown), but they were just as likely to be
satisfied as women of average height.
Summary of findings
Most participants felt that their body was at least
‘‘okay’’, were comfortable enough to wear a bathing
suit in public, and were satisfied with their height. In
contrast, only a third of women and half of men were
satisfied with their weight; many felt they were too
heavy. Although this sample was large and diverse,
conclusions are limited because the survey relied on
single-item measures, recruited Internet users who may
differ from the general public, and did not assess
participants’ ethnicity or social class.
Consistent with Objectification Theory (Fredrickson
& Roberts, 1997), women were less satisfied with their
bodies than men and more concerned than men about a
situation where others could evaluate their bodies,
specifically, wearing a swimsuit in public. Despite these
consistent gender differences, it isimportant tonote that
some men did feel unattractive and were uncomfortable
wearing a bathing suit in public, suggesting that
objectification concerns are relevant to men.
gender differences were consistent across age groups.
tage of older individuals reported body dissatisfaction,
which may suggest that some women are vulnerable to
decreased body satisfaction as they age. This issue
warrants further empirical investigation.
Individuals who deviated from the conventional
ideals – thin men, heavy men, and heavy women – were
most likely to express dissatisfaction with their
appearance and discomfort with wearing a swimsuit
in public. Interestingly,the traditional gender difference
D.A. Frederick et al./Body Image 3 (2006) 413–419417
Fig. 1. Association of BMI and self-rated attractiveness for women
and men. Note: Higher numbers represent greater self-rated attrac-
tiveness (1, Unattractive; 2, Okay; 3, Good; 4, Great). A similar
pattern emerged for the comfort in a swimsuit measure (not shown).
reversed among thin individuals, with women feeling
better than men, indicating that gender differences in
body satisfaction are dependent on BMI.
Men who were average or shorter-than-average were
less satisfied with their height than taller men. Short
womenwere least likelytobesatisfiedwiththeir height.
Importantly, approximately four-fifths of tall and very
tall women were satisfied with their height, suggesting
that public concerns about women’s height and medical
unwarranted. Indeed, therewere no height ranges where
taller-than-average women were more dissatisfied with
their height than average and shorter-than-average
women. Future research should examine women’s
height concerns in more detail before life-altering
medical interventions are used to intentionally suppress
growth in girls.
The increasing obesity of the American public and
the strong link between body fat level and body
satisfaction found in the present study suggest that body
dissatisfaction and associated psychological problems
may increase in the coming years. On a societal level, it
bodyideals,aswell as the harmful behaviorsthat follow
from attempts to attain these standards. In parallel, we
would be remiss not to suggest stepped-up efforts to
raise public awareness of the benefits of healthier eating
an increase in obesity as well in body image
dissatisfaction and associated psychological distress.
We thank Elle magazine for access to the data from
the ELLE/MSNBC.com Sex and Body Image Survey.
The authors are grateful to the UCLA Graduate
Division, the Center for Culture, Brain, and Develop-
ment, and the Departments of Psychology and Com-
munication Studies for providing financial support to
the first author.We are also gratefulforsupportfrom the
National Institute of Health to the first author, Grant #
1F31MH072384-01. Thanks to Sheila Allameh, Anna
Berezovskaya, Lisa Burklund, Jeremy Casey, David
Creswell, Martie Haselton, Johanna Jarcho, Kelsey
Laird, Kathleen Lambert, Henry Madrid, Traci Mann,
Leila Sadeghi-Azar, Janet Tomiyama, Andrew Ward,
and Erika Westling for their assistance with this
database and manuscript. We are also grateful to Carol
Edwards, who helped to create the database.
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