Virtual voyeurism
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/18/2003 7:23:45 PM ET 2003-10-18T23:23:45

We asked what you thought of your looks: your face, your shape, your height. And what you told us is that the majority of men and women are still working with the same old double standards of beauty. While most men are comfortable with their bodies, most women won’t be happy until they’re as thin as a toothpick.

In general, men aren’t daunted by their physical imperfections. Although nearly twice as many men as women in the ELLE/MSNBC.com Sex and Body Image Survey reported being overweight, the women were far more likely to be unhappy about the extra pounds. Women were also more likely than men to want to have sex in the dark and to eschew swim suits altogether.

Maybe guys SHOULD be more self conscious

Almost two-thirds of the men in our survey said they are overweight or obese. Just under half of those who are overweight think they look fine, while a full 15 percent of those who are obese think there is no problem with the extra lard. But, while the spare tire may not get in the way of finding a date, it could lead to future health problems. Think clogged arteries and high blood pressure, guys.

Women worship at the altar of the runway model

Almost two-thirds of the women surveyed are either a healthy weight or too thin. But even these women aren’t happy with their size. Just under half of the women who are at a healthy weight want to be thinner, while some 14 percent of the underweight women want to lose more. Nine out of 10 women who were overweight said they realize they need to shed a few pounds.

Men don’t let flab get in the way of a good time

Among overweight men, only 15 percent worry so much about the spare tire that they avoid being seen in a swimsuit; 9 percent said they prefer making love in the dark; and 22 percent said they hide some part of their body during sex. Just 17 percent said they would resort to liposuction to melt away the extra pounds.

Compare this to overweight women, 45 percent of whom said they won’t wear a swimsuit in public; 34 percent said they prefer making love in the dark; and 59 percent said they try to cover up some part of their body during sex. A full 42 percent said they’d consider liposuction.

What the opposite sex wants

We asked whether you’d rather have a perfect body or have a mate with a perfect body. Almost 90 percent of women said they’d rather have a perfect body themselves, while just under 60 percent of men said they’d prefer their women to have perfect bodies.

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Ah, those flabby abs

Men and women are equally obsessed with bulging stomachs. When asked to list their least attractive feature, 37 percent of women and 40 percent of men pointed to flabby abs as their most embarrassing body part. In fact, almost 35 percent of women said they are so self-conscious about their tummies, that they try to hide the bulge during sex.

Penis size is another story

First, let’s put this in context: 80 percent of women said their guy is big enough. But while 54 percent of men said their organ is just right, a full 44 percent want to supersize. Even men who said they have large organs still seem to adhere to the “bigger is better” philosophy. Men clearly don’t grasp the concept that there is such a thing as too big. In fact, among women who said their partner is endowed with an above-average organ, about 5 percent said they’d like to downsize. Basically, it’s a simple geometry problem — you can’t fit a Ford Expedition into a Honda-sized space.

Women, not men, buy into bigger breasts

Despite all the centerfolds displaying big-busted women, most men — 71 percent — said they’re completely happy with the size of their partner’s breasts. Surprisingly, there were men — admittedly only 3 percent — who wish their partner’s breasts were smaller. In contrast, almost 30 percent of women said they’d like their breasts to be larger, while 9 percent said they’d like smaller ones.

Men also seem to be less concerned than women about drooping bustlines. Almost 30 percent of women said they were unhappy with the loss of breast perkiness, while only 18 percent of men said the droop bothered them.

The very thin among us

Men and women clearly look at thinness differently. For the most part, men perceive being underweight as a bad thing while women aspire to the condition. It’s quite possible that thin men worry that they don’t look manly enough. Thin men were more likely than others to select chest and arms as being their least attractive body parts. More underweight men — 23 percent — than overweight men — 15 percent — said they avoid wearing a swimsuit in public.

Still, 14 percent of underweight women and 15 percent of underweight men thought they could be thinner yet — could these be budding eating disorders?

Both men and women agree short is out

Hardly anyone wants to be shorter. But 34 percent of women and 37 percent of men said they’d like to be taller. Perhaps we’ll see a comeback of platform shoes?

The majority of us are happy with our heights: 63 percent of women and 61 percent of men said they wouldn’t choose to add or subtract even an inch.

Brains are best

Reassuringly, both sexes seem to understand that beauty is fleeting and brains last longer. Just under 79 percent of men — and 72 percent of women — said they would rather their mate have a high IQ than a perfect body.

Limitations of the survey: Because we posted this survey on two Web sites — ELLE.com and MSNBC.com — for two weeks in February, our respondent pool cannot be considered a scientific random representative sample. For more coverage of results, go to www.elle.com after or pick up the June issue of Elle Magazine. Linda Carroll is a free-lance reporter based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Health and Smart Money.

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