The science behind body image


Illustration by Emily Miyaoka (Sr.).

Illustration by Emily Miyaoka (Sr.).
Illustration by Emily Miyaoka (Sr.).

Body image is an issue that everyone has to deal with and face at some point in his or her life. The adolescent years are critical in determining how well people deal with these issues. Some people develop eating disorders, some people begin to consciously take care of their body, and some people simply try not to worry.
Why is everybody so body-conscious? Is it because the media sets a standard for the kind of body that is attractive and plasters that image everywhere for everybody to see? It is certainly true that the media seeps into our subconscious and manipulates our way of thinking, but this influence is not the only force driving our body image issues. In fact, we are biologically programmed to favor certain characteristics over others.
The science of attraction underlies our feelings and behavior. Often, what we find attractive in potential mates are qualities that signify fertility and health. We subconsciously look for these traits so that our offspring can have a healthy genetic makeup similar to our own. For instance, our brains are naturally attracted to symmetrical faces.  If you take a look at certain models, you can draw a line straight down the center of their face and see that the two halves basically mirror each other.
But why is symmetry important to us? Here is one theory: when our bodies are first being formed at conception, theoretically, our cells should be neatly split. If each division were to go perfectly, the two sides of the baby’s face would be mirror images of each other. But despite these expectations, nature is not perfect.  Imperfections are naturally occurring events. Our brain’s associate the perfect division with perfect health, so naturally we are drawn towards symmetrical faces.
Body shape also plays into the laws of attraction. Psychologist Devendra Singh at the University of Texas studied people’s waist-to-hip ratio and found that women with a ratio of 7:10 are more attractive (WHR). What is the importance of somebody’s WHR? The ratio indicates the potential a person has to reproduce and have kids. The location of fat on the body is controlled by sex hormones – testosterone for men and estrogen for women. If a man or woman’s body produces a normal amount of the hormone, then his or her WHR will fall into a healthy range. No wonder people love that hourglass figure!
Smell is another indicator of strong reproductive health. Pheromones, the chemical signals associated with smell, have the ability to pick up on reproductive quality. Nadia Goodman, a blogger from, explained an important study that put this theory to work.  In this study, women were asked to smell a variety of men’s sweaty T-shirts and choose the ones they were most attracted too.  Goodman said, “Women in the most fertile phase of their cycle accurately chose the scent of more attractive, symmetrical men.” This is because women are programmed to instinctively select the mates with the healthiest traits to pass along to her offspring.
One of the main reasons we are attracted to certain people over others is biological. We are all subconsciously looking for the same traits in potential mates. However, a study by Leonard Lee from Columbia University also found that we tend to pick our mates based on our own level of attractiveness.  For example, if somebody does not find himself or herself very physically attractive, they will be drawn towards somebody of similar attractiveness. So maybe supermodels will never be attracted to the average Joe, but our bodies know what we need, and it is about time we put some of these unnecessary body issues to rest.
Staff Writer