THURSDAY, Jan. 15, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to how satisfied they are with their own bodies, notions women hold of what men look for in females may be key, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas found that women are happier with their weight if they believe that men prefer full-bodied women instead of those who are model-thin.
"Women who are led to believe that men prefer women with bodies larger than the models depicted in the media may experience higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression," lead researcher Andrea Meltzer, a social psychologist at Southern Methodist, said in a university news release.
The study included almost 450 women, the majority of whom were white, who were shown images of women who were either ultra-thin or larger-bodied.
Some women were also told by the researchers that men who had viewed the pictures had tended to prefer the thinner women, while others were told that men had preferred the larger women.
Both groups of women then completed a questionnaire meant to assess how they felt about their weight.
The result: women who were told that men prefer larger-bodied women were more satisfied with their own weight.
That could have real implications for women's mental and physical health, according to the researchers, because prior studies have suggested that women who are happy with their bodies tend to eat better, be more active and have more self-esteem. They also tend to be less prone to depression, and shun eating disorders and excessive dieting, Meltzer's team said.
Meltzer said that most straight women do tend to believe that straight men desire the type of "ultra-thin women" that are favored by the media.
So the new study suggests that "interventions that alter women's perception regarding men's desires for ideal female body sizes may be effective at improving women's body image."
But it's also not clear how long the effect of those messages might last, Meltzer added. It's likely that women would have to hear that message repeatedly to overcome the strong influence of ads and other media that link thinness with desirability, she said.
According to the study authors, prior research has found that women who read a lot of fashion magazines and watch lots of TV have worse body image and self-esteem.
The study was published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about body image.