Are lesbians more satisfied with their body image than straight women?

BlogHer Original Post

Shortly after I became a Contributing Editor here at BlogHer, I was asked to participate in a new initiative called Letter to My Body. Upon receiving the request, I totally panicked at the thought of writing a post having anything to do with body image, and immediately begged off the assignment. I'm not sure that I can fully explain my flight reaction other than to say, I sort of feel like I have no right to write about body image. I feel guilty that pretty much every woman in my life struggles with being happy with their body, while I do not. I see their pain and insecurity, and no matter how much anyone tries to tell them they are perfect and beautiful they way they are, there is just no undoing years and years of media bombardment and cultural programming.

Until now, I have successfully avoided writing about this topic. There have been little things here and there that have tempted me to hit the keyboard on this issue, but the final straw was the new Fox show More To Love. The commercials play like this new show is revolutionary, and the first step in changing the unrealistic cultural ideals of beauty. They talk about how the average female reality TV star is a size 2, while the average American woman is a size 12-16. How this show is going to represent the average American woman. Then I heard the show was called More To Love, and I lost all hope that it's anything but a gimmick show. It felt like exploitation. You know, kind of like how shows, with no lesbian characters like to suddenly feature a lesbian lip lock during sweeps week. And then never again.

Now I have not watched this show, because I despise the premise of this type of show, but from what I've read, it's The Bachelor with larger bodied people. In fact, it comes from The Bachelor's creator, and the original working title was The Fatchelor. So, I suppose the title for the show could actually have been more blatantly cruel than what it ended up. The other thing they do that just seems completely crass, is to list the women's weight anytime their name is on the screen (according to what I've read at The Curvy Life). Why do that? What is the purpose? Is that really adding anything positive and constructive to the show? Wouldn't it have been a better to just make this as a season of The Bachelor, call it The Bachelor, and use the same descriptors for the women as they have in past seasons of The Bachelor?

But don't just take my word for it. Read Lesley's, brilliant piece from Fatshionista. She says,

Applying this idea to More to Love, here we have a situation in which that body-horror is being candidly exploited for (fun and) profit. It's clear that the initial expectation is that people will tune in for the sideshow factor - the self-conscious, semi-ironic placing of fat women (and a fat man) into a scenario typically reserved for people meeting a generalized beauty standard. Emme, the show's host, acknowledges as much in a behind-the-scenes interview for the show, while stating that she hopes the show will also have positive effects on how fatness, and fat people, are perceived. Some viewers may come away from the experience with a more positive impression of these women specifically, or even fat people in general, but the broader cultural contribution of this show - ultimately, a piece of throwaway television that few people will remember in a couple years - to how we as a society think about and see fat people remains to be demonstrated.
-read full post,101: Thoughts on Intersectionality, Or, Why There's No Dark-Skinned Fat Black Women on More to Love

And here I thought I was cynical.

But More To Love was just the last straw to me finally writing about body image. Two recent studies which looked at sexuality, body image, and weight control were also key players.

One study, by Caroline Huxley at the University of West England found

The lesbian women in this study felt significantly less pressure on their body image than heterosexual or bisexual women, and they also internalised social ideals of attractiveness significantly less than heterosexual or bisexual women.

The women were also questioned on their levels of body satisfaction and restrained eating, but no differences between the lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women were found on these measures.
-read full article, Lesbian Women Feel Less Pressure To Have A 'perfect' Body

The other study, lead by Anne-Maree Polimeni, Ph.D from Odyssey Institute of Studies, Richmond 3121 Victoria, Australia found

[note,I edited out the statistical findings to make this easier to read] Lesbians were less likely to be dissatisfied with their body image, to cut down on fats and sugars, and to engage in healthy weight control practices overall compared with exclusively heterosexual women.
-read article, Sexual Orientation and Weight, Body Image, and Weight Control Practices among Young Australian Women, published in Journal of Women's Health.

Both studies found that lesbians were less likely to be dissatisfied with their body image. Note that neither study said they had a higher rate of happiness with, or satisfaction with, but rather were less dissatisfied with their body image. Even still, I find that a little hard to believe that that isn't changing, and we're moving toward the same levels of dissatisfaction as all other women. Especially now that we're living in a post L Word era. I'm not saying that this means that lesbians should be critical of the their body image, but rather The L Word gave us modern lesbian icons who were thin and fashionable. And we ate it up. I don't think anyone can deny the impact that show has had on lesbian fashion and culture. I can't go anywhere where the girls are without running into an army of Shanes. We seem to be a lot more stylized and fashion conscious these days too.

There are the familiar arguments about representations of women in the media, the ones about unrealistic beauty standards being forced into the brains of young women - which absolutely hold true for The L Word, as well. While it is great for a young queer woman to see images of queer women out there, period, what kind of message is it sending to the girl who can't afford to buy designer clothing or who will never wear a size four without physically harming herself? Granted, a better argument could probably be made about the young dykes who can't afford Showtime to begin with, but I digress...
-read The L Word Effect at Velvet Park

The first study also concluded that lesbians don't internalize social ideals of attractiveness nearly as much as heterosexual and bi women. But it makes me wonder, were they only looking at heterosexual ideals of attractiveness in this study? Because I believe that we instead internalize the ideals of certain lesbian culture, as I described earlier with the L Word.

I know there are two studies that say so, but it seems hard for me to believe lesbians are less dissatisfied with their body image than bi and straight women. There may have been a time when I would have thought that could be true, but I think those days are over. What do you think, are we happier with our bodies than than straight and bi women? Are our body ideals being influenced by lesbian pop culture?

Other good posts about body image:

Zoe is a BlogHer Contributing Editor (Life-GLBT). She also blogs her life most ordinary at gaymo.



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