Body Image and Relationship Study

In an historical age where beauty is greatly valued and the average person is bombarded with sleek images of what society and the media consider attractive, it is no surprise that body image plays a role in relationship and sexual satisfaction. Until recently, most research on body image and body satisfaction has focused on how self-perceptions are related to the development of psychological symptoms, such as eating disorders, and little attention has been given to how body image is related to relationship functioning – both sexual and general relationship functioning. A small literature on this issue is emerging, but the focus is generally on the associations between body image and relationship functioning in clinical rather than community samples. In this study, we investigated how individuals’ perceptions of their own and their romantic partners’ appearance, and the beliefs individuals have about how their partners see them play a role in the way participants evaluated their general and sexual relationship functioning in a large community sample of dating and married couples

Who participated in the study?

Participants were 347 women and 139 men in dating (n = 265), married (n = 105) or cohabiting (n = 114) relationships who were recruited through an email snowball technique and electronic bulletin board advertisement. Of the 347 participants, the average age was 27.4 (SD = 8.3) years, 70% were Caucasian, and the average relationship length was 4.1 (SD = 4.9) years.

How did we measure body satisfaction?

We asked participants to tell us how their felt about their own appearance including satisfaction with general appearance, their weight, muscle tone, and body shape. For example, we asked “How satisfied are you with your appearance?” We called this scale “Satisfaction-Self." We also asked the participants to tell us how satisfied they were with their romantic partners on these same factors. For example, “How satisfied are you with your partner's current weight?” We called this scale “Satisfaction-Partner." Finally, we asked participants to tell us how satisfied they thought their partners were with the participants’ appearance. For example, “How satisfied is your partner with your body shape?” We called this scale “Satisfaction-Partner with Self.” 

What have we learned so far?

Although we have not completed our data analysis, we have learned that peoples’ satisfaction with their partner’s bodies, and to some extent the degree to which they believe their partner is satisfied with them, are important for relationship and sexual satisfaction regardless of how satisfied people are with their own bodies.