The sexual and feminist revolutions may have brought women and men closer toequality in work and play. But in at least one area, the social upheavals may have led the genders further apart: more women today suffer from poor body self-image than do men.
Since 1970, the number of women unhappy with their appearance has drastically increased, while the number of discontented men has stayed virtually the same. Yale psychologist Alan Feingold, Ph.D., and research assistant Ronald Mazzella arrived at that conclusion after analyzing data on body image and physical attractiveness gathered from men and women during the past 50 years.
Women before 1970 actually showed little displeasure with their bodies, reports Feingold. Why the subsequent increase? He speculates that women's newfound independence ironically exacerbated the biological need to look attractive to draw a mate and produce offspring.
"Until the 70s," he notes, "the typical woman got married and had children. She didn't have to dress up: she wasn't visible." But as women began working, they had to compete for acceptance, responsibilities, and promotions—and appearance counted. "In the workplace, women face heightened pressure to be attractive, which makes them more vulnerable to poor body imaging," says Feingold, who believes the strain also explains why eating disorders have flourished among women in the past 20 years.