How men ‘see women’s bodies’ can help female body image, says doctor

BBC News, 18/03/15, men should share their "take" on female bodies to help women and girls, a doctor is telling teachers and heads of PHSE. Speaking ahead of an HMCPD Conference for Teachers and Heads of PSHE (Forest School, London, 18 March 2015), Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman says the vast majority of men do not find female body-fat, or the "pear-shape", unattractive.

"Men are an untapped army who need to become aggressively vocal," he is telling the HMC Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

Feminist thinking says that body image is more of a "complex" issue than this.

"Poor body image isn't about what men do and don't find attractive, it's much more complex than that, and involves a huge amount of psychological manipulation, insecurity mongering, and conditioning," says Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a newspaper columnist and the co-writer of The Vagenda.

"From childhood, women are already surrounded by men's unsolicited opinions on their bodies - more of the same is not what we need."

Dr Sigman tells Newsbeat that excluding the views of men from these discussions is "old-fashioned" and comes from an approach that has failed to work for the last 40 years.

He says many boys and men value non-physical attributes such as personality and body language - and it's important for girls to hear this message.

Dr Sigman says: "Whether we consider it politically incorrect or not, how men - meaning in this case fathers, brothers, grandfathers and partners - see women's bodies is a real part of life."

He adds: "Men have a very different and much kinder take on female body-fat, sex appeal, eating and weight loss.

"Knowing what men think can actually serve as an antidote to the prevailing assumptions that feed body dissatisfaction."

In 2012, MPs recommended that all schoolchildren should take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons.

An inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on body image was given evidence that showed girls as young as five were worrying about their size and appearance.

It was also shown that more than half of adults also felt ashamed of the way they looked.

"Anyone who is serious about tackling the cult of thinness should seriously consider taking a long hard look at the media - women's magazines as much as men's - and the fashion industry, as well as a range of other complex psychological factors," says Ms Cosslett.

"Talking to women is key, as well. Often body insecurities are passed down from mother to daughter and have little, if anything, to do with men."

Dr Sigman, the author of the book The Body Wars, says: "Men are often surprised to discover how even the most intelligent, capable, rational and empowered women can be laid low by body dissatisfaction. Many of us just don't get it."

Ms Cosslett believes that the media and fashion industry both have a big part to play in why so many women experience issues with body image - and that addressing these institutions would be a more effective way of tackling the problem.

"Men's support is vital in the fight against sexism but to reduce such a complex issue down to what men find attractive is extremely unhelpful and could have a negative impact on girls within the school environment, who already face alarming levels of body scrutiny," she says.

Read the full article Source © BBC News