In August, scientists presenting at the American Psychological Association’s annual hangout offered up a rare bit of positive news: Women feel better about their bodies than they have in the past 30 years. While the collective cheers of women rang out loud and clear, the findings didn’t seem to resonate across society. They should have. What the rest of the world has failed to realize is that what’s good for women is actually good for everyone else.
Skeptics, climb aboard this train of thought: People who are happy with their looks are happier in general — and thereby more positive in their interactions with others (including, crucially, those of the intimate variety). Makes sense, right? And what seems logical on a conceptual level is backed up by plenty of hard science.
Take, for example, the results of a nation-wide study published this year in the journal Body Image, which pointed out that body satisfaction was linked to overall life satisfaction and positive feelings about romantic relationships. Women who weren’t happy with their bodies tended to be less dissatisfied with their lives overall and were more likely to take “anxious” or “fearful” approaches to relationships. (The same trends, somewhat unexpectedly, were found in men.) The study of over 110,000 Americans —both men and women — found that people were more secure, conscientious, and extroverted when they were more satisfied with their looks.
Buried within broader measures of life satisfaction is the inevitable element of sexual fulfillment. And it shouldn’t come as any surprise that science shows that increased body satisfaction is correlated with better sex. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that positive body image is linked to better “sexual functioning.” The study of 88 sexually active women, published this year, determined that people who felt badly about their bodies could be reasonably predicted to have lower measures of desire, arousal, and orgasm than their body-positive peers.
And no one can argue that better sex doesn’t bring joy. The study results published by the London School of Economics, after surveying thousands of Brits through the happiness-measuring app Mappiness, indicated that of all the activities that make people happy, sex is by far the most happy-making activity of all, outstripping even cultural excursions and playing sports.
In other words, happy people reproduce on multiple levels. This is not to say that we should require any additional motivation to promote body-positive messages in general. The fact that society’s contributions to poor body image have been ruining lives for centuries — and by no means have they been eliminated entirely — should be reason enough to continue pushing forward with “sociocultural changes and increased awareness about body acceptance,” as the authors put it.
In an age where smartphone cameras dictate reality, research shows that body image can make or break a person’s outlook on life. If we accept that happy people make the rest of us happy, then it could be argued that really, we’re all responsible for fostering a climate of acceptance and body positivity. Science, adding to the obvious need to weeding out the world’s body shamers, has a couple of suggestions for what such a scenario should look like: A world without Tinder and less social media use overall might be one that’s much better at fostering positive body image, and more likely than not, a happier one overall.
Photos via Mappiness/Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE