It takes women half their lives to achieve half the level of body self-esteem as the average teenage male. That's one of the stunning findings of a Yahoo Health survey on body image and acceptance.
The survey found that 70 percent of males are either positive (they love the way they look) or neutral (they're OK with the way they look and have made peace with imperfections) their whole lives. As they age, men tend to become less sure about their physical appearance.
The opposite is true for females: 66 percent of teenage girls are either negative (they're dissatisfied with their bodies) or ambivalent (they have a love/hate relationship). Negativity stays fairly consistent as women age, but those who are ambivalent are more likely to upgrade to neutral over time.
The online survey was conducted on a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people between the ages of 13 and 64.
- More findings:
- Only one in seven Americans consider themselves body positive, and males are much more likely to be so than females (20 percent vs. 11 percent).
- Teenage males are 3.5 times more body positive than teenage females.
- Women hit peak body positivity between ages 35 and 54.
- More than half of females feel ambivalent or negative.
- 94 percent of teen females have experienced body shame, but only 64 percent of teen males have experienced it.
While the findings are eye-opening, Sari Shepphird, a psychologist who regularly works with patients on improving body image, isn't shocked.
"Within our culture, it's fair game now to comment on a woman's weight, regardless of her age," she says. "It used to be that only happened for women who highlighted their bodies, such as models."
Social media commentary - directed at a woman or her peers - also has a way of influencing image. As a result, Shepphird says, the risk that a woman will suffer remains constant throughout her lifespan.
Why don't males experience the same fate? They're not subject to the same criticism.
"It's still more acceptable to comment on a woman's body," Shepphird notes.
When males are forming their identities, they may not feel like they have to take their shape into account to the same degree that females do, she says. And that can set the stage for a lifetime.
Why do women become more accepting of their physical characteristics over time?
As they age, women take on a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment in other areas of their lives, such as career, children and relationships, says Shepphird. Younger women who are just shaping their identity, on the other hand, may put more emphasis on the physical because they don't yet have those other elements in their lives.
On the flip side, men may become more critical of their bodies as they age because they're suddenly aware that they have limitations.
"The majority aren't confronted with that aspect of their bodies when they're younger," says Shepphird.
"Middle age is often the first time they become aware of how their bodies don't measure up."
Some people use action to fix the problem. They attribute their happy mindset to eating right and working out - both of which are doable for most people. Worth noting: That was true even for the 40 percent of people with a good attitude who were overweight or obese BMI (body mass index).
Of course, it helps to start out right. Having a mom who was not critical of her own weight made a respondent nearly 40 percent more likely to be body positive or neutral.
"Watch the comments that you make," Shepphird advises parents. "If you talk about your body in a more neutral and positive way, your kids and others you influence will be shaped by that."
Talking and thinking confidently can influence your own mindset, too, making you more accepting of yourself in the process.
And finally, pay attention to movements like Health at Every Size that strive to help people of all shapes focus more on being fit and less on a clothing size.
"It's important to balance the idea that 'fit' doesn't necessarily mean 'skinny,'" says Shepphird. "What's important is that you're taking care of your body."