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All people have a body image, or a self-perception of their physical attributes grouped with personal beliefs about attractiveness and appeal. Some people have a healthy and accurate body image, others tend not to think about their bodies much at all, and still others have unhealthy, critical and negative perceptions of their bodies. While many different factors can affect one's self-perception, scientific studies have demonstrated a strong connection between gender and body image. Such studies have suggested that, in general, women are more likely than men to associate body image with self-esteem and to hold themselves to unrealistic physical standards. This link between gender and body image is believed to be related, in part, to unequal standards and gender roles in society.
There are a variety of different socially conditioned standards to which many men and women hold themselves. In many cases, people of both genders judge themselves based on these often-unrealistic standards. An important link between gender and body image can be seen in the fact that these socially conditioned standards differ substantially based on gender. Men, for instance, often feel pressured to appear bulky and muscular while women experience social pressure to be thin, often to an unhealthy degree. Many people of both genders tend to fixate on the ways they deviate from these social ideals, and their body image tends to reflect this.
Studies have shown that the reasons why people exercise and diet vary somewhat based on gender. Gender and body image are connected by the fact that males are, in many cases, as likely to want to gain weight and bulk as they are to want to lose it. This is almost never the case with females, who exercise almost exclusively to lose weight. Another connection between gender and body image exists in that low self-esteem and poor body image are more commonly connected in women than in men. Overall, male self-esteem tends to be less affected by body image than female self-esteem.
Though there are many connections between gender and body image, it should be noted that members of both genders share many similar body-image traits that are not closely related to gender. Members of both genders face stresses related to social ideals and must come to terms with the unrealistic images portrayed by many facets of society. Both also tend to suffer somewhat when their body image differs substantially from their idealized image of an attractive body. This condition tends to lead to an unhealthy body image that can have deleterious effects on self-esteem and on other facets of mental health.