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How Fat is fat | The Relationships Between Body Size Estimation, Body Dissatisfaction, and the "Normal/Overweight" Boundary in Men

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Clinical Paper: Relationships Between Body Size Estimation, Body Dissatisfaction, and the "Normal/Overweight" Boundary in Men


This paper investigates the complex relationships between men's perceptions of their own body size, body dissatisfaction, and their subjective judgments of the transition from normal to overweight in other men’s bodies (referred to as the "normal/overweight" boundary). Two hypotheses are proposed: one suggesting that participants compare others to an internalized Western "thin ideal," influenced by their own body dissatisfaction, and another proposing that judgments are influenced by social comparison relative to their own perceived body size. An online study with 100 healthy men reveals that both increasing body dissatisfaction and overestimation of one's own body size influence the placement of the "normal/overweight" boundary on the BMI spectrum.


Body dissatisfaction and the perception of body size are critical factors influencing individuals' body image perceptions. In Western societies, the thin ideal portrayed in media and cultural norms often leads to discrepancies between perceived and actual body size. This study examines how healthy men estimate their own body size, experience body dissatisfaction, and judge the boundary between normal and overweight body sizes in others. Understanding these relationships can provide insights into body image issues and inform interventions aimed at promoting healthier body perceptions among men.

Literature Review

1. Body Size Estimation and Body Dissatisfaction: Research indicates that individuals who are dissatisfied with their bodies tend to overestimate their body size compared to objective measurements (Cash & Deagle, 1997). This discrepancy can influence perceptions of others' body sizes relative to personal standards.

2. The "Normal/Overweight" Boundary: The concept of where individuals draw the line between normal and overweight body sizes varies and can be influenced by personal body image perceptions and societal norms (Swami et al., 2013). In Western cultures, the thin ideal may lead to stricter judgments of body size, affecting perceptions of others.

3. Social Comparison Theory: Festinger's (1954) social comparison theory posits that individuals evaluate their own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others. In the context of body image, individuals may compare their own body size to others to assess where they stand in relation to societal norms.


Based on previous literature and theoretical frameworks, two hypotheses are proposed:

1. Internalised Thin Ideal Hypothesis: Participants compare others to an internalised Western "thin ideal," which correlates with their own body dissatisfaction. As dissatisfaction increases, the perceived size of the "thin ideal" decreases, leading to a narrower "normal/overweight" boundary.

2. Social Comparison Hypothesis: Participants judge others' body sizes relative to their own perceived body size. Greater overestimation of one's own body size leads to a larger or equivalent "normal/overweight" boundary to minimise upward social comparisons.


Participants (n=100) were recruited online and completed surveys assessing their own body dissatisfaction, body size estimation, and judgments of the "normal/overweight" boundary in a series of male body images varying in BMI. Statistical analyses were conducted to test relationships between variables and validate hypotheses.


Findings supported both hypotheses. Increased body dissatisfaction was associated with placing the "normal/overweight" boundary at lower BMIs, reflecting a narrower definition of normal body size. Conversely, participants who overestimated their own body size tended to place the boundary at higher BMIs, potentially to avoid upward social comparisons.


The results highlight the complex interplay between body dissatisfaction, perceived body size, and judgments of others' body sizes among men. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for developing interventions aimed at promoting healthier body image perceptions and reducing body dissatisfaction. Future research could explore longitudinal effects and cultural variations in body image perceptions.


This study provides empirical evidence supporting the influence of both internalised thin ideals and social comparison on judgments of the "normal/overweight" boundary among men. Addressing body dissatisfaction and promoting realistic body size perceptions are essential for improving mental and physical health outcomes in diverse populations.


- Cash, T. F., & Deagle, E. A. (1997). The nature and extent of body-image disturbances in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 22(2), 107-125.

- Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117-140.

- Swami, V., Frederick, D. A., Aavik, T., Alcalay, L., Allik, J., Anderson, D., ... & Zivcic-Becirevic, I. (2010). The attractive female body weight and female body dissatisfaction in 26 countries across 10 world regions: Results of the international body project I. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(3), 309-325.

Keywords: body dissatisfaction, body size estimation, normal/overweight boundary, men, psychology

The Relationships Between Body Size Estimation, Body Dissatisfaction, and the "Normal/Overweight" Boundary in Men
How Fat is fat ..?

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