Where Women Look When Checking Out Each Other's Bodies

Illustration Mallory Heyer
Have you ever looked a fellow female up and down – not in a sexual way – to check them out? Sadly, we probably all have. You might even spend more time checking out other women than men (if you're heterosexual, that is).

It's no fault of our own, though. We're socialised as girls to compare ourselves to others and view them as competition, rather than partners in crime. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote: "We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments... but for the attention of men."

This behaviour is so ingrained in many of us that a new study, published in Psychological Research, has been conducted on the female body from a woman's perspective.

Researchers Amelia Cundall and Kun Guo at the University of Lincoln used eye-tracking technology to find out how 33 heterosexual, healthy, confident women assess each other's bodies.

They showed the participants computer-generated images of women with different body types, ranging from a UK size 6 to size 18, wearing either tight-fitting or loose clothing.

The faces of four Caucasian models were used to represent each dress size. They were all a similar age, with the same hairstyle, similar facial expression and no distinctive facial or body markings. Each image was shown twice – one featuring tight clothing and one in loose clothing.

There were 56 images in total, which the participants rated on attractiveness before guessing the computerised woman's dress size.

The women also had to rate how satisfied they were with their own bodies – their face, breasts, waist, hips, arms and legs – and answer questions about how often they compare their own appearance to other women.

The results? Women were most likely to check out the waist and hip region of other women, just as men spend most time looking at our waists, hips and breasts. The study's participants spent an equal amount of time looking at the head, upper-body and legs of the computerised women, and the least amount of time looking at the arms.

The researchers also found that the more satisfied a woman was with a particular area of her own body, the less likely she was to look at that area on the model.

Cundall and Guo also found no link between participants' own body satisfaction or body size and the time spent looking at the images they considered more or less attractive. This was most likely because the women had healthy BMIs and were confident in their physical appearance.

“Self-satisfaction with a body region means the need for comparing that region is reduced and thus gaze is allocated at the neighbouring body areas that are also informative for body attractiveness and size assessment,” the researchers said.

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