GUEST POST: What MEN think about women’s body image

David Penberthy is the former Editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and now edits the award-winning opinion website The Punch (which I reference here often and write for occasionally). Everyone calls him Penbo. Even me. Even though we’ve only ever ‘met’ on Twitter and email. We’re modern like that.

Today, The Punch is publishing a survey with 100 men about women’s body image which is a fascinating thing because, as Penbo points out, with all the debate of the past weeks and months, very little (if any) attention has been paid to what men think about women’s bodies.

Besides, you know, phwoooaaaaar.

Here’s Penbo’s guest post exclusively for Mamamia:

The one missing feature from the important national debate about female body image is that at no stage has anybody asked the blokes what they think about it.

It’s a pity – because there is now some interesting evidence that women are laying a serious guilt-trip on themselves and reinforcing stereotypes about their size and shape which have absolutely no bearing on whether men find them attractive or not.

In a fun journalistic experiment, our website The Punch has now invited blokes into the conversation about female body image, polling 100 men for their views on everything from body shape and size to photo retouching, plus-size models, personal grooming and pornography.

While not quite a clarion call for the women of Australia to throw out their makeup, schlep around in tracky dacks and generally let themselves go, the findings suggest that women should as a starting point stop fixating and fretting about appearance – and take comfort in the fact that most men want a girl with a pretty face and a nice personality, rather than some foxy airhead with perfect breasts and a stick-thin figure.

Far from it.

Broken down into the following categories, these are the key findings from the survey. It was anonymous meaning all the men could answer honestly.

APPEARANCE: Men are much more attracted to a woman’s face than any other part of her body – 68 per cent of men surveyed said they looked for a pretty face, just 8 per cent said great breasts, 8 per cent nice legs, and 16 per cent a perfect fat-free figure. In terms of ranking the importance of overall qualities, not one man said appearance was the most important – 24 per cent cited personality as the most important, with 76 per cent citing personality and appearance in equal measure.

HAIR, OUTFITS, AND HONESTY: Just over half the men surveyed (56 per cent) said they immediately noticed if their wife or girlfriend had a new haircut or outfit. 38 per cent said they “eventually” realised and 6 per cent said they sometimes never realised. As to the question every man fears – “does my bum look big in this? – it seems there is little point even asking, with 52 per cent of men saying they never tell the truth when asked.

RETOUCHED PHOTOS AND PLUS-SIZE MODELS: The current issue of the Womens Weekly featuring a natural and untouched photo of Sarah Murdoch was a mystery to most men, with 54 per cent saying they would not have realised the picture had not been retouched if not for the coverage it received. We also showed the men a photo of plus-size model Laura Wells, a size 16, and 58 per cent of them described her as normal looking, 16 per cent as really hot, and just 26 per cent as overweight.

YOUR VIEWS ON MEN: Interestingly, men think women are more turned on by a good physique than they are. Asked which physical qualities they thought women looked for in men, 41 per cent said a handsome face, closely followed by 36 per cent saying a good physique. Perhaps explaining why Advanced Hair Studios is such a good business, 18 men said they thought women liked them for a good head of hair, just one bloke ticked “well-endowed” (and was probably bragging), and four of them said they couldn’t think of anything about male appearance which women would find attractive, one of them writing: “frankly I can’t understand why lesbianism isn’t more popular.”

PORNOGRAPHY: Probably unsurprisingly, the takeout from this question is that it’s best not to check the history on your bloke’s laptop, as 78 per cent of men said they sometimes looked at it. 74 per cent said they regarded porn as harmless provided the women were over 18 and had not been coerced into taking part, with just 26 per cent saying it was demeaning to women. Many of the men also wrote on their surveys that they regarded themselves as hypocrites. There was no direct overlap between the men who regarded porn as demeaning and did not look at porn. About 15 men replied that they regarded porn as demeaning but still looked at it anyway, with roughly the same number saying they thought it was harmless, but did not look at it.

Of all the many comments which the guys typed in the margins, one struck me as being obviously the soppiest but probably the truest – “i could tick every box for their physical qualities but the greatest physical attraction of all is being in love with someone.”

At the other end of the spectrum – and the one respondent who as a total exhibitionist has surrendered his anonymity – was Daily Telegraph columnist and Punch film reviewer Joe Hildebrand, who answered “great breasts” to every question.

The survey forms the main part of a body image special at The Punch today, which also includes Joe’s piece on his love of fat chicks, and Chris Deal’s insider account of having worked at Zoo Weekly, where he argues that men are actually as dumb as you think.

Read the whole package and follow the debate at

Thanks to you Mia for this guest spot and congrats for the great work you have done on this issue.

Thanks Penbo. The results of this survey confirm what so many of us have long suspected – the ‘ideal’ -and virtually ONLY- body shape held up as the ‘fantasy’ by women’s magazines and the fashion industry is not, in fact, the male ideal. Far from it.

So whose ideal IS it if we don’t want it and men don’t want it? [insert sound of crickets here]

Interestingly, what shouts loudest to me from Penbo’s post and the Punch survey results is that men don’t really HAVE an ideal. They think we’re all pretty hot. So hot that they’re baffled as to why we’re not lesbians. How can we resist tearing each other’s close off and frolicking in all our diverse glory?

Also interesting: instead of worrying about the size of our thighs, they’re worried we don’t find THEM attractive. I bet that didn’t occur to you as you critically scrutinised your laugh lines or your stretch marks or your upper arms in the mirror, did it?

Oh, and bless them for not noticing our haircuts. Men? We knew that already. We just like making you suffer a little bit for it.

So. Surprised? Delighted? Dismayed by these survey results? What do the men in your life think?
Go on, ask them. And I’d love to hear from all the men who lurk around MM silently….come
on, what do YOU think?

And if men are so much more forgiving of our bodies than we are, who are we torturing ourselves for? Each other? Ourselves? Fun?

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