Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 7/8, April 2005 (
Relationships Between Men’s and Women’s Body Image and
Their Psychological, Social, and Sexual Functioning
Tanya E. Davison
and Marita P. McCabe
This study was designed to examine the relationships between different aspects of body im-
age and psychological, social, and sexual functioning throughout adulthood. The respondents
were 211 men and 226 women (age range 18–86 years; mean = 42.26). Respondents com-
pleted measures of self-rated attractiveness, body satisfaction, body image importance, body
image behaviors, appearance comparison, social physique anxiety, self-esteem, depression,
anxiety, and social and sexual functioning. Body image was associated with self-esteem for
all groups, but was unrelated to other aspects of psychological, social, and sexual functioning.
There were some exceptions; a disturbance in body image was related to problematic social
and sexual functioning among middle-aged men and to depression and anxiety symptoms in
late adulthood among men and women. Middle-aged men who presented with the type of
body image disturbance typical of women were more likely to have impaired interpersonal
functioning. These results demonstrate that social aspects of body image appear to be impor-
tant in understanding psychological functioning in later life.
KEY WORDS: body image; gender differences; developmental differences; psychological functioning;
social functioning; sexual functioning.
The term body image is typically used to refer
to perceptions and attitudes individuals hold about
their bodies, although some authors argue that body
image is a broader term, which encompasses behav-
ioral aspects, such as weight loss attempts, and other
indicators of investment in appearance (Banﬁeld &
McCabe, 2002). Women are generally considered to
hold a more negative body image than men (Feingold
& Mazzella, 1998). As a result, body dissatisfaction
among women has been labeled a “normative discon-
tent” (Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1985).
However, through the use of gender-sensitive instru-
ments that conceptualize body image concerns in
terms of a desire to gain muscle, as well as to lose
weight, previous beliefs that men are largely resilient
to concerns about their appearance have been chal-
lenged, and there is now considerable evidence to
School of Psychology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
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suggest that young men are also dissatisﬁed with their
bodies (Abell & Richards, 1996; Drewnowski & Yee,
A broad conceptualization of body image may
prove important in understanding the nature of the
construct among men, who appear to be less in-
clined than women to report holding negative atti-
tudes toward their bodies, but do report a strong
motivation to improve the appearance of their bod-
ies (Davison, 2002). It may also be helpful to con-
sider body image broadly when investigating its role
throughout adulthood. Although the majority of re-
search is limited to college samples, body image con-
cerns appear to extend into later life (Montepare,
1996), and different age-related changes have been
found among both men and women (Halliwell &
Dittmar, 2003; Harmatz, Gronendyke, & Thomas,
1985). However, few researchers have systematically
explored the development of different aspects of
body image throughout the period of adulthood.
Although there has been a large body of re-
search on the prevalence of body image concerns and
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.