How Americans feel about their bodies

Jamie BallardData Journalist
May 26, 2021, 5:15 PM UTC

As many people prepare to socialize in-person again following the COVID-19 pandemic, some may be feeling self-conscious about how their bodies look. The YouGov Body Image Study 2021 finds that about half of Americans feel pressured to have a certain body type, and for many, this translates into anxiety about how romantic partners view them.  
 
About half (51%) of Americans say they feel pressured to have a certain body type. Women (60%) are substantially more likely than men (42%) to say they feel completely or somewhat pressured to have a particular body type. 

This discrepancy may not be surprising -- 76% of Americans believe that women are under more pressure to have a certain body type. Women (83%) are again more likely than men (68%) to believe that this is the case, while 22% of men say both genders are equally under pressure (14% of women agree). 

How do Americans describe their body?  

The most common response when Americans are asked to choose words that describe their body is “average,” at 31%. The next most common answers are chubby (21%) and overweight (20%). Fewer choose to describe themselves as slim (14%) or athletic (13%). (Note: respondents could select multiple responses, but could not select words that directly contradicted one another)  

Women (25%) are more likely than men (15%) to describe themselves as overweight. Meanwhile, men (18%) are about twice as likely as women (9%) to say their body is athletic. 

Do Americans believe themselves to be attractive?  

When asked whether they consider themselves more or less attractive than most other people, the most common response is “about average,” at 47%. About one quarter (24%) believe themselves to be more attractive than the average person, with 19% saying they are “somewhat more attractive” and 5% saying they are “much more attractive.” 

One in seven (15%) say they are “somewhat less attractive” than most, and 9% say they are “much less attractive.” 

Women are more likely than men to worry about their partner’s opinions on their appearance  

Among Americans who have ever been in a relationship, 62% say they worry a great deal or somewhat about what their partner thinks of how they look. Women who have been in a relationship (67%) are more likely than men (58%) to express concern about this.  

One-third (33%) of people who have been in a relationship say they don’t worry about this much or at all.  

How body confidence impacts sexual relationships  

Half (49%) of Americans who have ever had a sexual partner say they think about how their body looks during sex a great deal or somewhat. But a similar number of people (47%) say that they don’t think about their appearance very much or at all during sex.  

There is a clear difference between genders on this question. Women (59%) are much more likely than men (38%) to say they think about how their body looks during sex.  

For many, this concern about how they look during sex can have an impact on their intimate relationships.  

About one in seven (15%) adults who have had a sexual relationship at some point say their body confidence “constantly” impacts their sexual relationships. Another 30% say it sometimes impacts these relationships, while 21% say it occasionally affects this aspect of their life. About one-quarter (25%) of sexually active Americans say that their body confidence never impacts their intimate relationships.  

See full results here

Related: Most Americans believe the media promotes an unattainable body image for women

Methodology: Total sample size was 1,302 US respondents 16+. Fieldwork was undertaken between April 26 - 27, 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of US respondents ages 16+. Note: questions relating to sex were only asked of panelists ages 18+.  

Image: Getty 

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