published Friday, July 29th, 2011

Leber: Study says skinny wives are key to early marital happiness

Size matters.

A study at the University of Tennessee suggests that marriages may be more blissful when the wife is thinner than the husband.

For four years, a team of researchers, led by doctoral candidate Andrea Meltzer, tracked both the marital satisfaction and body mass indices of 169 newlywed couples under age 35.

They found that couples are happier when the woman's BMI, a weight-to-height ratio, is lower than the husband's.

I didn't really need a university study to tell me that. It makes perfect sense. To generalize, our society aligns thinness with attractiveness. Therefore women who are heavier than their husbands are likely to feel less attractive. Thus self-esteem is reduced, and because self-doubt is unattractive, the relationship is stressed. That's has to be it, yes?

Apparently not. (What can I say, I dropped the psych major in my first semester of college.)

In a phone interview, Meltzer explained that there was sometimes a happiness discrepancy at the beginning of a marriage if a woman's BMI is lower than a man's -- with men being happier than women -- but that the levels of satisfaction seemed to converge after four years.

Still, I was having trouble believing that a woman's sense of self-satisfaction didn't factor into these results. The times in my adult life when I've felt the worst about myself have been the times when my romantic relationship has suffered the most.

Turns out I wasn't entirely wrong. Meltzer said a previous study had examined the correlation between women's body satisfaction and partners' relationship and sexual satisfaction.

"When women felt better about themselves, those couples had sex more frequently, and both the husbands and the wives were more satisfied with their sexual relationship and thus more satisfied with their relationship in general," she said.

That made a lot of sense to me. Help me out, here, ladies: how often do you think, "Wow, I feel ugly and terrible about myself. Time for someone to see me naked." Not too often, right?

And, female readers, forgive me, but I'm one of the ones who prefers to be small. I know that's a terribly politically incorrect, and probably weak, statement to make. But personally, just for myself, I happen to be more comfortable when I'm on the slender side. I speak from comparative experience, having flirted with the obesity line at one point in my life. Children: Ramen noodles and late-night donut runs are bad for you. However, as unfeminist as it might be to say I don't feel very good about myself when I'm heavy, I also happen to know that I'm not alone in that feeling.

So what surprised me about this particular study was that it was the men who were initially more satisfied if the women had a lower BMI. I'd have thought the women would care more. Again, Susan Bordo forgive me, but many women I've encountered, myself very much included, are quite vain. I don't know a lot of women who are comfortable being less attractive than their male partners. And we live in a society that values thinness, whether that's fair or not. So I imagined being comparatively thinner would be more important to a woman than to a man. Apparently, this is not the case.

"I think BMI and physical attractiveness are more important to men. There are qualities that are extremely important to men for relationship partners," Meltzer said. "In the beginning (of the study), there were differences in happiness levels, because the husbands were being affected by the BMI, whereas the wives weren't affected until later in the marriage. So come four years later, (the happiness levels) look similar."

So interesting.

I really find this type of research fascinating. And I'd love to know what you all think. Does it jibe with your own experiences? I'll post this on Facebook -- Holly Leber TFP. Let's have a conversation.

In the meantime, I'm going to go buy my boyfriend some ice cream.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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July 29, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.
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