Many Women Would Trade 1 Year of Life to Be Thin

Female body image
(Image credit: Nruboc | Dreamstime)

Almost one-third of young women would trade at least a year of their lives to have a perfect body, according to a new survey of British undergraduates.

The survey found that 16 percent of young women queried said they'd trade a year of life for their ideal body weight and shape. Ten percent were willing to trade two to five years, and 2 percent were willing to trade up to 10 years of life away. One percent said they would give up 21 years or more.

The new research is based on a relatively small sample, so the results may not be representative of women in general.

But there is past science suggesting such body-loathing is common. The stigma against fat people is going global, according to a recent study. A study published in October in the journal Sex Roles found that even preschool girls are fixated on thinness.

About 320 women with an average age of 25 were surveyed on university campuses around the U.K. by researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE) and U.K. eating disorder charity The Succeed Foundation.

"The findings highlight that body image is an issue for all women, and not just adolescent girls, as is often thought," survey researcher Phillippa Diedrichs of UWE said in a statement. [Read: All Women Worry About Getting Fat]

The majority of the women surveyed were dissatisfied with how they looked, the researchers found. Although 78 percent of the women sampled were normal weight — or even underweight — 79 percent of the survey group said they wanted to lose weight. Only 3 percent said they'd like to gain weight.

Negative thoughts about body image were almost universal: 93 percent of the women said they had negative thoughts about their appearance within the last week. Almost one-third had those thoughts several times a day. Almost half of all women surveyed said these pressures weren't entirely internal: 46 percent had experienced ridicule or bullying because of their appearance.

In addition, 39 percent of the women surveyed said they would have cosmetic surgery if money was not an option. Three-quarters of those women wanted multiple procedures.

Many women were also willing to make other sacrifices for the ideal body, the researchers found. About 13 percent said they'd give up 5,000 pounds ($8,138) a year in salary in return for their perfect body. Eight percent would give up a promotion at work, and 6 percent would give up earning a degree with honors. Nine percent were willing to give up time with friends and partners, while 7 percent said they'd trade in time with their family. Another 7 percent said they would sacrifice health to reach their ideal weight.

When asked which celebrity possesses the "ideal" body, the women surveyed most commonly named Kelly Brook, a British model and television presenter.

In response to the survey, The Succeed Foundation is launching a program to promote healthy body image on campus.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.