12 Dec 2018

Body shaming as science

When tabloids and lifestyle sections talk about scientific research, proceed with caution.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Body shaming as science - NewsMavens
Chocolate, PixaBay

“Scientists claim” is probably the most misleading phrase you can find in a lifestyle magazine. Pieces claiming to discover this or that about women, men and their relationships rarely get their facts and figures straight, and when they do write about scientific research, they go for simplicity and clickability rather than precision and accuracy.

But sometimes they don’t even bother finding a study to “falsify” -- they simply make it up.


An article which has been circulating among various media in the Balkans, and beyond, in the past year, claims scientific research has established that married men have different “levels” of happiness depending on the size of their wives’ bodies:

Scientists claim: Men are 10 times happier with this kind of a woman!

Men who have wives with fuller figures laugh more often than men with thin wives and are much happier, the latest research has shown.

Scientists from National Autonomous University in Mexico have surveyed hundreds of couples and come to interesting conclusions -- men who’ve chosen ones who are chubby are happier than others -- 10 times even. Skinny women are often more reserved, more focused on their looks and less expressive, which affects their relationship with their male partner, as stated in the conclusions.

On the other hand, chubbier women handle problems and conflicts in relationships more easily.

This story has been in heavy circulation in online media from the four countries which speak the same language in the Balkans. It was repeatedly published in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Radio Sarajevo, Tuzlanski, Big portal, Cazin, Bh Index, Haber, Aura, Banja Luka, Moja Banja Luka, etc.),  Croatia (Večernji List, Miss Zdrava), Montenegro (Kodex, Standard, Cafe Del Montenegro) and Serbia (Ženski Kutak, Espreso (twice, actually), Kurir, B92, Republika, Dnevno, Krstarica, Na Dlanu, Srbija Danas, and others).

In some versions, there were attempts to sound slightly more “sciency”, like in this example:

What follows is that women with a higher body mass index can anticipate and satisfy the emotional needs of their partners more easily.”  

For those unfamiliar with the local media scene, it’s worth noting that some of these are well-established media outlets which should definitely know better than to run such stories.

But among them, one stands out. A magazine called Mačak, which describes itself as "a magazine for real men“, went further in spicing up the story.

Musing on the reasons for these "surprising findings“, this is what Mačak quotes as conclusions of scientific research:

"Women with a few extra pounds are sweeter. In every possible way. (...) They are also foodies, not in the sense of eating a lot, but enjoying every bite. Men are also like that, so this bond is very important.

(...) Curves, curves, curves... Needs no further explanation.

(...) One of the stated reasons is that their hugs are nicer. The softness of fuller women's bodies is something special, say the research participants.

(...) It's easy to buy them presents. Get them a chocolate and you won't go wrong. And you can also eat it together.

(...) The skinny ones, who watch every calorie, are often frustrating not just themselves, but everyone around them. With a woman who has a little 'meat on her bones' you won't feel bad if you order another cake."

We contacted this magazine, asking for a source of these “scientific” claims, but haven’t received a response.


Claims such as “men with chubby wives laugh more often” are virtually unverifiable. It’s hard to imagine how scientific research could establish that with certainty, short of setting up a 24h surveillance for the aforementioned “hundreds of couples”. Using “anticipation and satisfaction of partner’s needs” and “body mass index” as variables to measure and compare, seems equally ludicrous -- and also quite demeaning to women.

Another clue pointing to it being a made-up study is that any precise information on the quoted research is lacking -- names of researchers, link to the research paper, date when it was published, etc. Recent research is not a term to be trusted in times of copy/paste “journalism”. A thing that’s been described as “recent” ten years ago, can easily carry the same attribute today.

In an attempt to establish if this research was ever conducted, the very first search returned a result from “Snopes”, a fact-checking website, which dealt with these same claims a year and a half ago in an article "Did 'New Research' Prove That Men Who Marry 'Chubby Women'Are Happier?”. They found that the article first appeared in January 2017, on the Argentinian news site Nuevo Diario, ­­which claimed not only that men who marry “chubby women” are happier, but that they also live longer.

Unlike most sources in the Balkans, the Argentinian version listed the names of supposed researchers (Dr Filemón Alvarado and Dr Edgardo Morales at UNAM’s department of psychology), but Snopes wasn’t able to find any evidence that they have published such a study, work at said University, or that they even exist in any corelation to each other and/or science. The university in question did not respond to their request for comment.

So we went to re-check what happens when these names are searched together and got hundreds of hits for the story of “men 10 times happier” in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Indonesian, Africaans, Albanian, Greek, Dutch. But not a single one lead to any scientific study.

After a year and a half, it’s safe to say that the scientific research simply doesn’t exist.


The claim that any correlation between the happiness of married men and body mass index of their wives has ever been researched, studied, or scientifically established, is clearly false. Presenting it as true makes these articles a typical example of pseudoscience.

Moreover, while these articles may seem like rare positive mentions of women’s bodies that don’t fit into “thin beauty” standards, they have really not moved from sexual objectification of women at all. In all this, women are once again reduced to their bodies and told that their job is essentially to make men happy by being “soft and subservient” -- have curves, handle conflicts, cook well, anticipate and satisfy their needs.  


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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