Confirmed: Men Stare At Women's Bodies Instead Of Their Faces — But So Do Women

By Ben Wolford on October 29, 2013 4:07 PM EDT

Study shows that women and men look at women's bodies before they look at their faces.
Study shows that women and men look at women's bodies before they look at their faces.

In a journal article called "My Eyes Are Up Here," psychologists have proven that men look at women's bodies before they look at their faces.

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But here's the other thing: So do women.

"We live in a culture in which we constantly see women objectified in interactions on television and in the media. When you turn your own lens on everyday, ordinary women, we focus on those parts, too," said Sarah Gervais, the study's author and social psychologist of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in USA Today.

"Until now, we didn't have evidence people were actually doing that to women's bodies," she says. "We have women's self-reports, but this is some of the first work to document that people actually engage in this."

The science behind checking out women was pretty scant, Gervais writes. So in her research, released today and published in the journal Sex Roles, she sought to find out what was going through the heads of the people who stare at women's bodies.

"To elicit the gaze," as she puts it, Gervais and two other researchers sat 29 women and 36 men from a large Midwestern university down in front of a monitor. Then they mounted eye tracking software on their heads before placing images of women on the screen. More often than not, people's eyes zeroed in on the so-called sexual body parts: the breasts and the hips. And they did it more for the women who had the biggest breasts and the teeniest waist vs. hips ratio.

Men came away with more positive impressions of the women who fit the Western ideal of the beautiful female. All of it confirms that objectification isn't just something that women say they feel. It's real.

"Generally speaking, people are more positive towards a more attractive woman than a less attractive one," Gervais said in a statement. "However, attractiveness may also be a liability, because while evaluating them positively, 'gazers' still focus less on individuating and personalizing features, such as faces, and more on the bodies of attractive women."

She says the consequences of female objectification have been studied extensively, and they include anxiety about the way they look, self-silencing behavior and an inability to concentrate and solve problems.

The interesting thing about using eye-tracking gear is that the eyes don't lie. A scientist in England told USA Today that "it's more difficult to inhibit" eye movements.

Gervais says that women were also more likely to ogle at the women. She suggests that's the result of the men doing it for so long. They "may internalize the male gaze and self-objectify, and in turn also use it to evaluate other women."

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