Hips do lie
We do seem to find slim figures appealing – though ratios seem to be more important (and it depends whether we are hungry or not)
In less politically correct times, women were often described in terms of their ‘vital statistics’ – chest, waist and hip measurements in inches.
Ironically, the strongest candidate for a ‘beauty factor’ in women is an echo of those vital statistics. Many studies have found that a waist-to-hip ratio of around 0.7 is judged most attractive. This is independent of overall size: the actress Jessica Alba has a near perfect ratio, as did Marilyn Monroe, who was a couple of inches shorter.
First suggested in the 1990s, the waist-to-hip ratio theory has been interpreted in an evolutionary context. Women with this shape tend to be healthier and more fertile, so could be seen as better mates.
Overall, women tend to be less swayed by men’s physical appearance, though body mass index, waist-to-hip and, in particular, waist-to-chest ratios influence perceived male attractiveness. A study of choices in speed dating found that women were more discriminating than men (who tended to select partners simply on physical appearance), picking partners based on their overall desirability as a mate. This is also consistent with an evolutionary explanation.
Nonetheless, social and cultural factors will influence these preferences. For example, it appears that low socioeconomic status and even hunger increase the perceived attractiveness of larger people. This may be why some non-Western cultures are more likely to see larger sizes as attractive.Lead image:
From Di Dio C et al. PLoS ONE 2007;2(11):e1201
- Telegraph: Women with hourglass figures and perfect waists most attractive, study finds
- Eye-tracking of men’s preferences for waist-to-hip ratio and breast size of women (2011)
- Darwinian aesthetics: sexual selection and the biology of beauty (2003)
- An economist goes to a bar... and solves the mysteries of dating
- Female physical attractiveness in Britain and Malaysia: a cross-cultural study (2005)
- Judging the difference between attractiveness and health (2014)