A growing body of psychological and anthropological research is putting into question thinness as the ideal form of female beauty. Many people think that in order to be attractive, you must be thin. This view is reinforced by magazines, movies and models, which are infamous for their display of thin women. Although these forms of media have brought thinness into prominence, it appears that body weight is less of a factor in attractiveness than most people think. Research suggests that in most cases, where body fat is deposited is more important than the amount of it.
Devendra Singh, a Professor at the University of Texas-Austin, has published numerous studies which found that waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is more important than overall body fat. Typically, women have a lower waist-to-hip ratio, around 0.6 to 0.8, while men have a higher waist-to-hip ratio, usually 0.8 to 0.9.
The ideal waist-to-hip ratio, according to Singh, is about 0.7 for women. In other words, women with a waist size that is 70% of their hip size are considered to be the most attractive. The 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio creates the cherished “hourglass figure” that female celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and others are notorious for.
In Singh’s studies, men reported finding overweight women with a low waist-to-hip ratio more attractive than underweight women with a high waist-to-hip ratio. Although, when asked to rate the attractiveness of three females with different weight, but the same waist-to-hip ratio, men reported finding “normal weight” women most attractive, followed by underweight women and lastly overweight women.
Although the former generalizations about body fat hold true for most male populations, there is a specific subgroup of men that prefer overweight women to normal or underweight women. This group has been aptly named “fat admirers.”
In a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, Viren Swami and Martin Tovee found that fat admirers rated overweight and obese women as more attractive than a group of non-fat admirers. The fat admirers rated the body mass index 29.24 kg/m*m most attractive while the non-fat admirers rated the body mass index 18.45 kg/m*m as most attractive.
Perhaps we could even consider Rembrandt to be classed among the fat admirers.
Although different cultures view different amounts of body fat as attractive, the preference for a WHR of about 0.7 generally holds across cultures and continents. According to Devendra Singh, the waist-to-hip ratio plays an important role in female attractiveness because it accurately conveys information about age, fertility, and health. High waist-to-hip ratios in women are associated with a number of diseases and wide hips are generally viewed as a sign of fertility.
There are some exceptions to the universality of the attractiveness of the 0.7 WHR, though. Douglas Yu and Glenn Shepard investigated the relationship between body weight, WHR, and attractiveness for the Matsigenka people of Peru.
They found that, unlike previous research, overweight women with a high waist-to-hip ratio (about 0.9, which is typical of males) were considered most attractive. This finding suggests that the attractiveness of the 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio might be the result of cultural influences rather than purely instinct.
Singh, D. (1994). Body shape and women’s attractiveness. The critical role of waist-to-hip ratio. Human Nature, Vol 4: 297-321.
Singh, D. (1994) Is thin really beautiful and good? Relationship between waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and female attractiveness. Personality and Individual Differences, Vol 16: 123-132.
Swami, V. & Tovee, M.J. (2009). Big beautiful women: The body size preferences of male fat admirers. Journal of Sex Research, Vol 46, No 1: 89-96.
Yu, W. & Shepard, G. (1998). Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Nature, Vol 396: 321-322.