Waist-to-hip ratio refers to the difference between the circumference of a person’s waist and their hips.
A low waist-to-hip ratio means that the waist is much smaller than the hips or, conversely, that the hips are much larger than the waist. A low waist-to-hip ratio create a an hourglass-shaped figure.
A high waist-to-hip ratio, on the other hand, means that the hips and waist are relatively the same size.
Previous research suggests that the majority of men prefer a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 – meaning that the circumference of the waist is 70% of the circumference of the hips.
According to a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior in 2010, even blind men appear to prefer low waist-to-hip ratios.
The study was conducted by Johan C. Karremans, Willem E. Frankenhuis, and Sander Arons.
Although a large number of international studies have confirmed men’s preference for low waist-to-hip ratios, the majority of these studies have been conducted on consumers of Western media. This has lead to questions of whether this preference for a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 exists independently of visual input from Western culture, particularly images of “attractive” women as portrayed by the media.
Furthermore, research that has been conducted on relatively isolated non-Westernized populations, such as the Matsignka in southeast Peru, did not find that men preferred a waist-to-hip ratio as low as 0.7.
To investigate what role visual information plays in the development of men’s preferences for low a waist-to-hip ratio in women, Karremans and his colleagues had nineteen blind men touch two mannequin dolls and rate their level of attractiveness. One mannequin had a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 and the other had a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.84. The total volume of both the mannequins was relatively the same.
The blind men recruited for this study were blind from birth, which ensured they had not received any visual input from Western media.
In addition, nineteen sighted men were given instructions to view the two mannequins and rate their level of attractiveness. Another nineteen sighted men were blindfolded and instructed to feel the mannequins and rate their level of attractiveness.
Karremans and his colleagues found that the majority of the participants in all three groups preferred the mannequin with a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio.
On a ten point scale, the average rating for the 0.7 WHR mannequin was about 7 for the blind participants, about 8 for the participants allowed to see the mannequin, and about 7.5 for the blindfolded participants.
In contrast, the blind men gave the mannequin with a higher waist-to-hip ratio an average rating of about 6.25, the sighted men gave an average rating of about 6.5, and the blindfolded men gave an average rating of about 7.
“The current results show that visual input is not a necessary input condition for low WHR preferences to develop, implying that other inputs are sufficient,” as Karremans and his colleagues explain.
These other inputs may come from a variety of sources.
“First, it is possible that blind men may be verbally informed about what is generally and culturally considered attractive by sighted people, including their peers, parents, and siblings.”
“Second, blind men’s low WHR preferences may stem from more generic psychological mechanisms.”
Assuming that blind men know, either implicitly or explicitly, that women typically have a lower waist-to-hip ratio than men, they might associate a lower waist-to-hip ratio with femininity and attractiveness.
“When evaluating two female bodies that vary in their WHR, the lower WHR better matches the target’s known biological sex, and this body may therefore by perceived as more attractive,” note Karremans and his colleagues.
“Third, our findings are also consistent with the hypothesis that men’s WHR preferences reflect intrinsic factors, such as an evolved predisposition.”
Having a low waist-to-hip ratio has been associated with health and fertility in women and thus men who preferred women with lower waist-to-hip ratios may have had healthier offspring.
Although Karremans and his colleagues’ study found that visual information was not necessary for the development of men’s WHR preferences, it does appear to have an additive effect.
“Although both blind and sighted men exhibit a preference for low WHR, our results suggest that visual input may have strengthened this preference among sighted men.”
Karremans, J.C., Frankenhuis, W.F. & Arons, S. (2010). Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio. Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol 31: 182-186.