Body attractiveness

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Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Several features of his body, such as his broad shoulders, slender waist, low body fat, and his relatively high muscularity, have been found by modern attractiveness research to be attractive to women, though many modern women may express a greater preference for a greater level of musculature in the upper body.

Body attractiveness refers to the perceived aesthetic quality of an individual's body or group of people's bodies as distinguished from their face's attractiveness. Among men, bodily attractiveness is primarily determined by cues related to perceived upper body strength and overall physical vitality, such as broad shoulders,[1] and a lower waist-to-chest ratio. WCR is the circumference of the waist divided by the circumference of the chest; therefore, a lower ratio denotes a larger trunk and a narrower waist, i.e., the classic 'V-taper' torso shape.[2] Muscular arms and a general level of lower body musculature that is not grossly disproportionate to the upper body ('chicken leg syndrome') also appear to play some role in women's judgments of male bodily attractiveness.

Excessive adiposity is not generally preferred, with a reasonably low body fat percentage,[3] and a BMI in the high normal to overweight range (the latter likely indicating a preference for greater muscularity) being associated with greater bodily attractiveness in men.[4] Regarding the lower body musculature, the gluteal muscles are widely reported by women to be the most attractive lower body muscles among males when they are well developed.[5]

In women, signs of youth and nubility such as firm breasts, firm buttocks, overall 'smooth' distribution of subcutaneous fat, and a narrow waist are the factors most strongly associated with overall bodily attractiveness, together with general slimness.

Larger breasts are also generally preferred by men,[6] though firmness is more important in terms of driving attractiveness judgments.[7] Male preferences for the size of female buttocks seem to vary significantly by race and culture.[8] The firmness, shape,[9] and the degree of lumbar curvature[10] possibly play more of role in determining men's attractiveness judgments of female buttocks compared to size, as noted above in regards to breasts.

Determinants of female bodily attractiveness[edit | edit source]

Among women, the main factors that contribute to observer judgements of their bodily attractiveness are factors associated with perceived or actual health, youth, and general fecundity, such as a lower waist-to-hip ratio (WHR, the waist circumference divided by the hip circumference, associated with the classical 'hourglass' body shape), a low BMI (with the general ideal BMI in regards to female attractiveness being very low, well within the 'underweight' range),[11] and large breasts and buttocks that are still proportionate with overall body size.[12][13] The firmness of the breasts and buttocks (generally negatively associated with age) is also highly valued by men,[14] with breast firmness (being strongly associated with nubility) being found to play more of a role in men's evaluations of the attractiveness of female breasts than raw size.[15]

Though BMI and WHR are linearly correlated with each other (that is, there is a trade-off where an increased WHR is associated with higher levels of body fat in women, and thus a higher BMI, which is generally not seen as ideal in a female partner among men) attractiveness of a woman's body is more determined by a lower BMI than WHR (thinness),[16] and most of the contribution of WHR towards evaluations of female bodily attractiveness is explicable by a smooth distribution of body fat in a gynoid shape on the female body (fat being concentrated around the hips and thighs) being associated with higher attractiveness ratings of female bodies by men, strongly implying that both the distribution and amount of this fat (particularly subcutaneous fat, which is generally thicker in women than men), in so far as this fat contributes to an overall smooth and curvaceous appearance in the woman, is more critical in determining female bodily attractiveness than simple ratios like the WHR.[17]

Male bodily attractiveness[edit | edit source]

According to two studies examining women's preferences regarding male body types published by the Royal Society in 2017, it appears that perceived strength is the strongest single indicator of male bodily attractiveness. This single trait has a very high positive correlation (r = 0.8) with women's attractiveness ratings of said male bodies.

The conductors of these studies also found evidence that there exists a linear association between perceived strength (as judged by women) in male bodies and higher ratings of men's bodily attractive attractiveness, with no women in the sample demonstrating a statistically significant preference for weaker men, in contradiction to previous research that maintained this association was curvilinear (that is, women find men with a 'sweet spot' level of formidability to be the most attractive and dislike both very muscular and thin men).[18]

In this study, the relationship between the women's ratings of attractiveness of the men and their actual measured strength was relatively weak, from r = 0.25-.038 depending on the angle of the photo used. This weak correlation suggests, firstly, that ratings of strength are not identical to ratings of attractiveness. Ratings of attractiveness likely capture facets that contribute to ratings of attractiveness but not strength, such as body fat percentage. Secondly, a portion of the perceptions of physical strength appears determined by factors that are only weakly related to actual strength. These features could include traits that contribute to the desired male 'v-taper' shape, such as narrow waists and wide clavicles, traits that are unrelated to actual strength or perhaps even detrimental to it in some instances. An Australian study, for example, that utilized scale nude 3D models found that muscularity and a general mesomorphic body shape (v-taper, low body fat, thin waist) accounted for approximately 80% of the variance in the women's ratings of male bodily attractiveness, as compared to height and absolute penis size (flaccid), which both accounted for about 6% and 5% respectively. [19] However, one issue with this study (noted by the authors) that may have inflated the amount of variance attributable to bodily attractiveness (among the whole sample) was that the study included male 3D models that had extremely wide hips and narrow shoulders. While it is true that many males in industrialized societies are obese (as also noted by the study authors), the male model used in this study that represented the lowest attractiveness male body type had a strong gynoid (female sex-typical) pattern of fat storage and very broad hip bones and narrow clavicles, which is unusual for men (apart from men with chromosomal defects such as Kleinfelter's syndrome), and likely even more unattractive than an obese man with typical hip and shoulder dimensions would be.

Wide clavicles, in particular, represent one sexually dimorphic trait[20] that could have conceivably been subject to Fisherian sexual selection throughout humanities evolutionary past. While women generally find this trait attractive in a male partner (and wide clavicles contribute to the width of one's shoulders exclusive of soft tissue, which is associated with greater physical attractiveness)[21] it seems there is no relationship between clavicle length (in relation to the humerus) and throwing ability in men. This lack of a relationship indicates that this trait is primarily ornamental (not serving a direct adaptive function apart from increasing sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex).[22]

Regarding the more minor traits associated with male bodily attractiveness, it has been demonstrated that a narrow waist by itself is also considered an attractive trait in males. Interestingly, a lower waist to hip ratio is attractive in males (like it is in women), even when controlling for waist size. Thus, proportionately large hips in males are an undesirable trait.[23]

Relative contribution of face and body to attractiveness[edit | edit source]

In the incelosphere and elsewhere, there is an often furious debate that rages regarding how much bodily attractiveness contributes to overall physical attractiveness in men, especially compared to the contribution of facial attractiveness to holistic physical attractiveness ratings. Currie & Little (2009) tested this assertion by presenting photos of the bodies and faces of various individuals to separate raters in randomized order and then together. The pictures were not rated not as a full-body image, so the experimenters could mask the faces to control the potential confounding effects of hair, accessories, and so on regarding ratings of faces.[24] The raters were instructed to evaluate the desirability of these images in the context of both long and short-term relationships. The whole body photos of the individuals were then presented to a distinct group of raters to determine if showing the faces and bodies together in such an unnatural way reduced the validity of the ratings (it was later found it didn't to any significant degree).

They found that, in men, facial attractiveness predicted more of the variance of the ratings of the full-body photographs (β=.427) compared to body ratings (β=.349). However, the effect sizes for both were quite large. Interestingly enough, this particular study indicated that the relative contributions of bodily and facial attractiveness to holistic physical attractiveness might not be additive. None of the male subjects in this study received a mean total body rating higher than the highest rating received for either their bodily or facial attractiveness.

This likely means that the interaction between facial and bodily attractiveness is highly complex, with there likely being minimal thresholds of both that need to be exceeded for a man to be considered 'attractive' by women; though it is clear that both, individually, contribute substantially to the variance to women's perceptions of male physical attractiveness. Further, on this point, many lookism theorists claim that working out in order to increase one's attractiveness to women (which is often dubbed 'gymcelling') is useless if one has a particularly unattractive face. In contrast to this claim, the study's authors found more substantial evidence for an opposite effect, i.e., in some male subjects, their gestalt physical attractiveness was dragged down in a dramatic way when their bodies were relatively unattractive compared to their faces. Conversely, body attractiveness mattered relatively much more to men when evaluating women exclusively for short-term relationships. The mating context-related primes had less influence on women's evaluations of the relative importance of bodily and facial attractiveness, which were stable across both conditions.

Another study by Sidari et al. (2021), utilizing a speed dating paradigm, examined the relative contributions of bodily attractiveness and facial attractiveness on the rated physical attractiveness (by their dates) and rejection rates among speed daters of both sexes. They found that bodily attractiveness in men contributed significantly to female ratings of overall attractiveness in men (not just physical attractiveness but truly 'holistic attractiveness,' romantic desirability).[25] They claimed this finding was the first scientific proof of such an effect 'in the field' (not relying on 2D pictures, morphs, or video clips like prior research).

Interestingly, even though one would assume speed dates are a strong example of priming people for short-term mating, the researchers found that there was no sex difference in terms of the contributions of bodily attractiveness to the men's chance of being chosen. However, they did find evidence for sex differences in terms of partner's ratings of their date's desirability (with men valuing both facial and bodily attractiveness more than women in their judgments). This suggests a disconnect between attractiveness ratings and actual, operationalized mate choices. The discrepancy in this study may have been determined by the sample that it was utilizing mainly college students, the fact that people calibrate their actual mate choices based on their own perceived mate value (with people perhaps being sometimes less likely to choose particularly desirable partners that they believe will reject them), and the fact that brief blind dates with strangers do not mirror the natural social contexts in which most mate choice takes place.

These findings suggest that bodily attractiveness matters quite a bit in determining gestalt physical attractiveness in both sexes, but particularly amongst men who evaluate women in the context of them being potential short-term romantic partners. The reasons for this may vary; it could be that bodily attractiveness is more associated with pubertal maturity (and thus fertility) or that it is related to perceptions of greater sexual availability on behalf of men with a primarily short-term mating orientation. In support of the former point, research has indicated that while men generally rate girls who are in the early stages of puberty's facial attractiveness as being higher than adult women's,[26] there is a male tendency towards preferring more pubertally developed girls/adult women when it comes to evaluations of full-body physical attractiveness.[27]

This suggests that the development of secondary sexual characteristics is used as a strong cue by men in determining fertility, which could explain the discrepancy in the relative contributions of female bodily and facial attractiveness by mating context. An alternate (and not mutually exclusive) explanation could be that men are more drawn to bodily cues of attractiveness, such as pronounced sexual secondary characteristics (enlarged breasts and buttocks) in short-term mating contexts because these traits are honest signals of immediate sexual availability. That is, the women with these traits may indeed be more sexually promiscuous. Evidence for this assertion, however, is weak and inconsistent.[28]

Contextual factors that affect perceptions of body attractiveness[edit | edit source]

Life history speed[edit | edit source]

There is evidence that men who are pursuing a mating strategy that is predominately centered around attaining casual sexual encounters (fast life history strategists) tend to exhibit a preference for larger breasts, and more sexually restrained men tend to exhibit a preference for relatively smaller breasts, as indicated by the findings Pahoohi et al. which analyzed the effects of various moderating factors on male preferences for breast size, width, and ptosis (2020).[29] These findings indicate that more promiscuous men attend more to signs of fertility, nubility, and sexual ornaments more than facial attractiveness. Alternatively, it could be that sexually promiscuous men, due to their extensive sexual experience, have higher sexual self-esteem and consequently believe they possess high mate value. This higher self-worth likely drives part of their greater preference for women with a trait associated with physical attractiveness (larger breasts). The study mentioned above by Pahoohi et al. did find evidence for such an interaction in this direction.

There is also evidence that suggests that female preference for bodily attractiveness may vary strongly by rater sociosexuality (promiscuity and sexual permissiveness), with women who exhibit more sexually unrestricted attitudes tending to respond more favorably to masculinize men (face and bodies in this particular study), especially in explicitly short-term mating contexts.[30]

Ovulatory shift[edit | edit source]

Differing female preferences in regards to male muscularity are often explained by the controversial ovulatory shift hypothesis. This hypothesis claims that women are driven to seek agreeable providers for long-term relationships and thereafter cuckold them with masculine men when they get the opportunity to do so, as masculine traits are claimed to be markers of 'good genes,' due to the immunosuppressive properties of male sex hormones. Thus the women benefit from the 'good genes' of the masculine man and the resources and paternal care of the cuckolded 'beta provider.'[31] Masculine traits are supposed to be markers of "good genes" as they are claimed to be an honest signal of a robust immune system on behalf of the man who can bear them.

The ovulatory shift hypothesis has fallen into disfavor in academia of late,[32] with claims of "p-hacking," faulty research methodologies, and even outright scientific fraud being levied at prominent proponents of the hypothesis, though some have attempted to rehabilitate it based on weak evidence of small cycle shifts in female preference in terms of women's preferred level of muscularity of a male partner across their menstrual cycle.[33][34]

The combination of the findings above suggests that if any cycle shifts in terms of a greater female preference for muscular men during their menstrual cycle are legitimate, it may be simply explicable by the fact that both sociosexuality and libido have been demonstrated in some studies to increase prior to ovulation.[35][36]

One could speculate on the basis of this data that a heightened female preference for more masculine bodies during their cycle could be not necessarily due to women being adapted to cuckold their male partners. These (weak, if they do prove to be robust) shifts in preference may simply be reflective of greater female horniness shifting their mate preferences away from signals of provision, caregiving capability, etc., to traits that to which they are strongly physically attracted, as faster life history strategy women seem to do. There is also evidence that suggests that women are typically choosier in regards to looks when considering short-term mating exclusively, ergo, it naturally follows they would prefer better looking (more muscular men) when primed for short-term relationships.[37] Women also seem more likely to orgasm with physically attractive and masculine men,[38] and seem to be more satisfied and experience less guilt from casual sexual encounters that result in a high level of sexual satisfaction (ending in orgasm),[39] so these could be yet more reasons for women to seek out more morphologically masculine and attractive men when they are exclusively considering 'hook-ups' as opposed to relationships with more investment.

Paternal investment[edit | edit source]

One other factor that may affect women's preferences for the level of bodily attractiveness in regards to their actual mate choices (as opposed to ideal preferences) is a desire for paternal investment. In support of this idea, Provost et al. (2006) discovered that more sociosexually restricted women were much more likely to rate less physically masculine men as being more attractive long-term partners. This finding suggests that long-term mating-oriented (or slower life history strategy) women are (either deliberately or subconsciously) trading off attractive traits in return for partner qualities that indicate the willingness to invest and commit when seeking long-term partners.

This drive of women to maximize investment in long-term relationships may be one of the reasons why the effects of greater male bodily masculinity, while clearly highly desirable to women, are reasonably small outside of specific contexts where promiscuity is common or expected (such as college campuses, which typically show larger positive effects for male muscularity).[40] As women tend towards being more sociosexually restricted than men, cross-culturally,[41] are more likely to express negative emotions in response to casual sex (though causality is not clear here), and sometimes even engage in casual sex expressively to get investment from more promiscuous males,[42] it could be that attractive men, particularly attractive men that are high in phenotypic masculine traits, are naturally constrained to some extent in their ability to engage in casual sex with a large number of women by women's natural desire to generally maximize investment from male romantic partners.

The women in question (especially the ones of lower mate value) seem to be sometimes engaging in a 'trade-off' of sorts where they forgo attractive and masculine traits in return for traits that they believe signal investment and the man's willingness to provide for the potential offspring of these relationships and even their ability to engage in direct paternal care. Both traits have been (and still are) associated with greater quality offspring resulting from relationships with such men and higher reproductive success among their female partners.[43][44]

Suppose women are indeed deliberately seeking less attractive or less masculine men out as good long-term relationship prospects. In that case, it is unclear how effective this strategy would actually be. Certain markers of phenotypic femininity seem to be linked to promiscuity in males (as measured by both attitudes toward casual sex or actual engagement in sexual promiscuity),[45][46] and the general body of research into the effects of a lower sex ratio (more women, fewer men) on mating behaviors suggests that men with a surfeit of romantic options tend to engage in a low-investment sexual strategy centered around maximizing sexual variety.[47] Thus, there seems to be a balancing act at play here among the women pursuing such a strategy, as men selected explicitly for their supposed propensity to invest may be subject to greater attention from rival women seeking the same traits (due to pre-selection by women and their possessing desired traits), thus tempting them to stray. Men perceived as more trustworthy, either due to their behavior, demeanor, or appearance, may also be subject to less scrutiny from their female partners in terms of the women's mate-guarding efforts.

Relation of stature to body attractiveness[edit | edit source]

In both sexes, a greater stature (per the male-taller 'norm,' an individual rater's height will be expected to moderate any positive effect of stature on mating outcomes, i.e., people will have a strong bias to prefer pairs where the man is taller than the women.[48]

However, despite the male taller norm, there is research that indicates that taller stature is seen as a desirable trait in both sexes to some degree when revealed and not self-reported preferences are considered.[49]

This interesting finding could be due to an above-average leg length in proportion to the trunk being a desired trait in both sexes, but particularly in females.[50][51][52] Longer legs are generally associated with greater height. Anecdotal observations of the bodily proportions of female fashion models and the recruitment standards of several modeling agencies[53] do suggest that female models, largely chosen for their physical attractiveness, tend to be both tall and slender with a brachyskelic or hyperbrachyskelic body structure (the legs being proportionately much longer than the trunk).

There could also be an innate effect of stature on female attractiveness, or there could even be a direct correlation between female facial attractiveness and height. This study didn't present sufficient evidence of any of this, though. The authors only offered evidence of a significant effect of height on speed dating desirability for women that was not significantly different from the effect found for men in the model.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  4. Scientific Blackpill#The most attractive BMI range for men is .7E24.5-27 and for women .7E17-19 as it is most youthful
  7. Kościński K. 2019. Breast firmness is of greater importance for women's attractiveness than breast size. American Journal of Human Biology, 31(5), e23287. [Abstract]



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