Human Nature

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 297–321

Body shape and women’s attractiveness

The critical role of waist-to-hip ratio
  • Devendra Singh
Article

Abstract

This paper examines the role of body fat distribution as measured by waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) on the judgment of women’s physical attractiveness. It presents evidence that WHR is correlated with a woman’s reproductive endocrinological status and long-term health risk. Three studies were conducted to investigate whether humans have perceptual and cognitive mechanisms to utilize the WHR to infer attributes of women’s health, youthfulness, attractiveness, and reproductive capacity. College-age as well as older subjects of both sexes rank female figures with normal weight and low WHR as attractive and assign to them higher reproductive capability. The study concludes that WHR is a reliable and honest signal of a woman’s reproductive potential. The adaptive significance of body fat distribution and its role in mate selection is also discussed.

Key words

Female attractiveness Gynoid and android fat distribution Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) Mate selection 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Ashwell, M., T. J. Cole, and A. K. Dixon 1985 Obesity: New Insight into the Anthropometric Classification of Fat Distribution Shown by Computed Tomography.British Medical Journal 290:1692–1694.Google Scholar
  2. Bailey, S. M. 1982 Absolute and Relative Sex Differences in Body Composition. InSexual Dimorphism in Homo sapiens, R. L. Hall, ed. Pp. 363–390. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  3. Bayer, L. M., and N. Bayley 1959Growth Diagnosis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Behrman, C. A., M. L. Hediger, T. O. Scholl, and C. M. Arkangel 1990 Nausea and Vomiting during Teenage Pregnancy: Effects on Birth Weight.Journal of Adolescent Health Care 11:418–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Björntorp, P. 1987 Fat Cell Distribution and Metabolism. InHuman Obesity, R. J. Wurtman and J. J. Wurtman, eds. Pp. 66–72. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  6. 1988 The Associations between Obesity, Adipose Tissue Distribution and Disease.Acta Medica Scandinavica Suppl. 723:121–134.Google Scholar
  7. 1991 Adipose Tissue Distribution and Function.International Journal of Obesity 15:67–81.Google Scholar
  8. Buss, D. M. 1987 Sex Differences in Human Mate Selection Criteria: An Evolutionary Perspective. InSociobiology and Psychology: Ideas, Issues and Application, C. Crawford, M. Smith, and D. Krebs, eds. Pp. 335–351. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.Google Scholar
  9. 1989 Sex Differences in Human Mate Preferences: Evolutionary Hypotheses Tested in 37 Cultures.Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12:1–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell, B. 1985Human Evolution. New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  11. Cant, J. G. H. 1981 Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Breast and Buttocks.American Naturalist 117:199–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Caro, T. M., and M. Borgerhoff Mulder 1987 The Problem of Adaptation in the Study of Human Behavior.Ethology and Sociobiology 8:61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DeRidder, C. M., P. F. Bruning, M. L. Zonderland, J. H. H. Thijssen, J. M. G. Bonfrer, M. A. Blankenstein, I. A. Huisveld, and W. B. M. Erich 1990 Body Fat Mass, Body Fat Distribution and Plasma Hormones in Early Puberty in Females.Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 70:888–893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Després, J. P., D. Prudhomme, M. Pouliot, A. Tremblay, and C. Bouchard 1991 Estimation of Deep Abdominal Adipose-tissue Accumulation from Simple Anthropometric Measurements in Men.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54:471–477.Google Scholar
  15. Ellison, P. T. 1990 Human Ovarian Function and Reproductive Ecology: New Hypothesis.American Anthropologist 92:933–952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fallon, A. E., and P. Rozin 1985 Sex Differences in Perceptions of Desirable Body Shape.Journal of Abnormal Psychology 94:102–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feingold, A. 1990 Gender Differences in Effects of Physical Attractiveness on Romantic Attraction: A Comparison across Five Research Paradigms.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59:981–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Folsom, A. R., S. A. Kaye, T. A. Seller, C. Hong, J. R. Cerhan, J. D. Potter, and R. J. Prineas 1993 Body Fat Distribution and 5-year Risk of Death in Older Women.Journal of the American Medical Association 269:483–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ford, C. S., and F. A. Beach 1951Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  20. Frisch, R. E. 1990 Body Fat, Menarche, Fitness and Fertility. InAdipose Tissue and Reproduction, R. E. Frisch, ed. Pp. 1–26. Basel (Switzerland): Karger.Google Scholar
  21. Frisch, R. E., and J. W. McCarthur 1974 Menstrual Cycles: Fatness as a Determinant of Minimum Weight for Height Necessary for Their Maintenance or Onset.Science 185:548–556.Google Scholar
  22. Gallup, G. G. 1986 Unique Features of Human Sexuality in the Context of Evolution. InAlternative Approaches to Study of Sexual Behavior, D. Byrne and K. Kelley, eds., Pp. 13–41. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.Google Scholar
  23. Hamilton, W. D., and M. Zuk 1982 Heritable True Fitness and Bright Birds: A Role for Parasites?Science 218:384–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Huss-Ashmore, R. 1980 Fat and Fertility: Demographic Implications of Differential Fat Storage.Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 23:65–91.Google Scholar
  25. Jaffe, R. B. 1986 Disorders of Sexual Development. InReproductive Endocrinology, S. S. G. Yen and R. B. Jaffe, eds. Pp. 283–312. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.Google Scholar
  26. Jones, P. R. M., M. J. Hunt, T. P. Brown, and N. G. Norgan 1986 Waist-hip Circumference Ratio and Its Relation to Age and Overweight in British Men.Human Nutrition: Clinical Nutrition 40C:239–247.Google Scholar
  27. Katch, V. I., B. Campaigne, P. Freedson, S. Sady, F. I. Katch, and A. R. Behnke 1980 Contribution of Breast Volume and Weight to Body Weight Fat Distribution in Females.American Journal of Physical Anthropology 53:93–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kaye, S. A., A. R. Folsom, R. J. Prineas, J. D. Potter, and S. M. Gapstur 1990 The Association of Body Fat Distribution with Lifestyle and Reproductive Factors in a Population Study of Postmenopausal Women.International Journal of Obesity 14:583–591.Google Scholar
  29. Kenrick, D. T. 1989 Bridging Social Psychology and Sociobiology: The Case of Sexual Attraction. InSociobiology and Social Sciences, R. W. Bell and N. J. Bell, eds. Pp. 5–23. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Kirschner, M. A., and E. Samojilik 1991 Sex Hormone Metabolism in Upper and Lower Body Obesity.International Journal of Obesity 15:101–108.Google Scholar
  31. Krotkiewski, M., and P. Björntorp 1978 The Effects of Estrogen Treatment of Carcinoma of the Prostate on Regional Adipocyte Size.Journal of Endocrinological Investigation 1:365–366.Google Scholar
  32. Lancaster, J. B. 1985 Evolutionary Perspectives on Sex Differences in the Higher Primates. InGender and the Life Course, A. S. Rossi, ed. Pp. 3–27. New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  33. Lanska, D. J., M. J. Lanska, A. J. Hartz, and A. A. Rimm 1985 Factors Influencing Anatomical Location of Fat Tissue in 52,953 Women.International Journal of Obesity 9:29–38.Google Scholar
  34. Leibel, R. L., N. K. Edens, and S. K. Fried 1989 Physiologic Basis for the Control of Body Fat Distribution in Humans.Annual Review of Nutrition 9:417–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Marti, B., J. Tuomilehto, V. Saloman, L. Kartovaara, H. J. Korhonen, and P. Pietinen 1991 Body Fat Distribution in the Finnish Population: Environmental Determinants and Predictive Power for Cardiovascular Risk Factor Levels.Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 45:131–137.Google Scholar
  36. Mehrens, W. A., and I. J. Lehman 1978Measurement and Evaluation in Education and Psychology, second edition. New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston.Google Scholar
  37. Møller, A. P. 1990 Parasite and Sexual Selection: Current Studies of the Hamilton and Zuk Hypothesis.Journal of Evolutionary Biology 3:319–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Morris, D. 1967The Naked Ape. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  39. O’Brien, R., and W. C. Shelton 1941Women’s Measurements for Garment and Pattern Construction. Miscellaneous Publication No. 454. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  40. Pond, C. M. 1978 Morphological Aspects and the Ecological Consequences of Fat Deposition in Wild Vertebrates.Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 9:519–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 1987 Some Conceptual and Comparative Aspects of Body Composition Analyses. InFeeding and Drinking, F. M. Toates and N. E. Rowland, eds. Pp. 499–529. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  42. Pond, C. M., and C. A. Mattacks 1987 The Anatomy of Adipose Tissue in CaptiveMacaca Monkeys and Its Implications for Human Biology.Folia Primatologica 48:164–185.Google Scholar
  43. Profet, M. 1992 Pregnancy Sickness as Adaptation: A Deterrent to Maternal Ingestion of Teratogens. InThe Adapted Mind, J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby, eds. Pp. 327–365. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Rebuffé-Scrive, M. 1987 Regional Adipose Tissue Metabolism in Men and in Women during Menstrual Cycle, Pregnancy, Lactation and Menopause.American Journal of Obesity 11:347–355.Google Scholar
  45. 1988 Metabolic Differences in Fat Deposits. InFat Distribution during Growth and Later Health Outcomes, C. Bouchard and F. E. Johnston, eds. Pp. 163–173. New York: Alan R. Liss.Google Scholar
  46. 1991 Neuroregulation of Adipose Tissue: Molecular and Hormonal Mechanisms.International Journal of Obesity 15:83–86.Google Scholar
  47. Rebuffé-Scrive, M., G. Cullberg, P. A. Lundberg, G. Lindstedt, and P. Björntorp 1989 Anthropometric Variables and Metabolism in Polycystic Ovarian Disease.Hormone Metabolic Research 21:391–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rozin, P., and A. Fallon 1988 Body Image, Attitudes to Weight, and Misperceptions of Figure Preferences of the Opposite Sex: A Comparison of Men and Women in Two Generations.Journal of Abnormal Psychology 97:342–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Scholl, T. O., M. L. Hediger, C. S. Khoo, M. F. Healey, and N. L. Rawson 1991 Maternal Weight Gain, Diet and Infant Birth Weight: Correlations during Adolescent Pregnancy.Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 44:423–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schiffman, S. S., M. L. Reynolds, and F. W. Young 1981Introduction to Multidimensional Scaling. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  51. Schultz, A. H. 1969The Life of Primates. New York: University Books.Google Scholar
  52. Singh, D. 1993a Adaptive Significance of Female Physical Attractiveness: Role of Waist-to-hip Ratio (WHR).Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in press.Google Scholar
  53. 1993b Is Thin Really Beautiful and Good? Relationship between Waist-to-hip Ratio (WHR) and Female Attractiveness.Personality and Individual Differences, in press.Google Scholar
  54. Stini, W. A. 1982 Sexual Dimorphism and Nutrient Reserves. InSexual Dimorphism in Homo sapiens, R. Hall, ed. Pp. 391–419. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  55. Symons, D. 1979The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. 1992 On the Use and Misuse of Darwinism in the Study of Human Behavior. InThe Adapted Mind, J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby, eds. Pp. 137–159. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Tonkelaar, I. D., J. C. Seidell, P. A. H. van Noord, E. A. Baanders, V. Halewijn, and I. J. Ouwehand 1990 Fat Distribution in Relation to Age, Degree of Obesity, Smoking Habits, Parity and Estrogen Use: A Cross-Sectional Study in 11,825 Dutch Women Participating in the Dom-Project.International Journal of Obesity 14:754–761.Google Scholar
  58. Townsend, J. M. 1989 Mate-Selection Criteria: A Pilot Study.Ethology and Sociobiology 10:241–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Vague, J. 1956 The Degree of Masculine Differentiation of Obesities: A Factor Determining Predispostion to Diabetes, Atherosclerosis, Gout and Uric Calculus Disease.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 4:20–34.Google Scholar
  60. Vague, J., P. Vague, J. Meignen, J. Jubelin, and M. Tramoni 1985 Android and Gynoid Obesities, Past and Present. InMetabolic Complication of Human Obesities, J. Vague, P. Björntorp, B. Guy-Grand, R. Rebuffeé-Scrive, and P. Vague, eds. Pp. 3–11. Amsterdam: Excerpta Medica.Google Scholar
  61. Williams, G. C. 1975Sex and Evolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Zaadstra, B. M., J. C. Seidell, P. A. H. van Noord, E. R. te Velde, J. D. F. Habbema, B. Vrieswijk, and J. Karbaat 1993 Fat and Female Fecundity: Prospective Study of Effect of Body Fat Distribution on Conception Rates.British Medical Journal 306:484–487.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Devendra Singh
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TexasAustin

Personalised recommendations