Sex Roles

, Volume 54, Issue 3–4, pp 201–211

A Critical Test of the Waist-to-Hip Ratio Hypothesis of Women's Physical Attractiveness in Britain and Greece

  • Viren Swami
  • Nicholas Antonakopoulos
  • Martin J. Tovée
  • Adrian Furnham


Body mass index (BMI) and body shape as measured by the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) have been reported to be the major cues to women's bodily attractiveness. The relative importance of each of these cues was examined cross-culturally in two distinct countries, Greece and Britain. Fifty Britons, 25 British-Greeks, and 25 participants in Greece were asked to rate a set of images of real women with known BMI and WHR. The results showed that, regardless of the cultural setting, BMI is the primary determinant of women's physical attractiveness, whereas WHR emerged as a significant predictor for the Greek groups but not the British group. This finding is discussed in terms of the different gender roles occupied by Britons and Greeks. The discussion critically evaluates evolutionary psychological and sociocultural explanations of preferences for body weight.


physical attractiveness body mass index waist-to-hip ratio gender roles 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abramson, E. E., & Valene, P. (1991). Media use, dietary restraint, bulimia and attitudes toward obesity: A preliminary study. British Review of Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa, 5, 73–76.Google Scholar
  2. Altman, D. G. (1991). Practical statistics for medical research. London: Chapman & Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, J. L., Crawford, C. E., Nadeau, J., & Lindgberg, T. (1992). Was the Duchess of Windsor right? A cross-cultural view of the socio-biology of ideals of female body shape. Ethology and Sociobiology, 13, 197–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Apparala, M. L., Reifman, A., & Munsch, J. (2003). Cross-national comparisons of attitudes towards fathers' and mothers' participants in household tasks and childcare. Sex Roles, 48, 189–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baker, D., Sivyer, R., & Towell, T. (1998). Body image dissatisfaction and eating attitudes in visually impaired women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 24, 319–322.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beck, S. P., Ward-Hull, C. I., & McLear, P. M. (1976). Variables related to women's somatic preference of the male and female body. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 1200–1210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Becker, A. E., & Hamburg, P. (1996). Culture, the media, and eating disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 4, 163–167.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bentley, G. R., Harrigan, A. M., & Ellison, P. T. (1998). Dietary composition and ovarian function among Lese horticulturalist women of the Ituri Forest, Democratic Republic of Congo. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 52, 261–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bray, G. A. (1998). What is the ideal body weight? Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 9, 489–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, P., & Konner, M. J. (1987). An anthropological perspective of obesity. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 499, 29.Google Scholar
  11. Bryant, J., & Zhilman, D. (2002). Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Buss, D. (1994). The evolution of desire. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  13. Buss, D. (1999). Evolutionary psychology: The new science of the mind. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  14. Buss, D., & Schmitt, P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204–232.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cash, T. F., Cash, D. W., & Butters, J. W. (1983). ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall⃛?’: Contrast effects and self-evaluations of physical attractiveness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9, 351–358.Google Scholar
  16. Craig, P. L., Swinburn, B. A., Matenga-Smith, T., Matangi, H., & Vaughn, G. (1996). Do Polynesians still believe that big is beautiful? Comparison of body size and preferences of Cook Island Maori and Australians. New Zealand Medical Journal, 109, 200–203.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Crandall, C. (1994). Prejudice against fat people: Ideology and self-interest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 882–894.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DeSoto, M. C., & Kopp, K. J. (2003). Predicting female attractiveness: A second look at thinness and waist-to-hip ratio. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 5, 83–88.Google Scholar
  19. Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (1999). The origins of sex differences in human behaviour: Evolved dispositions versus social roles. American Psychologist, 54, 408–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ehrenberg, M. (1989). Women in prehistory. London: British Museum Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Fan, J., Liu, F., Wu, J., & Dai, W. (2004). Visual perception of female physical attractiveness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 271, 347–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ford, C. S., & Beach, F. A. (1952). Patterns of sexual behaviour. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  23. Forestell, C. A., Humphrey, T. M., & Stewart, S. H. (2004). Involvement of body weight and shape factors in ratings of attractiveness by women: A replication and extension of Tassinary and Hansen (1998). Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Freese, J. (2000). What should sociobiology do about Darwin? Evaluating some potential contributions of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology to sociology. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.Google Scholar
  25. Frisch, R. E. (1987). Body fat, menarche, fitness, and fertility. Human Reproduction, 2, 521–533.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Frisch, R. E. (1988). Fatness and fertility. Scientific American, 258, 88–95.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Furnham, A., & Alibhai, N. (1983). Cross-cultural differences in the perception of female body-shapes. Psychological Medicine, 13, 829–837.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Furnham, A., & Baguma, P. (1994). Cross-cultural differences in the evaluation of male and female body shapes. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 15, 81–89.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Furnham, A., & Greaves, N. (1994). Gender and locus of control correlates of body image dissatisfaction. European Journal of Personality, 8, 183–200.Google Scholar
  30. Furnham, A., McClelland, A., & Omer, L. (2003). A cross-cultural comparison of ratings of perceived fecundity and sexual attractiveness as a function of body weight and waist-to-hip ratio. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 8, 219–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Furnham, A., Moutafi, J., & Baguma, P. (2002). A cross-cultural study on the role of weight and waist-to-hip ratio on judgements of women's attractiveness. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 729–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Furnham, A., & Nordling, R. (1998). Cross-cultural differences in preferences for specific male and female body shapes. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 635–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Garner, D. M., Garfinkel, P. E., Schwartz, D., & Thompson, M. (1980). Cultural expectations of thinness in women. Psychological Reports, 47, 483–491.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. George, H., Cornelissen, P L., & Tovée, M. J. (in press). The perception of female physical attractiveness with changing observer age. In Human Behavior & Evolution Society 16th Annual Conference. Google Scholar
  35. Gordon, R. A. (2000). Eating disorders: Anatomy of a social epidemic (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  36. Gray, R. D., Heaney, M., & Fairhall, S. (2003). Evolutionary psychology and the challenge of adaptive explanation. In K. Sterelny & J. Fitness (Eds.), From mating to mentality: Evaluating evolutionary psychology (pp. 247–268). London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  37. Ghannam, F. (1997). Fertile, plump and strong: The social construction of female body in low income Cairo. Monographs in reproductive health number 3. Cairo: Population Council Regional Office for West Asia and North Africa.Google Scholar
  38. Harrison, K. (1997). Does interpersonal attraction to thin media personalities promote eating disorders? Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 41, 478–500.Google Scholar
  39. Harrison, K. (2003). Television viewers' ideal body proportions: The case of the curvaceously thin woman. Sex Roles, 48, 255–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Heaney, M. (2000). Male preference for female waist-to-hip ratio: Evolutionary adaptation, cultural confound, or methodological artefact? Unpublished honours dissertation, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland.Google Scholar
  41. Heinberg, L. J., & Thompson, J. K. (1995). Body image and televised images of thinness and attractiveness: A controlled laboratory investigation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 14, 325–338.Google Scholar
  42. Henss, R. (2000). Waist-to-hip ratio and female attractiveness. Evidence from photographic stimuli and methodological considerations. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 501–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture's consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  44. Hofstede, G. (1998). Masculinity and femininity: The taboo dimension of national cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Janienska, G., & Ellison, P. (1998). Physical work causes suppression of ovarian function in women. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 265, 1847–1851.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). Another look at sex differences in preferred mate characteristics: The effects of endorsing the traditional female gender role. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 322–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Katzman, M. A., & Lee, S. (1997). Beyond body image: The integration of feminist and transcultural theories in the understanding of self-starvation. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 22, 385–394.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lake, J. K., Power, C., & Cole, T. J. (1997). Women's reproductive health: The role of body mass index in early and adult life. International Journal of Obesity, 21, 432–438.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lavrakas, P. J. (1975). Female preferences for male physique. Journal of Research in Personality, 9, 324–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Maier, R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (1984). Attitudes toward women, personality rigidity, and idealized physique preferences in males. Sex Roles, 11, 425–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Maisey, D. M., Vale, E. L. E., Cornelissen, P. L., & Tovée, M. J. (1999). Characteristics of male attractiveness for women. Lancet, 353, 1500.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mamalakis, G., & Kafatos, A. (1996). Prevalence of obesity in Greece. International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 20, 488–492.Google Scholar
  53. Manson, J. E., Willet, W. C., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., Hunter, D. J., Hankinson, S. E., et al. (1995). Body weight and mortality among women. New England Journal of Medicine, 333, 677–685.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Markey, C. N., Tinsley, B. J., Ericksen, A. J., Ozer, D. J., & Markey, P. M. (2002). Preadolescents' perceptions of females' body size and shape: Evolutionary and social learning perspectives. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 137–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Marlowe, F., & Wetsman, A. (2001). Preferred waist-to-hip ratio and ecology. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 481–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McGarvey, S. (1991). Obesity in Samoans and a perspective in its aetiology in Polynesians. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 53, 86–94.Google Scholar
  57. Miller, M. N., & Pumariega, A. J. (2001). Culture and eating disorders: A historical and cross-cultural review. Psychiatry, 64, 93–110.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Morris, A., Cooper, T., & Cooper, P. (1989). The changing shape of female fashion models. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 8, 593–596.Google Scholar
  59. Nasser, M. (1988). Eating disorders: The cultural dimension. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 23, 184–187.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Nasser, M., Katzman, M., & Gordon, R. (Eds.). (2001). The new socio-cultural debate. Chichester, MA: Routledge.Google Scholar
  61. Parsons, J. H. (Ed.). (1980). The psychobiology of sex differences and sex roles. Washington, DC: Hemisphere.Google Scholar
  62. PawÕwski, B., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2001). Human mate choice strategies. In J. van Hooff, R. Noë, & P. Hammerstein (Eds.), Economic models of animal and human behaviour (pp. 187–202). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Polivy, J., & Herman, P. C. (1985). Dieting and binging. American Psychologist, 40, 193–201.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Posavac, H. D., Posavac, S. S., & Posavac, E. J. (1998). Exposure to media images of female attractiveness and concern with body weights among young women. Sex Roles, 38, 187–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Posavac, H. D., Posavac, S. S., & Weigel, R. G. (2001). Reducing the impact of media images on women at risk for body image disturbance: Three targeted interventions. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 324–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Powers, P. S. (1980). Obesity: The regulation of weight. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar
  67. Puhl, R. M., & Boland, F. J. (2001). Predicting female physical attractiveness: Waist-to-hip ratio versus thinness. Psychology, Evolution, and Gender, 3, 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Radke-Sharpe, N., Whitney-Saltiel, D., & Rodin, J. (1990). Fat distribution as a risk factor for weight and eating concerns. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 9, 27–36.Google Scholar
  69. Reid, R. L., & Van Vugt, D. A. (1987). Weight related changes in reproductive function. Fertility and Sterility, 48, 905–913.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Rohner, R. (1984). Toward a conception of culture for cross-cultural psychology. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 15, 111–138.Google Scholar
  71. Rozmus-Wrzesinska, M., & PawÕwski, B. (2005). Men's ratings of female attractiveness are influenced more by changes in female waist size compared with changes in hip size. Biological Psychology, 68, 299–308.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rudovsky, B. (1974). The unfashionable human body. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  73. Sanday, P. R. (1981). Female power and male dominance: On the origins of sexual inequality. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Shore, B. (1996). Culture in mind: Cognition, culture and the problem of meaning. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Shrout, P. E., & Fleiss, J. L. (1979). Intraclass correlations: uses in assessing rater reliability. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 420–428.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Silverstein, B., Perdue, L., Peterson, B., & Kelly, E. (1986). The role of the mass media in promoting a thin standard of bodily attractiveness for women. Sex Roles, 14, 519–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Singh, D. (1993). Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 292–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Singh, D. (2002). Female mate value at a glance: Relationship of waist-to-hip ratio to health, fecundity and attractiveness. Human Ethology and Evolutionary Psychology, 23, 81–91.Google Scholar
  79. Smith, K. L., Cornelissen, P. L., & Tovée, M. J. (2005). Judgements of physical attractiveness and health using 3D video clips of female bodies, submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  80. Smith, P. B., & Bond, M. H. (1998). Social psychology across cultures (2nd ed.). London: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  81. Smolak, L., & Levine, M. P. (1996). Developmental transitions at middle school and college. In L. Smolak, M. P. Levine, & R. H. Strigel-Moore (Eds.), The developmental psychopathology of eating disorders: Implications for research, prevention, and treatment (pp. 207–233). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  82. Streeter, S. A., & McBurney, D. (2003). Waist-hip ratio and attractiveness: New evidence and a critique for a ‘critical test.’ Evolution and Human Behaviour, 24, 88–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Swami, V., & Tovée, M. J. (2005). Female physical attractiveness in Britain and Malaysia: A cross-cultural study. Body Image, 2, 115–128.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  84. Tassinary, L. G., & Hansen, K. A. (1998). A critical test of the waist-to-hip ratio hypothesis of female physical attractiveness. Psychological Science, 9, 150–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992). The psychological foundations of culture. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 19–136). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Tovée, M. J., & Cornelissen, P. L. (1999). The mystery of human beauty. Nature, 399, 215–216.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Tovée, M. J., Hancock, P., Mahmoudi, S., Singleton, B. R. R., & Cornelissen, P. L. (2002). Human female attractiveness: Waveform analysis of body shape. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 269, 2205–2213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Tovée, M. J., Maisey, D. S., Emery, J. L., & Cornelissen, P. L. (1999). Visual cues to female physical attractiveness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 266, 211–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Tovée, M., Mason, S., Emery, J., McCluskey, S., & Cohen-Tovée, E. (1997). Supermodels: Stick insects or hourglasses? Lancet, 350, 1474–1475.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Tovée, M. J., Reinhardt, S., Emery, J., & Cornelissen, P. (1998). Optimum body-mass index and maximum sexual attractiveness. Lancet, 352, 548.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tukey, J. W. (1977). Exploratory data analysis. Reading, MA.: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  92. Wang, J. X., Davies, M., & Norman, R. J. (2000). Body mass and probability of pregnancy during assisted reproduction to treatment: Retrospective study. Lancet, 321, 1320–1321.Google Scholar
  93. Wetsman, A., & Marlowe, F. (1999). How universal are preferences for female waist-to-hip ratios? Evidence from the Hadza of Tanzania. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 20, 219–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wiggins, J., Wiggins, N., & Conger, J. (1968). Correlates of heterosexual somatic preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 82–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Wilkinson, J., Ben-Tovin, D., & Walker, M. (1994). An insight into the personal significance of weight and shape in large Samoan women. International Journal of Obesity, 18, 602–606.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  96. Willet, W. C., Manson, J. E., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., Rosner, B., Speizer, F. E., et al. (1995). Weight, weight change and coronary heart disease in women: Risk within the ‘normal’ weight range. Journal of the American Medical Association, 273, 461–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Williams, J. H. (Ed.). (1979). Psychology of women. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  98. Wiseman, C. V., Gray, J. J., Mosimann, J. E., & Ahrens, A. H. (1992). Cultural expectations of thinness in women: An update. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 11, 85–89.Google Scholar
  99. Yu, D. W., & Shepard, G. H. (1998). Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Nature, 396, 321–322.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Viren Swami
    • 1
  • Nicholas Antonakopoulos
    • 1
  • Martin J. Tovée
    • 2
  • Adrian Furnham
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity College of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNewcastle UniversityNewcastleUK

Personalised recommendations