Sex Roles

, Volume 73, Issue 7–8, pp 340–354 | Cite as

The Role of Body Size in Mate Selection among African American Young Adults

  • Ellen M. Granberg
  • Leslie G. Simons
  • Ronald L. Simons
Original Article


A profusion of studies have demonstrated that body size is a major factor in mate selection for both men and women. The particular role played by weight, however, has been subject to some debate, particularly with respect to the types of body sizes deemed most attractive, and scholars have questioned the degree to which body size preferences are constant across groups. In this paper, we drew from two perspectives on this issue, Sexual Strategies Theory and what we termed the cultural variability perspective, and used survey data to examine how body size was associated with both casual dating and serious romantic relationships. We used a United States sample of 386 African American adolescents and young adults between ages 16 and 21, living in the Midwest and Southeast, and who were enrolled in either high school or college. Results showed that overweight women were more likely to report casually dating than women in the thinnest weight category. Body size was not related to dating status among men. Among women, the results suggest stronger support for the cultural variability argument than for Sexual Strategies Theory. Potential explanations for these findings are discussed.


Dating Body Weight Evolutionary psychology Social psychology Race 



This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH48165, MH62669), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (029136–02), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA021898, 1P30DA027827), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2R01AA012768, 3R01AA012768-09S1), the University of Georgia, and Clemson University.

Statement of Ethical Compliance

Conflicts of Interest

We have no financial or other conflicts of interest in this research.

Human Rights

The research, which involves human subjects, received IRB approval prior to being conducted.

Informed Consent

All participants gave informed consent to participate in the study.


  1. Ali, M. M., Rizzo, J. A., Amialchuk, A., & Heiland, F. (2014). Racial differences in the influence of female adolescents’ body size on dating and sex. Economics & Human Biology, 12, 140–152. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2013.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ali, M. M., Rizzo, J. A., & Heiland, F. W. (2013). Big and beautiful? Evidence of racial differences in the perceived attractiveness of obese females. Journal of Adolescence, 36, 539–549. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.03.010.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, J. L., Crawford, C. B., Nadeau, J., & Lindberg, T. (1992). Was the Duchess of Windsor right? A cross-cultural review of the socioecology of ideals of female body shape. Ethology and Sociobiology, 13, 197–227. doi: 10.1016/0162-3095(92)90033-Z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (2003). Strong and large black women?: Exploring relationships between deviant womanhood and weight. Gender and Society, 17, 111–121. doi: 10.1177/0891243202238981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bhuiyan, A. R., Gustat, J., Srinivasan, S. R., & Berenson, G. S. (2003). Differences in body shape representations among young adults from a biracial (black-white), semirural community: The Bogalusa heart study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 158, 792–797. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwg218.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Boggs, D. A., Rosenberg, L., Cozier, Y. C., Wise, L. A., Coogan, P. F., Ruiz-Narvaez, E. A., & Palmer, J. R. (2011). General and abdominal obesity and risk of death among black women. New England Journal of Medicine, 365, 901–908. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1104119.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable weight: Feminism, Western culture, and the body. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bulik, C. M., Wade, T. D., Heath, A. C., Martin, N. G., Stunkard, A. J., & Eaves, L. J. (2001). Relating body mass index to figural stimuli: Population-based normative data for Caucasians. International Journal of Obesity, 25, 1517–1524. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801742.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Burton, L. M., & Tucker, M. B. (2009). Romantic unions in an era of uncertainty: A post-Moynihan perspective on African American women and marriage. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 621, 132–148. doi: 10.1177/0002716208324852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buss, D. M. (1994). The strategies of human mating. American Scientist, 82, 238–249. doi: 10.2307/29775193.Google Scholar
  11. Buss, D. M. (1998). Sexual strategies theory: Historical origins and current status. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 19–31. doi: 10.1080/00224499809551914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buss, D. M., Abbott, M., Angleitner, A., Asherian, A., Biaggio, A., Blancovillasenor, A., . . . Yang, K. S. (1990). International preferences in selecting mates - A study of 37 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 21, 5–47. doi:  10.1177/0022022190211001.
  13. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. (2011). Evolutionary psychology and feminism. Sex Roles, 64, 768–787. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-9987-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204–232. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.100.2.204.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Buss, D. M., Shackelford, T. K., Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Larsen, R. J. (2001). A half century of mate preferences: The cultural evolution of values. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 491–503. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00491.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cash, T. F., Theriault, J., & Annis, N. M. (2004). Body image in an interpersonal context: Adult attachment, fear of intimacy, and social anxiety. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 89–103. doi: 10.1521/jscp. Scholar
  17. Cawley, J. (2001). Body weight and the dating and sexual behaviors of young adolescents. In R. T. Michael (Ed.), Social awakening: Adolescent behavior as adulthood approaches (pp. 174–198). New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  18. Centers for Disease Control. (2004). BMI—Body Mass Index: BMI for adults. Retreived from
  19. Chapman, A. B. (2007). In search of love and commitment: Dealing with the challenging odds of finding romance. In H. P. McAdoo (Ed.), Black families (4th ed., pp. 285–296). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Confer, J. C., Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. M. (2010). More than just a pretty face: Men’s priority shifts toward bodily attractiveness in short-term versus long-term mating contexts. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 348–353. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.04.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davis, S. N., & Greenstein, T. N. (2009). Gender ideology: Components, predictors, and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 87–105. doi: 10.1146/annurev-soc-070308-115920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Deurenberg, P., & Deurenberg-Yap, M. (2003). Validity of body composition methods across ethnic population groups. Acta Diabetologica, 40, s246–s249. doi: 10.1007/s00592-003-0077-z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Eagly, A., & Wood, W. (2011). Feminism and the evolution of sex differences and similarities. Sex Roles, 64, 758–767. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-9949-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eagly, A., & Wood, W. (2013). Feminism and evolutionary psychology: Moving forward. Sex Roles, 69, 549–556. doi: 10.1007/s11199-013-0315-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ferguson, C. J., Winegard, B., & Winegard, B. M. (2011). Who is the fairest one of all? How evolution guides peer and media influences on female body dissatisfaction. Review of General Psychology, 15, 11–28. doi: 10.1037/a0022607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Freedman, R. E. K., Carter, M. M., Sbrocco, T., & Gray, J. J. (2004). Ethnic differences in preferences for female weight and waist-to-hip ratio: A comparison of African-American and White American college and community samples. Eating Behaviors, 5, 191–198. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2004.01.002.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Furman, W., & Shaffer, L. (2003). The role of romantic relationships in adolescent development. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 3–22). Mahwah New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  29. Gangestad, S. W., & Scheyd, G. J. (2005). The evolution of human physical attractiveness. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 523–548. doi: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.143733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ghannam, F. (1997). Fertile, plump and strong: The social construction of female body in low income Cairo (Vol. 3). Cairo: Population Council Regional Office for West Asia and North Africa.Google Scholar
  31. Gralen, S. J., Levine, M. P., Smolak, L., & Murnen, S. K. (1990). Dieting and disordered eating during early and middle adolescence: Do the influences remain the same? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 9, 501–512. doi: 10.1002/1098-108x(199009)9:5<501::aid-eat2260090505>;2-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Greenberg, D. R., & LaPorte, D. J. (1996). Racial differences in body type preferences of men for women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19, 275–278. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-108X(199604)19:3<275::AID-EAT6>3.0.CO;2-J.
  33. Grogan, S. (2007). Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women, and children. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Halpern, C. T., King, R. B., Oslak, S. G., & Udry, J. R. (2005). Body mass index, dieting, romance, and sexual activity in adolescent girls: Relationships over time. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 15, 535–559. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2005.00110.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Harris, M. B., Walters, L. C., & Waschull, S. (1991). Gender and ethnic differences in obesity-related behaviors and attitudes in a college sample. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21, 1545–1566. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1991.tb00487.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hunter, A. G., & Sellers, S. L. (1998). Feminist attitudes among African American women and men. Gender & Society, 12, 81–99. doi: 10.1177/089124398012001005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Huxley, R., Mendis, S., Zheleznyakov, E., Reddy, S., & Chan, J. (2010). Body mass index, waist circumference and waist: Hip ratio as predictors of cardiovascular risk-a review of the literature. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 64, 16–22. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.68.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Jackson, L. A., & McGill, O. D. (1996). Body type preferences and body characteristics associated with attractive and unattractive bodies by African Americans and Anglo Americans. Sex Roles, 35, 295–307. doi: 10.1007/BF01664771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kahn, H. S., & Williamson, D. F. (1990). The contributions of income, education and changing marital status to weight change among U.S. men. International Journal of Obesity, 14, 1057–1068.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Kane, E. W. (2000). Racial and ethnic variations in gender-related attitudes. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 419–439. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lawrence-Webb, C., Littlefield, M., & Okundaye, J. N. (2004). African American intergender relationships a theoretical exploration of roles, patriarchy, and love. Journal of Black Studies, 34, 623–639. doi: 10.1177/0021934703259014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Liesen, L. (2013). Feminists need to look beyond evolutionary psychology for insights into human reproductive strategies: A commentary. Sex Roles, 69, 484–490. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0153-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Long, J. S., & Freese, J. (2003). Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata (Rev. ed.). College Station, TX: Stata Press.Google Scholar
  44. Lovejoy, M. (2001). Disturbances in the social body: Differences in body image and eating problems among African American and white women. Gender and Society, 15, 239–261. doi: 10.1177/089124301015002005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lumeng, C. N., & Saltiel, A. R. (2011). Inflammatory links between obesity and metabolic disease. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 121, 2111–2117. doi: 10.1172/jci57132.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. McDaniel, A., DiPrete, T., Buchmann, C., & Shwed, U. (2011). The black gender Gap in educational attainment: Historical trends and racial comparisons. Demography, 48, 889–914. doi: 10.1007/s13524-011-0037-0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. McGarvey, S. T. (1991). Obesity in Samoans and a perspective on its etiology in Polynesians. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 53, 15685–15945.Google Scholar
  48. Milbrath, C., Ohlson, B., & Eyre, S. L. (2009). Analyzing cultural models in adolescent accounts of romantic relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 19, 313–351. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2009.00598.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller, M. N., & Pumariega, A. J. (2001). Culture and eating disorders: A historical and cross-cultural review. Psychiatry, 64, 93–110. doi: 10.1521/psyc. Scholar
  50. Moras, A., Shehan, C., & Berardo, F. M. (2007). African American families: Historical and contemporary forces shaping family life and studies. In H. Vera & J. R. Feagin (Eds.), Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic Relations (pp. 145–160). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nelson, L. D., & Morrison, E. L. (2005). The symptoms of resource scarcity. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 16, 167–173. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.00798.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nobles, W. W. (2007). African American family life: An instrument of culture. In H. P. McAdoo (Ed.), Black families (4th ed., pp. 69–78). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. R., Lamb, M. M., & Flegal, K. M. (2010). Prevalence of high body mass index in us children and adolescents, 2007–2008. JAMA, 303, 242–249. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.2012.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Patel, K. A., & Gray, J. J. (2001). Judgement accuracy in body preferences among African Americans. Sex Roles, 44, 227–235. doi: 10.1023/A:1010959221268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Paxton, S. J., Norris, M., Wertheim, E. H., Durkin, S. J., & Anderson, J. (2005). Body dissatisfaction, dating, and importance of thinness to attractiveness in adolescent girls. Sex Roles, 53, 663–675. doi: 10.1007/s11199-005-7732-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pearce, M. J., Boergers, J., & Prinstein, M. J. (2002). Adolescent obesity, overt and relational peer victimization, and romantic relationships. Obesity Research, 10, 386–393. doi: 10.1038/oby.2002.53.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Pedersen, W., Putcha-Bhagavatula, A., & Miller, L. (2011). Are men and women really that different? Examining some of sexual strategies theory (SST)’s key assumptions about sex-distinct mating mechanisms. Sex Roles, 64, 629–643. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9811-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Riley, N. M., Bild, D. E., Cooper, L., Schreiner, P., Smith, D. E., Sorlie, P., & Thompson, J. K. (1998). Relation of self-image to body size and weight loss attempts in black women: The CARDIA study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 148, 1062–1068. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a009583.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Rosenblum, G. D., & Lewis, M. (1999). The relations among body image, physical attractiveness, and body mass in adolescence. Child Development, 70, 50–65. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00005.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Schwartz, C. R., & Han, H. Y. (2014). The reversal of the gender gap in education and trends in marital dissolution. American Sociological Review, 79, 605–629. doi: 10.1177/0003122414539682.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Scott Carter, J., Corra, M., & Carter, S. K. (2009). The interaction of race and gender: Changing gender-role attitudes, 1974–2006. Social Science Quarterly, 90, 196–211. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2009.00611.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2003). Testing theories of romantic development from adolescence to young adulthood: Evidence of a developmental sequence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27, 519–531. doi: 10.1080/01650250344000145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Simons, R. L., Lei, M. K., Beach, S. R. H., Brody, G. H., Philibert, R. A., & Gibbons, F. X. (2011). Social environment, genes, and aggression: Evidence supporting the differential susceptibility perspective. American Sociological Review, 76, 883–912. doi: 10.1177/0003122411427580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Simons, R. L., Murry, V. M., McLoyd, V., Lin, K.-H., Cutrona, C. E., & Conger, R. D. (2002). Discrimination, crime, ethnic identity, and parenting as correlates of depressive symptoms among African American children: A multilevel analysis. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 371–393. doi: 10.1017/S0954579402002109.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Singh, D. (1994). Body-fat distribution and perception of desirable female body shape by young black-men and women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 16, 289–294. doi: 10.1002/1098-108X(199411)16:3<289::AID-EAT2260160310>3.0.CO;2-9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Singh, D. (1995). Female judgment of male attractiveness and desirability for relationships: Role of waist-to-hip ratio and financial status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1089–1101. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.69.6.1089.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Singh, D., & Singh, D. (2011). Shape and significance of feminine beauty: An evolutionary perspective. Sex Roles, 64, 723–731. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-9938-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Smiler, A. (2011). Sexual strategies theory: Built for the short term or the long term? Sex Roles, 64, 603–612. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9817-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Smith, C., & Konik, J. (2011). Feminism and evolutionary psychology: Allies, adversaries, or both? An introduction to a special issue. Sex Roles, 64, 595–602. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-9985-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Smith, J. E., Waldorf, V. A., & Trembath, D. L. (1990). Single White male looking for thin, very attractive… Sex Roles, 23, 675–685. doi: 10.1007/BF00289255.
  71. Sobal, J., Rauschenbach, B. S., & Frongillo, E. A., Jr. (1992). Marital status, fatness, and obesity. Social Science and Medicine, 35, 915–923. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(92)90106-Z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Staples, R. (2007). An overview of race and marital status. In H. P. McAdoo (Ed.), Black families (4th ed., pp. 281–284). Thousand Oaks: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Staples, R., & Johnson, L. B. (1993). Black families at the crossroads: Challenges and prospects. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  74. Stearns, P. (1999). Fat history: Bodies and beauty in the modern West. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Stone, G. P. (1962). Appearance and the self. In A. M. Rose (Ed.), Human behavior and social processes: An interactionist approach (pp. 86–118). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  76. Stunkard, A. J., Sorenson, T., & Schulsinger, F. (1983). Use of the Danish adoption register for the study of obesity and thinness. In S. Kety, L. P. Rowland, R. L. Sidman, & S. W. Matthysse (Eds.), The genetics of neurological and psychiatric disorders (pp. 115–120). New York: Raven.Google Scholar
  77. Surra, C., Boettcher-Burke, M., Cottle, N., West, A., & Gray, C. (2007). The treatment of relationship status in research on dating and mate selection. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 207–221. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00354.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Swami, V., Antonakopoulos, N., Tovée, M. J., & Furnham, A. (2006). A critical test of the waist-to-hip ratio hypothesis of women’s physical attractiveness in Britain and Greece. Sex Roles, 54, 201–211. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9338-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Swami, V., & Tovée, M. J. (2006). Does hunger influence judgments of female physical attractiveness? British Journal Of Psychology, 97, 353–363. doi: 10.1348/000712605X80713.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Thompson, J. K., & Altabe, M. N. (1991). Psychometric qualities of the figure rating scale. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 10, 615–619. doi: 10.1002/1098-108X(199109)10:5<615::AID-EAT2260100514>3.0.CO;2-K.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Thompson, S. H., Sargent, R. G., & Kemper, K. A. (1996). Black and white adolescent males’ perceptions of ideal body size. Sex Roles, 34, 391–406. doi: 10.1007/BF01547808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wade, T. J., & DiMaria, C. (2003). Weight halo effects: Individual differences in perceived life success as a function of women’s race and weight. Sex Roles, 48, 461–465. doi: 10.1023/A:1023582629538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Webb, T. T., Looby, E. J., & Fults-McMurtery, R. (2004). African American men’s perceptions of body figure attractiveness: An acculturation study. Journal of Black Studies, 34, 370–385. doi: 10.1177/0021934703254100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Weeden, J., & Sabini, J. (2005). Physical attractiveness and health in western societies: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 635–653. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.5.635.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen M. Granberg
    • 1
  • Leslie G. Simons
    • 2
  • Ronald L. Simons
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Sociology & AnthropologyClemson UniversityClemsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations