The Role of Body Size in Mate Selection among African American Young Adults
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.
KeywordsDating 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.
The research, which involves human subjects, received IRB approval prior to being conducted.
All participants gave informed consent to participate in the study.
- 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
- Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable weight: Feminism, Western culture, and the body. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- 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.
- 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
- Centers for Disease Control. (2004). BMI—Body Mass Index: BMI for adults. Retreived from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html#Reliable.
- Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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>3.0.co;2-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 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.
- Grogan, S. (2007). Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women, and children. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- 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
- Long, J. S., & Freese, J. (2003). Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata (Rev. ed.). College Station, TX: Stata Press.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Staples, R., & Johnson, L. B. (1993). Black families at the crossroads: Challenges and prospects. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Stearns, P. (1999). Fat history: Bodies and beauty in the modern West. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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
- 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