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Ethnic and gender consensus for the effect of waist-to-hip ratio on judgment of women’s attractiveness

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The western consensus is that obese women are considered attractive by Afro-Americans and by many societies from nonwestern developing countries. This belief rests mainly on results of nonstandardized surveys dealing only with body weight and size, ignoring body fat distribution. The anatomical distribution of female body fat as measured by the ratio of waist to hip circumference (WHR) is related to reproductive age, fertility, and risk for various major diseases and thus might play a role in judgment of attractiveness. Previous research (Singh 1993a, 1993b) has shown that in the United States Caucasian men and women judge female figures with feminine WHRs as attractive and healthy. To investigate whether young Indonesian and Afro-American men and women rate such figures similarly, female figures representing three body sizes (underweight, normal weight, and overweight) and four WHRs (two feminine and two masculine) were used. Results show that neither Indonesian nor Afro-American subjects judge overweight figures as attractive and healthy regardless of the size of WHR. They judged normal weight figures with feminine WHRs as most attractive, healthy, and youthful. The consensus on women’s attractiveness among Indonesian, Afro-American, and U.S. Caucasian male and female subjects suggests that various cultural groups have similar criteria for judging the ideal woman’s shape.

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Devendra Singh is an associate professor of psychology in the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at the University of Texas at Austin. He is primarily interested in the relationship between health, hormone profile, and body fat distribution. He is also investigating whether body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders in young women are linked to body fat distribution and if developmental stresses modulate adult body image dissatisfaction.

Suwardi Luis received a B.A. (Honors) in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and is presently enrolled in the MBA program at Texas A&M University. In his honor’s thesis Luis used photographs to investigate the relative role of faces and body shapes (WHR) in judgment of female attractiveness, youthfulness, and desirability for romantic relationships.

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Singh, D., Luis, S. Ethnic and gender consensus for the effect of waist-to-hip ratio on judgment of women’s attractiveness. Human Nature 6, 51–65 (1995).

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