Previous studies of men’s breast size preferences have yielded equivocal findings, with studies variously indicating a preference for small, medium, or large breasts. Here, we examined the impact of men’s oppressive beliefs in shaping their female breast size ideals. British White men from the community in London, England (N = 361) viewed figures of women that rotated in 360° and varied in breast size along five levels. They then rated the figure that they found most physically attractive and also completed measures assessing their sexist attitudes and tendency to objectify women. Results showed that medium breasts were rated most frequent as attractive (32.7 %), followed by large (24.4 %) and very large (19.1 %) breasts. Further analyses showed that men’s preferences for larger female breasts were significantly associated with a greater tendency to be benevolently sexist, to objectify women, and to be hostile towards women. These results were discussed in relation to feminist theories, which postulate that beauty ideals and practices in contemporary societies serve to maintain the domination of one sex over the other.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Barber, N. (1995). The evolutionary psychology of physical attractiveness: Sexual selection and human morphology. Ethology and Sociobiology, 16, 395–424.
Bartky, S. L. (1990). Femininity and domination: Studies in the phenomenology of oppression. New York: Routledge.
Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable weight: Feminism, western culture and the body. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Buss, D. M. (2003). The evolution of desire (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Carter, P. (1996). Breast feeding and the social construction of heterosexuality, or ‘What breasts are really for’. In J. Holland & L. Adkins (Eds.), Sex, sensibility, and the gendered body (pp. 99–119). London: Macmillan.
Cornelissen, P. L., Hancock, P. J. B., Kiviniemi, V., George, H. R., & Tovée, M. J. (2009). Patterns of eye movements when male and female observers judge female attractiveness, body fat, and waist-to-hip ratio. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 417–428.
Dettwyler, K. A. (1995). Beauty and the breast: The cultural context of breastfeeding in the United States. In P. MacAdam & K. A. Dettwyler (Eds.), Breastfeeding: Biocultural perspectives (pp. 167–215). New York: De Gruyter.
Dixson, B. J., Grimshaw, G. M., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2011). Eye-tracking of men’s preferences for waist-to-hip ratio and breast size of women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 43–50.
Dixson, B. J., Vasey, P. L., Sagata, K., Sibanda, N., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2010). Men’s preferences for women’s breast morphology in New Zealand, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1271–1279.
Dworkin, A. (1974). Woman hating. New York: E. P. Dutton.
Einon, D. (2007). The shaping of women’s bodies: Men’s choice of fertility or heat stress avoidance? In V. Swami & A. Furnham (Eds.), The body beautiful: Evolutionary and sociocultural perspectives (pp. 131–158). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Forbes, G. B., Collinsworth, L. L., Jobe, R. L., Braun, K. D., & Wise, L. M. (2007). Sexism, hostility toward women, and endorsement of beauty ideals and practices: Are beauty ideals associated with oppressive beliefs? Sex Roles, 5, 265–273.
Forbes, G. B., Jobe, R. L., & Revak, J. A. (2006). Relationships between dissatisfaction with specific body characteristics and the Sociocultural Attitudes Toward Appearance Questionnaire-3 and Objectified Body Consciousness Scale. Body Image, 3, 295–300.
Ford, C. S., & Beach, F. A. (1951). Patterns of sexual behavior. New York: Harper.
Frederickson, B. L., Roberts, T. A., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 269–284.
Furnham, A., Dias, M., & McClelland, A. (1998). The role of body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, and breast size in judgments of female attractiveness. Sex Roles, 39, 311–326.
Furnham, A., & Swami, V. (2007). Perceptions of female buttocks and breast size in profile. Social Behavior and Personality, 35, 1–8.
Furnham, A., Swami, V., & Shah, K. (2006). Female body correlates of attractiveness and other ratings. Personality and Individual Differences, 41, 443–454.
Gallup, G. G. (1982). Permanent breast enlargement in human female: A sociobiological analysis. Journal of Human Evolution, 19, 111–123.
Gerald, W., & Potvin, L. (2009). Boobs, boxing, and bombs: Problematizing the entertainment of Spike TV. Spaces for Difference, 2, 3–14.
Gitter, A. G., Lomranz, J., Saxe, L., & Bar-Tal, D. (1983). Perception of female physique characteristics by American and Israeli students. Journal of Social Psychology, 121, 7–13.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512.
Gurung, R. A. R., & Chrouser, C. J. (2007). Predicting objectification: Do provocative clothing and observer characteristics matter? Sex Roles, 57, 91–99.
Harrison, K. (2003). Television viewers’ ideal body proportions: The case of the curvaceously thin woman. Sex Roles, 48, 255–264.
Hill, M. S., & Fischer, A. R. (2008). Examining objectification theory: Lesbian and heterosexual women’s experiences with sexual- and self-objectification. The Counseling Psychologist, 36, 745–776.
Horvath, T. (1981). Physical attractiveness: The influence of selected torso parameters. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 10, 21–24.
Jacobi, L., & Cash, T. F. (1994). In pursuit of the perfect appearance: Discrepancies among self-ideal percepts of multiple physical attributes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 379–396.
Kleinke, C. L., & Staneski, R. (1980). First impressions of female bust size. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 123–134.
Koff, E., & Benavage, A. (1998). Breast size perception and satisfaction, body image, and psychological functioning in Caucasian and Asian American college women. Sex Roles, 38, 655–673.
Little, A. C., Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M., & Caldwell, C. A. (2011). Social learning and human mate preferences: A potential mechanism for generating and maintaining between-population diversity in attraction. Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society B, 366, 366–375.
Lonsway, K. A., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (1995). Attitudinal antecedents of rape myth acceptance: A theoretical and empirical re-examination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 704–711.
Lynn, M. (2009). Determinants and consequences of female attractiveness and sexiness: Realistic tests with restaurant waitresses. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 737–745.
Manning, J., Scutt, D., Whitehouse, G., & Leinster, S. (1997). Breast asymmetry and phenotypic quality in women. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18, 223–236.
Marlowe, F. (1998). The nubility hypothesis: The human breast as an honest signal of residual reproductive value. Human Nature, 9, 263–271.
Martino, W., & Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2005). “Being normal is the only way to be”: Adolescents perspectives on gender and school. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Mazur, A. (1986). US trends in feminine beauty and overadaptation. Journal of Sex Research, 22, 281–303.
Millsted, R., & Frith, H. (2003). Being large-breasted: Women negotiating embodiment. Women’s Studies International Forum, 26, 455–465.
Pascoe, C. J. (2007). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Pawłowski, B. (1999). Permanent breasts as a side effect of subcutaneous fat tissue increase in human evolution. Homo, 50, 149–162.
Pond, C. M. (1998). The fats of life. New York: DK Publishing.
Rhodes, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 199–226.
Salska, I., Frederick, D. A., Pawłowski, B., Reilly, A. H., Laird, K. T., & Rudd, N. A. (2008). Conditional mate preferences: Factors influencing preferences for height. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 203–215.
Sanchez, D. T., Kiefer, A. K., & Ybarra, O. (2006). Sexual submissiveness in women: Costs for sexual autonomy and arousal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 512–524.
Seifert, T. (2005). Anthropomorphic characteristics of centerfold models: Trends towards slender figures over time. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 37, 271–274.
Singh, D., & Young, R. K. (1995). Body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, breast size, and hips: Role in judgments of female attractiveness and desirability for relationships. Ethology and Sociobiology, 16, 483–507.
Smith, K. L., Cornelissen, P. L., & Tovée, M. J. (2007). Color 3D bodies and judgments of human female attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 48–54.
Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R., & Stapp, J. (1978). A short version of the Attitudes toward Women Scale (AWS). Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 2, 219–220.
Strelan, P., & Hargreaves, D. (2005). Women who objectify other women: The vicious cycle of objectification. Sex Roles, 52, 707–712.
Swami, V. (2007). The missing arms of Vénus de Milo: Reflections on the science of physical attractiveness. Brighton: Book Guild.
Swami, V. (2008). Methodological and conceptual issues in the science of physical attraction. In I. L. Nillson & W. V. Lindberg (Eds.), Visual perception: New research (pp. 232–256). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.
Swami, V. (2011). Love at first sight? Individual differences and the psychology of initial romantic attraction. In T. Chamorro-Premuzic, S. von Stumm, & A. Furnham (Eds.), Handbook of individual differences (pp. 747–772). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Swami, V., & Barrett, S. (2011). British men’s hair colour preferences: An assessment of courtship solicitation and stimulus ratings. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 52, 595–600.
Swami, V., Buchanan, T., Furnham, A., & Tovée, M. J. (2008a). Five-factor personality correlates of perceptions of women’s body sizes. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 697–699.
Swami, V., Coles, R., Salem, N., Wilson, E., Wyrozumska, K., & Furnham, A. (2010a). Oppressive beliefs at play: Associations among beauty ideals and practices and individual differences in sexism, objectification of others, and media exposure. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 365–379.
Swami, V., Einon, D., & Furnham, A. (2006). An investigation of the leg-to-body ratio as a human aesthetic criterion. Body Image, 3, 317–323.
Swami, V., & Furnham, A. (2008). The psychology of physical attraction. London: Routledge.
Swami, V., Furnham, A., Balakumar, N., Williams, C., Canaway, K., & Stanistreet, D. (2008b). Factors influencing preferences for height: A replication and extension. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 395–400.
Swami, V., Furnham, A., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Akbar, K., Gordon, N., Harris, T.,…,Tovée, M. J. (2010b). More than skin deep? Personality information influences men’s ratings of the attractiveness of women’s body sizes. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150, 628–647.
Swami, V., & Harris, A. S. (2012). Evolutionary perspectives on physical appearance. In T. Cash (Ed.), Encylopedia of body image and human appearance (pp. 404–411). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
Swami, V., Jones, J., Einon, D., & Furnham, A. (2009). Men’s preferences for women’s profile waist-to-hip ratio, breast size, and ethnic group in Britain and South Africa. British Journal of Psychology, 100, 313–325.
Swami, V., Miller, R., Furnham, A., Penke, L., & Tovée, M. J. (2008c). The influence of men’s sexual strategies on perceptions of women’s bodily attractiveness, health and fertility. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 98–107.
Swami, V., & Salem, N. (2011). The evolutionary psychology of human beauty. In V. Swami (Ed.), Evolutionary psychology: A critical introduction (pp. 131–182). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Swami, V., & Tovée, M. J. (2009). Big beautiful women: The body size preferences of male fat admirers. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 89–96.
Swami, V., & Voracek, M. (in press). Associations among men’s sexist attitudes, objectification of women, and their own drive for muscularity. Psychology of Men and Masculinity.
Tantleff-Dunn, S. (2001). Breast and chest size: Ideals and stereotypes through the 1990 s. Sex Roles, 45, 231–242.
Tantleff-Dunn, S. (2002). Biggest isn’t always best: The effect of breast size on perceptions of women. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 2253–2265.
Tantleff-Dunn, S., & Thompson, J. K. (2000). Breast and chest size satisfaction: Relation to overall body image and self-esteem. Eating Disorders, 8, 241–246.
Thompson, E. H., Pleck, J. H., & Ferrera, D. L. (1992). Men and masculinities: Scales for masculinity ideology and masculinity-related constructs. Sex Roles, 27, 573–607.
Thornhill, R., & Grammer, K. (1999). The body and face of woman: One ornament that signals quality? Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 105–120.
Tovée, M. J., & Cornelissen, P. L. (2001). Female and male perceptions of female physical attractiveness in front-view and profile. British Journal of Psychology, 92, 391–402.
Ward, L. M., Merriwether, A., & Caruthers, A. (2006). Breasts are for men: Media, masculinity ideologies, and men’s beliefs about women’s bodies. Sex Roles, 55, 703–714.
Wiggins, J. S., Wiggins, N., & Conger, J. C. (1968). Correlates of heterosexual somatic preference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 82–90.
Wolf, N. (1990). The beauty myth. London: Chatto & Windus.
Zelazniewicz, A. M., & Pawłowski, B. (2010). Female breast size attractiveness for men as a function of sociosexual orientation (restricted versus unrestricted). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1129–1135.
About this article
Cite this article
Swami, V., Tovée, M.J. Men’s Oppressive Beliefs Predict Their Breast Size Preferences in Women. Arch Sex Behav 42, 1199–1207 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0081-5
- Breast size
- Physical attractiveness
- Oppressive beliefs