Why Do the Karo Batak Prefer Women with Big Feet?

Flexible Mate Preferences and the Notion That One Size Fits All

Abstract

Men may find women with small feet relative to body size more attractive because foot size reliably indexes nubility—i.e., age and parity. I collected judgments of attractiveness in response to drawings of women with varying foot sizes from a sample of 159 Karo Batak respondents from North Sumatra, Indonesia, as part of a collaborative project on foot size and attractiveness. The data revealed a contrarian preference among the Karo Batak for women with big feet. The judgments were compared with the results of an existing cross-cultural study that found a preference for women with small feet in aggregate, but a mix of small- and large-foot preferences in the societies taken individually. Using contingency table analysis, I found that ecology and less exposure to Western media were associated with a preference for women with big feet; patriarchal values were not. The findings suggest that human mating preferences may arise in response to local ecological conditions, and may persist and spread via cultural transmission. This has implications for the concept of universality espoused in some versions of evolutionary psychology.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Dan Fessler for inviting me to participate in the study. Thanks to Lasma and Evi Sinaga for helping to collect data. Eric A. Smith provided invaluable feedback on the analyses, as did the participants in Biological Anthropology Seminar Series (BASS) in the Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, and the First International Conference on Indigenous and Cultural Psychology in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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Correspondence to Geoff Kushnick.

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Kushnick, G. Why Do the Karo Batak Prefer Women with Big Feet?. Hum Nat 24, 268–279 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-013-9171-2

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Keywords

  • Mating preferences
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Universality
  • Karo Batak