Models are too skinny. Implants are too big. To attract a mate, experts say, you just need the right weight-to-height ratio. By Roger Dobson

The growing millions of women who nip, tuck, plump and stitch in search of the body beautiful could be wasting their money.

The growing millions of women who nip, tuck, plump and stitch in search of the body beautiful could be wasting their money.

A team of British scientists has concluded that the secret of an attractive figure lies not in emulating Jordan's bust or J-Lo's bottom, but in the age-old formula of staying trim.

The researchers have discovered the perfect Body Mass Index (the standard measure of height against weight) for any woman looking to attract a mate: a score of 20.85, they conclude, is more influential than any of the other features on display.

It is thought that men are attracted to a certain body mass because it is associated with better health. Previous research has said that waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is the most important factor, with curvaceous shapes corresponding to high fertility.

But the results from the research at University College London and Newcastle University show that BMI is even more critical, accounting for 75 per cent of body attractiveness. Waist-hip ratio, leg-length, and other body parts made up the rest.

"Our findings show that BMI is a better predictor of attractiveness than curves," said psychologist Viren Swami of UCL, who helped to lead the study. "As the images became more curvaceous, but with a higher BMI, they were seen as less attractive."

Their findings, published this week in the journal Body Image, are also bad news for the super-slender look promoted by Victoria Beckham, as both men and women believe skinny female shapes are less attractive than fuller figures.

The UK has seen an astonishing growth in cosmetic plastic surgery, driven partly by the crowds of celebrities opting to have their figures "fixed". The popularity of curvy singers such as Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé has been credited with starting a new market in "buttock augmentation".

The research involved nearly 700 men and women in Britain and Malaysia, who were shown images of real women in five BMI categories, from emaciated (below 15); to obese (over 30), and asked to score how beautiful they considered each one. In Britain, the most attractive BMI was found to be 20.85 - for both men and women. In less developed countries, it was slightly higher.

The results also show that ratings of attractiveness fall away very quickly either side of this figure. An overweight woman has half the attractiveness of a woman with the perfect BMI. The fall in attraction rating is even sharper for very thin women.

"BMI accounted for approximately 12 times more variance than WHR, suggesting that BMI is a considerably stronger determinant of bodily attractiveness than WHR," said Mr Swami. "This ... is consistent with the fact that successful female fashion and glamour models all fall within a narrow BMI range.''

It's thought that men are attracted to the perfect BMI because it is a sign of good reproductive potential.

One view is that BMI is the first measure used by men to assess a potential partner. Another theory is that the preferred shapes in the study simply reflect media images rather than real life.

Research on Miss America contestants and Playboy centrefolds has shown that the ideal became increasingly thinner over a 20-year period - while women actually became 4 per cent heavier.


BMI is a measure of height and weight. To calculate your BMI:

* Multiply your weight in pounds by 703

* Divide that number by your height in inches

* Divide it by your height in inches again