The belle curve: why all men love a waistline (allegedly)

Psychologists have defined the shape of beauty, writes Anna Maxted

BEAUTIFUL, sexy women come in all shapes and sizes. For every man who goes for the voluptuous type, such as Anna Nicole Smith, the lavishly endowed American model, there is another who prefers the waiflike elfin look: Audrey Hepburn, Kate Moss, Twiggy. Just a matter of personal taste, surely . . .

Not according to Dr Devendra Singh, a psychologist at Texas University. Dr Singh has spent the past five years researching the correlations between body shape, health and perceptions of beauty. His conclusions are that Anna Nicole Smith and Twiggy have one attribute in common: their sizes may be completely different but both have waists that are noticeably narrower than their hips. This he identifies as their WHR - waist-hip ratio. And this is what makes men find them attractive. The lower curves of an hourglass figure signify fertility and men are biologically programmed to react accordingly. In fact, says Dr Singh, all men, everywhere, regardless of age or culture, are drawn to the hourglass shape in the female figure. It is the universal standard of beauty, he claims.

Dr Singh's findings are based on studies of males from Africa, the Azores, Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands and the United States. Volunteers were given a selection of photographs of female bodies of different shapes and sizes and asked to rank them according to physical beauty. "They all selected the same women," Singh says. "They all seemed to like women with a low waist-to-hip ratio. We wanted to see how early it starts. In America and India eight-year-old boys selected the same women as the grown-ups. They looked at the women and said: "That's the one that's beautiful." He compares this apparent instinct with people's innate liking for sugar: "You don't have to teach a kid to like chocolate.''

But surely different cultures place different values on female shape and size? Dr Singh, whose claims were reported in the New Scientist, believes culture is secondary to genetically conditioned behaviour. "In countries such as India and Africa the volunteers' first choice was the normal-weight woman, their second choice was the fatter and their third choice the skinnier woman. In America and Europe, they picked the normal weight woman, then the underweight woman and finally the overweight one." The magic WHR figure is calculated by dividing a woman's waist circumference by that of her hips. A ratio of 1.0 would be a female with a waist the same size as her hips. The ratio can vary from a curvy 0.67 to an almost tubular 0.9.

John Manning, of Liverpool University's Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, also studies body shape, and describes Dr Singh's research as "very valid".

"If you look at Miss Americas over the past 30 to 40 years, their body weight has gone down but their waist-hip ratio remains the same. Singh has found that this ratio is related to fertility. Women with low WHRs are most fertile because they tend to produce more oestrogen."

This fits the Darwinian notion that males unconsciously look for signs of fertility in females as, in evolutionary terms, there is no point in choosing a sterile mate.

Manning's own research attempts to determine a link between a woman's shape and the sex of her offspring. He studied 84 mothers and found those with thicker waists produced marginally more sons than daughters. This suggests, says Manning, that if a woman's bloodstream contains a lot of testosterone she'll be more tubular and less fertile than her voluptuous, oestrogen-rich counterpart, but more likely to have male children.

Women are unlikely to greet the idea that there is a "correct" female shape with whoops of joy. Dr Singh dismisses charges of body fascism, maintaining that the desirable shape is indicative of good health. But this cuts no ice with Dr Phyllis Lee, biological anthropologist at Cambridge University. "Total and utter nonsense," she says, tartly.

She points out that while women with greater deposits of fat on their hips may theoretically be more capable of sustaining a pregnancy (in conditions where food was limited the reserves can be mobilised for producing milk), this does not necessarily mean they are able to ovulate. "I don't know what the waistline has to do with it," she says. Manning's survey, she believes, is no more than "pure speculation. They tested 84 women and I don't think the results are statistically significant. I'm not sure testosterone thickens the waist. It tends to increase muscle fibre density rather than fat storage."

Women of all shapes and sizes, take heart.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

    £35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'